Last week I wrote about our adventures in Yellowstone National Park. Before Wyoming becomes too distant in my mind’s rearview mirror, I want to shine a light on one little hour we spent there.
At one point, I sent wifey to go see the picturesque springs and geysers near Old Faithful. I’d seen them seven years ago, she hadn’t. Dar can sometimes handle the walk, but he often drags his feet, and I wanted wifey to be able to cover a good distance. Not sure how we’re going to do such things in two years, but for now, she can carry our 2-year-old while I stay with Dar.
So, here’s the scene: Old Faithful (not pictured above). The massive geyser is ringed by a paved half-circle of an observation area, with flat benches stood all around it – enough to seat hundreds of people. There are also wide paths leading from the geyser to three different lodges; from above, they probably resemble wide spokes on a hubcap. Happiness is with us, and Dar manages to content himself “tee-tee-tee”ing around the same spoke that had occupied his attention on our first day at the park. As the minutes pass, however, I’m feeling hot. Seeing as we’re one-and-a-half miles above sea level, Dar and I are both sunscreened up, but that doesn’t mean I feel like standing with him in the bright sun for all the “tee-tee-tee”ing.
I go sit in the shade of some trees, about seventy feet from Dar. Like any parent, I do the quick calculations: where can he go that I can’t see him? Nowhere. It’s such a wide open area. What happens if someone grabs him, tries to kidnap him? Impossible. The parking lot is far. There are people all over the place. I would scream bloody murder (not sure if Dar would join me, but whatever) and Dar would not be kidnapped.
Minutes pass, and everything is fine. Dar “tee-tee-tee”s in a circle. Not really a circle, more like points in a pentagram, though nothing nearly that organized. He just smiles, moves, says “tee-tee-tee” or similar, crosses his fingers, looks at his hands, repeats. This is fun for him. Playgrounds aren’t necessarily more fun. He just likes being outside, where he can feel the wind on his face and see it cause leaves to shimmer in the distance. That’s Dar being Dar.
But…you can’t expect bystanders to understand that about a 4-year-old, not all of them. And…right that minute, it does kind of look like I’ve left him. When you drive into California there’s a sign reminding you of a $1000 fine for animal abandonment. State borders might be good places to leave dogs, but it occurs to me that if you were the kind of person to abandon a child, a big tourist attraction has some advantages. The bystanders walk by with puzzled expressions, as though to say “Why is he acting this way?” “Did someone leave this child?” Dar doesn’t look at me. In the glare of the sun, the bystanders don’t see me in the shade at first, though when they do, I guess they know I’m the father. I mean, I don’t see anyone bringing over a cop.
The scope of my vision is just like the camera angle in Punk’d, or any Candid Camera-ish show. It looks as though I’m watching people who are passing a fake $100 bill, just to see what they’ll do. And then I think, for the first time…hey, that would be kind of funny. Even for a parent of a typical child. I mean, if Will Ferrell can corral his 3-year-old daughter into funnyordie.com’s most popular skit, what’s stopping me? Just see what they’ll do. Just go to different venues, let Dar be Dar somewhere, film from a discreet distance, and post the videos to my youtube channel. How normal people react when coming face to face with autism. I wouldn’t have to worry that Dar would give me away by looking my way. It might be so offensive and strange that…it would almost work?
For about 30 seconds, this actually seems like a brilliant idea to me. I mean, one problem with all the autism consciousness-raising movies/videos (I can name at least ten on Netflix) is that they’re so damn…sincere. Lot of preaching to the choir, I’m afraid. I mean if Laura Linney can star in The C Word, can we not try to find some humor in my little boy’s situation?
But then I think…not only wouldn’t it be funny, but people wouldn’t get it. My youtube channel would become the target of ruthless, blathering invective. (Making it much like every other popular youtube channel.) “What’s your name?” “Where’s your mom?” Dar wouldn’t answer, and the people would call cops and…okay, it wouldn’t work. It would be terrible, I realize.
So I watch Dar “tee-tee-tee” for a while. I remind myself that these are the good times, the times when he seems happy, even if I feel isolated. It could be worse; his random happiness could give way to random unhappiness. And then…it does. Dar begins an all-out freakout. I try a couple of dozen things: songs, treats, massage, going inside, going back outside. As the geyser’s eruption becomes more imminent, more and more people are gathering in the vicinity, and more of them are staring at us like we’re freaks. Would this make a good video? Maybe, but again for the wrong reasons. Maybe I’m being karmically punished for thinking of Punking people. I pray for the geyser to burst the way Dar has, so that he’ll hopefully be distracted. But it doesn’t. Wifey returns and Dar is like nails on a chalkboard for both of us. We pile into the car. We’re about to leave, except that I almost want to see Old Faithful, seeing as we waited so long for it. But Dar is still freaking out in the car. The park gives you a plus-or-minus ten minutes for eruption, and I swear we’re at T-PLUS ten minutes when I give up. Our car moves. The geyser blows. We stop and watch. Another car gets behind us, lightly honks. What, dude, you don’t want to see it? Nope. We move on, bidding a fond farewell to the world’s most famous, best-managed outburster. Our own little outburster, well, there’s no saying goodbye to him, and no knowing what to do with him, until the day we die.