Years later, it would make sense to me why I kept thick curtains closed over the windows during afternoons, in the living room where my oldest son bounced happily in his little blue bouncy baby chair. At the time it was only a subconscious reaction on my part, to his crying when too much light streamed into the room. Too much light, too much noise, too much of just about anything always sent him over the edge, crying as if in pain. In fact, his own crying sounds seemed to overwhelm him as well. But that was years ago, long before that one fateful morning in the city bookstore when someone handed me a book, then asked me if I’d ever heard about a condition called, “Autism.”
Recently, during the annual Halloween street adventure in our suburban neighborhood, my son was walking stiffly down the sidewalk, dressed as “Master Chief” from his favorite video game, Halo. He was beefy, pushing six-foot tall, a fourteen years-old man-boy, and he looked out of place there with so many young children dressed in their own Halloween costumes. Still, my son probably felt no social discomfort whatsoever. In fact, from a purely social dynamic perspective, he probably felt right at home with most young kids there that night. The world flowed around him, full of the sound of running feet, noisy excited children and open possibilities of fun flowing in the dark night air.
Three teenage girls dressed in black costumes breezed by us on the sidewalk. Witches or something, I wasn’t sure, but they chattered excitedly, noisily into the night air, in those subversive conspirator tones that teen girls seem to always master at some point. My son probably heard them coming well before I did, his hearing is remarkable, having something to do with his Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). In fact, it’s become a real “party trick,” with our friends and family. For fun, we put him on the other side of a large room, turn our backs on him, then speak in low tones asking him questions. He answers to questions that seemingly only could be heard from mere feet away. That night, perhaps he heard the conversation of the teenage girls as they approached. Maybe teen boys have some kind of built-in radar for teen girls in their proximity. Who knows? Anyway, he took notice of them, engaged them in awkward conversation for a half-minute at the next doorstop candy-filling station.
As the next half-hour or so passed, my son continued to engage the three girls, in clumsy conversation, at one point breaking formation with myself and his younger brother to walk with them. Moments later, he circled back, informing me that the girls had asked him to go with them as they moved house to house, trick-or-treating. Instinctively I hesitated, telling him to just stay with his brother and I for the time being. A few houses later we caught up with the girls again, and my suspicions as to their motivations were sadly confirmed.
Perhaps there are no more subtilely cruel creatures than teenage girls. It’s a mystery, but perhaps there is some ancient instinct woven into them, one that sorts out potential mates, those to be pursued, those to be left alone. Who knows? At the next doorstop, the girls left my son laboriously explaining to a homeowner that he was Master Chief from Halo. Leaving him behind, they walked by me, laughing softly, mouths open and dripping with the sweet venom of mockery. Following that moment, I made certain that we did not cross paths with them again that night.
I was neither shocked nor particularly saddened by our encounter with the girls. I’ve become accustomed to the hidden sharp edges of a culture that seldom understands its own actions, much less understands my Autistic family. I’ve often wondered at the hard twist of whatever cosmic action placed me in their midst, as husband, father to four Autistic persons. These are bright, warm, big-hearted people, and yet they are persons living adrift in a sea of mystery in their understanding of cultural norms. They bump along, baffled as to the myriad of social connectivity that surrounds them. My spouse, my children live on a diagnosed neurological spectrum, but then a different plane of awareness from those of us who are called “neuro-typical.”
My wife, children are all highly intellegent from a “book smart” perspective. In fact, I often joke that they are walking encyclopedias. Yet, for all their startling capacity to memorize facts, recall distant memories, the fact that they cannot navigate the sea of social cues often dooms them to hang up on the reefs of many who cannot understand them, relate to them. Then there’s me, with my off-the-scale emotional IQ, reading the most miniscueal social cues from across the room. My son, hears whispers from across the room, but is clueless to inuendo, while I hear social cues from across the room, hearing those whispers that mouths do not utter.
When I think about my son, the internal trauma he must live with in a blindingly mysterious world, a part of me knows grief for the maddening frustration he must face when he tries to connect with others. Of course, there is a blessing and a curse woven into this as well. You see, while my son doesn’t know how to read social cues, he also is blissfully unaware of the impact of the emotional weapons that some people use to inflict emotional pain on others. The hard reality is that as humans, our wondrous cultural advancements have made us no kinder to one another. In fact, the anonymity of the internet, the daily cultural blurring that surrounds us, permeates us, has given us a hard edge shank to wound, rend hearts around us, beyond us. We live with daily doses of bitter discouragement, subtle hurtfulness that would not have been met with apathy in earlier generations. So, for me, it comes as a blessing that my son does not feel the stabbing emotional wounds that so many would inflict on him. His heart is giant, his emotional well is gloriously deep, yet he lives mostly unpolluted by the poisonings that the rest of us must live with.
When I think of the “her” that must find my son, I know that she must surely be Supergirl. For someone to share their life with him then surely, she must be like me. She will be able to read the social cues of others for my son, all the while laughing off the emotional projectiles of hurtfulness that will surely be thrown her way. She will intimately know that bitter, yet beautiful cost for loving my son. I can see her now in my distant minds eye, knowing a future man, my son, who will be loyal to her until his dying breath, encouraging in dark hours, hardworking, diligent to a fault. A true friend to her in all of life’s weathers. Only Supergirl will know the beauty of my son’s heart, for her vision will penetrate deeply through his flesh and bone, seeing the beauty underneath. With an encouraging smile, she will take him into her arms and fly with him, showing him the clouds, the stars that rest sparklingly high above a world that cannot fly, that cannot know the courage that must run daily through his veins.
Supergirl, I await your future coming. I promise you to do my best to ready him for you before you take him to your Fortress of Encouragement. I will hide the Kryptonite of this world that would destroy him, enclosing it in the armor of my own heart each day so that he may know your coming. Hurry now, Supergirl, grow up strong, true and to be the real woman that I know you must be. Hurry now, woman of steel, we’re watching the sky for you. Fly safe, fly true.
“It’s not the men in your life that matters, it’s the life in your men.”
~ Mae West