Tuesday, September 24, 2013

To the Two Men in McDonalds

I saw you both, and I knew.

To the man in your late forties, with the son about twenty:

I recognized the scramble, the tension, the just-wanting-to-get-your-food-and-sit-down. Your son kept dashing over to the soda area, then stood rigidly in line, fists clinched together, squinting at the lights and beeps and busyness. Sensory overload. I could almost sense your relief when you got him to the table, then your panic when he bolted over to the napkins. Your son kept touching his nose to the lid of the cup. This is probably something he finds calming. He ate quickly, without looking at you. You were both gone when I looked again. The food disappears fast, I know. Especially when there's no conversation. Especially when your son always wants to move on to the next thing.

To the man in your late sixties, with the boy a little older than Ethan:

I saw the wary eye you kept on your grandson. He had been climbing in the tunnels but kept going over to the door. Oh, that darned automatic door in the Manchester McDonalds. How many times Ethan used to spend over there, pressing the button, stepping to trigger it opened and closed, while I wished he would just play. I saw your tension when your grandson came over to me. He stood too close to Anna and I, and Ethan, who was pulling on his sneakers to leave the play area.

"What are you doing?" he asked no one in particular.

"You like that door, don't you?" I asked.

"Yes, because it has a button!" he answered.

"I know, I know. This little guy here used to LOVE that door, too," I said, pointing to Ethan. But then you came over, grandpa, and I know you were worried your grandson was bothering us.

"Go play," you said to him with a wave of your hand, not unkindly. You never looked quite at me. I know the maneuver. It's the let's-just-get-him-away-from-bugging-people-and-standing-out-too-much.

There are things I wished I could say to you both. Every time this happens, every time, I wish. I wish I could tell you I know. I wish there was the time to tell you about my son, and especially my brother. I wish I could tell you, grandfather, that my son has moved past playing with the doors but now needs to ask where the fire alarm and emergency lights are, wherever we go. He's quirky. It's okay. I wish I could tell you, father of the non-verbal son, about my brother trying to run to back to the kitchen at Red Rose Pizza to grab his own dinner; or dashing to the front of the church when I was a kid, after turning off the lights on the congregation, or the time I took him for a walk and he sat down, refusing to budge, reducing me to tears, until a neighbor came out of a nearby home and tried to figure out how to help me.

I wish I could tell you I am never staring and never judging. I wish I could tell you I understand and that this whole thing with public places really sucks sometimes. The stress. The sometimes ignorance of others. The way being out in public makes you realize how different your life really is.

I wish I could tell you that you're not alone.

There are days when I look at my brother and I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated at his lack of ability, at the way autism rules his life, about so many things he's lost out on due to his disability. But then there are the times I look at him and think of what I have gained. Andrew has given me a compassion I never would have had. He's given me eyes that see differently. He's pricked at my heart in a way that I, that we all, desperately need. And despite everything that seems lost, I desperately thank God for that. I thank God that while no one else may have noticed, I saw these two families I will never see again, and I felt.

I just wish, oh how I wish, that I could have told them.


Marion Lyon said...

When are you going to publish your book? I love your blogs and sharing your insights and experiences might be a good way to help others.

Deb said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I have been toying with the idea of a book (not just about autism but about the ups and downs of my faith walk) but who knows if it'll ever get published! I plan to enjoy working on it, though! :)

Deenie said...

I love this post. I've been there too.