It happened again on Monday.
Not the screaming, exactly. Not exactly the screaming as though fire is roasting your genitalia. I mean, I’m used to that.
What happened was, in reaction to the screaming, an urgent knock at the door at about 4:15pm.
I opened the door. It was a male stranger in his mid-50s, maybe, with a female stranger in her mid-40s, perhaps. He had his iPhone to his ear.
“Hi,” I said. “How can I help you?”
“What’s going on here?” the strange man says.
“Oh, that’s my kid. He does that.”
“I’m on the phone with 911. What should I tell them?”
“You’re on the…whoa.” He tells the party on the other line to stand by while he figures out the situation.
“You’re hearing my kid, who has severe autism,” I say. “This is part of it. This is also part of the solution, to try to get him to talk.”
The strange woman says to the strange man, “You see? You should hang up.”
He waves her away and says into the phone, “The man claims his kid has autism. I can’t be sure of that.”
“Do you want to come in?” I ask. “Look around?”
The man says, “No, I don’t.”
I make the offer more directly to the woman, who says, “Sure, okay.”
She steps into the house. As it happens, Dar and his therapist are immediately apparent in the living room. Dar is on the couch flailing his legs. His therapist has asked him to do or say something, and he doesn’t want to. She has the patient of a saint with him. It’s truly remarkable.
Before we had this therapist, Dar would scream his way out of all kinds of learning. We love her for the tough love she gives Dar. But yes, it makes our house…louder.
I say to this strange woman, “There’s my kid. That’s his therapist. He’s never spoken. The screaming is part of the process.”
Dar’s therapist waves and says hi.
“I understand,” says the strange woman to me. “And I’m really sorry to be making your life any harder.”
“Thanks. My name is Daniel.” I offer my hand. “What’s yours?”
She tells me as she shakes my hand warmly.
I say, “What’s his name?”
She says, “uhhhh…” and walks outside again to her partner, who is standing on our front walk. I can’t make out everything the man is saying to the 911 operator, but it might be something like “He claims that his kid just screams like this normally.”
She approaches him and tells him that I’m telling the truth. He tells her she doesn’t know that. I can see from her body language that she clearly wants it to end as soon as it can.
“Sir, my name is Daniel,” I call to him. “What’s your name?”
“That doesn’t matter,” he answers.
“Look, I know you’re trying to be a good Samaritan and on one level I appreciate that. But this is normal for us. How often do you walk by this house?”
“All the time. I’ve never heard this.”
“If you’re around here all the time,” I ask, “do you live around here?”
“Yes.” He tells the 911 operator to hang on again.
“Where do you live? I mean, roughly.”
“That way.” He points down Eunice.
“That way. Two houses down, two blocks down…?” I’m so used to this method with my students it comes naturally. They will never, ever, ever answer a direct question. ‘What kind of movies do you like?’ Never. ‘So do you like comedies, dramas, adventure films…?’ Then they might answer.
Homeboy decides to give information. Whose opinion is he more afraid of, his partner or the 911 operator? Anyway, he says his exact address.
Now a light flashes above my head that these are relatively new owners, maybe in the last two years, and Dar hasn’t been screaming from the yard as much as he used to.
I ask, “Do you know Jenny Wenk?”
Shout-out to the Great Jenny Wenk who I know would be thrilled to appear on this blog! She is the glue that holds our neighborhood together. She organizes all the block parties and all the emergency preparedness meetings. If our neighborhood survives the Big Earthquake it will mostly be because of Jenny. LOVE her so much.
Based on his facial expressions, homeboy seems to have an issue with Jenny. That doesn’t surprise me.
Instead of answering me, he tells the 911 operator he’ll ask me for more information. Oh, no, I’m asking the questions, dude. “Have we met at the block parties? Have you been to any of the block parties?”
He says no.
I say, “Why not?”
He snaps, “That’s not important,” and maybe starts asking me about the therapy company…but I don’t even hear him. My brain is processing something else…I know his other next-door neighbor. I basically know all my neighbors except for homeboy.
“Do you know Dan and Laura?” I ask, interrupting his question.
“Yes, I know Dan and Laura.”
I go back into the house to see if R is doing his math homework, as he is supposed to be doing. Yes. He is. I tell him not to leave the house no matter what. He says ok and puts his pencil back on the paper. He won’t go anywhere. Besides, Dar’s therapist is there; she wouldn’t let him leave.
I am not really allowed to leave Dar’s therapist alone, but she well knows this is different. Incidents like these, in fact, justify her company’s policy of having a parent on site at all times. But she knows. We’re good.
When I get back to the front walk, homeboy (still on phone) and homegirl have walked out of my gate, toward their house. Perfect.
I just stroll right past them as I hear him say to his phone, “Yes, we still don’t know…” Their house is all of three doors down. Jenny Wenk is four doors down. Dan and Laura are two doors down. They share a border with my next-door neighbors Glenn and Tiffany, who are awesome. They let R use their treehouse any time he likes, which this summer has been no less than once a week. But they were awesome way before that.
I skip past Glenn and Tiffany’s house and abound Dan and Laura’s porch as though I’ve been on their property a million times. I don’t even look back to see if that registered. My brain is doing a different calculation. Dan would be working at REI at this time on a Monday, but Laura should be home. What exactly should I do if she isn’t?
Sure enough she’s home. Laura and I have bonded about a hundred times at the dog park, and then about ten other times over our dogs being the out-of-control kind. Ah poor Kiva, poor Athena. But never mind them now.
She opens the door. “Hi Daniel. What’s going on?”
“Hi, Laura, sorry to do this to you, uhh…” I turn around and sure enough, my new power couple is naturally appearing on the sidewalk in front of Laura’s porch. “Do you know this person?”
Laura answers nicely, “Oh, Cliff?” (His name isn’t Cliff; I’m changing it.) At that moment, “Cliff” ascends Laura’s two stairs, shakes my hand, and tells me his first name and last name – almost as though the 911 operator had suggested it.
I say, “Sorry, Laura, but do I have a nine-year-old severely autistic child who screams a lot?”
Laura winces. “Yeah. Yeah, you do.”
I look at Cliff with as much of a mic-drop face as I can muster. His partner is looking at him the same way.
Cliff, to the 911 operator: “Yeah, okay, uh…yes, I’ve now heard from a person I know and trust, so…yes. Okay. No. Thanks.” Cliff’s partner is explaining to Laura, and Laura is explaining to both of them. A few words later, Cliff finally hangs up the call.
Part of me feels bad to do this on Laura’s porch. But then, Laura is cool. She’d want to see what happens next, just like you do.
“Are cops coming here now?” I ask.
“No,” says Cliff.
“You’re sure? If we hear sirens in the next few minutes, that’s not you?”
“The man just told me that they won’t send anyone.”
“Okay. I’m curious, why didn’t you knock and talk to me before you called 911?”
“People lie. People dissemble.” Yes, he used the word dissemble.
I look at Laura for a second. I offer my hand to Cliff and partner; of course they each shake it. I say, “I have to go. I wish we could have met under other circumstances.”
The partner says “me too.” Cliff says nothing! Okay, Cliff. Jenny and I will be back.
That evening, when I tell wifey about this, she says “Why did you go to Laura’s?”
I say, “uhhh…why not?”
“Let him call the police,” says wifey. “Who cares? They’ll see Dar, they’ll find out about us, we have nothing to hide.”
I say, “Well, I guess I just didn’t want the police in our house again.” The last time was about five months ago, when Dar was having three Grand Mal seizures at five in the morning.
Maybe she’s right.
Dar’s therapist tells me that next time she would like to talk to such a person. Did I say I love her? I didn’t say it enough.
WE CAN NEVER MOVE. Just putting that here.
If your kid has challenges that seem insurmountable, just think of the last time a person on the phone with a 911 operator basically framed you as a child molester. And if that has never happened to you, there’s a blessing you have that I don’t. See, Eric Idle was right.
Always look on the bright side of life. Wee-woo, wee-woo, wee-woo-wee-woo-wee-woo.