We can’t move.
I love my job when my students teach me things. Last week, they taught me: we can’t move. We’re stuck in our house in Berkeley until Dar moves out, maybe in 12 years? Maybe never.
I mean, I knew that. But I hadn’t seen it in celluloid. And my job is about applying celluloid to life. I’d slept on it.
I teach “America on Film,” or as I call it, “the diversity class.” One week, it’s Latinos on film. The next week, it’s Asians on film. And so on. I’ve been teaching it for years. Every week, different students do an in-class presentation. I assign them a specific scholarly article on the subject matter, but I allow them a lot of latitude on choosing which film clips they’ll show.
Last week, a couple of students showed Silver Linings Playbook. I’d seen that movie when it came out, back when Dar was 3, before this blog began. We knew then that Dar was autistic. But maybe we didn’t know as much as we thought we did. Or maybe we were in denial, or shock.
I liked the movie. For my annual Oscar party, I even made, I mean, uh, paid for, a cake based on the movie. It looked like a big, uh, green book. I kind of forgot about the movie itself, though. I mean, you know, it was fine. That year I was more impressed with Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, and Life of Pi.(I’d kill to have another group of such great movies each making $100 million+ now.) Kinda forgot about SLP.
Until last week. It wasn’t really the movie, it was a scene my students showed. They showed Bradley Cooper’s character having a midnight freak-out. Now, Cooper didn’t freak out the way Dar freaks out. Cooper actually used words from the English language. But…it chilled my blood all the same. And not onlybecause Cooper is like a 35-year-old man with intellectual disabilities still living with his parents.
In the movie clip, during the midnight freak-out, cops arrive at Bradley Cooper’s house. Robert DeNiro’s character goes down to tell them to go away and that there’s nothing to see here. The cops barrel past DeNiro telling him that the neighbors are complaining and that they have to check to see that everyone is safe.
Thank God I was in the back of a dark classroom, so that no one could see my face go pale. Honesty compels me to admit that my face going pale isn’t exactly a dramatic change. It also compels me to admit that my neighbors have never called the police. Somehow, they endure Dar’s constant caterwauling without complaint. Each one is a saint.
In the movie clip, Robert DeNiro walks outside to see many neighbors standing on the street wearing robes and folded arms. He walks down the sidewalk saying, “nothing to see here, people, nothing to see here.” I never before related so closely to DeNiro. When the movie came out, I didn’t really relate. Now it was like it was speaking only to me.
Has Dar gotten worse since 2012? It’s not that he’s so much worse, it’s that his whinings and screams are obviously not the screams of a toddler anymore. He sounds like a 9-year-old shrieking for minutes on end. And somewhere deep within our evolved reptilian brains, we’re programmed to respond to such screams by offering to help. Somehow I’ve rewired my programming. Somehow my neighbors have as well. How is that possible?
In the movie, they live in suburban Philadelphia. This autumn, I visited suburban Philadelphia for the first time, for a conference. NOT for the first time, the conference organizer invited me to apply to work there. Would I like a tenure-track job at a supportive private university in New Jersey? Yes! Is it any way realistic? No! Because of Dar.
I know that the problem isn’t exactly endemic to suburban Philadelphia. It turns out that people enjoy sleeping in cities and towns in every part of the country. But still. It was like the movie was sending me a message. “Be grateful for what you have, Daniel.”
I don’t want to sound like we’re making some huge sacrifice. I love it here in Berkeley. I love this house. There are a lot of great things about our situation. But still…this is America. This is the world. It’s hard not to think about other options.
When Dar is really at a fever pitch, and I’m trying to sleep, honesty compels me to admit that my first instinctual thought is: “he’s so ungrateful.” I don’t like this thought because it doesn’t help me. It’s probably not even true in any normal sense, because Dar doesn’t know what gratitude is any more than he knows what queues are. But still, that’s how I feel in the moments that I first hear those blood-curdling screams. I feel Dar’s deep, deep ingratitude for all we do for him. And it bothers me.
I guess I need to be reminded to be doubly grateful for the two of us. I need a book to remind me that as horrible as it all is, there are a few – what’s the word? – silver linings. I need some kind of…silver linings book. Has anyone thought of that already?