When something smells bad, we tend to plug our noses, or walk away. Me, being a typical mother, I find the culprit, and get rid of it. No length is too long to solve the mystery. Opening the fridge I discover a science experiment in the back, pinch a corner of a Ziploc bag and walk it ever so careful to the trash. My husband says my sniffer likens to a German shepherd. I can decipher one part per billion.
Dropping my son off to college led my Sherlock Holmes explorations to a symbolic conclusion.
Autism is a disorder that cuts off a person from his surroundings. Self-absorbed, autonomous, and anti-social are appropriate adjectives. We learn through our senses. We see it in infants as they tend to put everything in their mouths. We see, hear, touch, make associations, form opinions and ultimately, we commune with God and His humanity.
In an autistic person’s brain, information short circuits. Pathways are obstructed. Like a fallen tree in the middle of a road, cars can’t pass. Messages get mixed up. Distractions abound. Images command undue fixation, like rubber necks stopping to look at a train wreck. Traffic is interrupted.
What is the immediate cause? Normal sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings are very acute in an autistic. Facial expressions are like flashes of lightening. A hug is like touching a hot stove. Conversation is a swarm of buzzing bees. With this type of sensory experience, it is no wonder one would retreat into his own shell, cover his ears in protest, close his eyes and scream out loud, to deafen noise of the outside world.
Flapping hands, rocking, or rapping a stick are ways of stimulating connections. Even repeating words at the end of sentences, or phrases, known as ‘echolalia’ are a grasp in filling sensory deprivation.
The autistic’s journey is a lonesome walk up a steep hill. It is not a party, where friends mingle and sip punch. No one wants to share this cup. The autistic is abandoned of relationship and reciprocation. He’s left to keep company with his own thoughts. There are only so many jigsaw puzzles you can piece, only so many hikes through the woods, or video games to play, before running out of things to amuse one’s self. Conversation is as difficult as brain surgery. Our human species as social creatures, in the autistic, displays a huge gap in genetic dynamics.
My sons live in the basement. My husband fondly calls it the dungeon. The girls live on the third floor. He calls this the tower. Everything trickles down to the basement, literally. We’ve had a flood from an overflowing toilet, which ran all night. Snakes have slithered in when the door was left ajar. Water has poured down through a flood light (pun) when the girls forgot to put the shower curtain inside the tub. Mold found its’ black niche within dry wall due to a leak from the AC line. We’ve had our home owner’s insurance in on two issues. It’s cold in the winter. In fact, it stays a constant temperature in the summer and air conditioning is unnecessary. The windows don’t have screens, so they rarely get opened. The boys sweat it out down there doing P90X and weightlifting also. The air can get pretty stale.
Paul hides in his room often to watch a movie, do a puzzle, sleep, and stew over what makes him unhappy and lonesome. The door is always closed. He’s very hygienic, showering twice a day, but cooped up in a 10x10 box, that capsuled air has nowhere to go. Odiferous doesn’t quite describe it. Anytime I try to correct him, he gets agitated.
I’ve come to identify the stench as loneliness. There’s almost a spiritual meaning lurking in its’ atmosphere.
I moved Paul into his new apartment at college, this August. . We’d stockpiled all housekeeping set-up in his room at home. We brought pots and pans, towels and sheets, even his bird, Calvin, the cockatiel. The morning I planned to leave for home, I pulled a brand new towel from his linen closet and scrunched up my nose. It was that stench. That did it. I grabbed up all the towels and tossed them in the washing machine.
I explained to Paul that he needed to keep his door open most of the time so that Calvin could see and hear him though out his strange, unfamiliar home. I realized the air conditioner would switch on automatic for ventilation. Screens lined Paul’s windows for opening. He’d be encouraged to venture out for campus events, and not spend time brooding within a stagnant cell.
Though it may seem I’m projecting my own loneliness upon what I think Paul experiences, in many ways, sons and mothers parallel each other. I offer to the parenting authorities everywhere, that a child, whether son or daughter, forms a world view through one’s relationship with the mother.
If what I smell is any indication of underlying struggles in my son’s life, than I stand legitimized in putting a tangible label on miserable solitude.
As depressing as this essay may be, I want to leave it with a happy ending.
The opportunity for Paul to go to college is a huge answer to prayer. I find it interesting, that the Bible says that God enjoys hearing our prayers, as if prayer is perfumed incense.
Fresh air also has a fragrance. It smells like hope and freedom.
Hope doesn’t disappoint.
Freedom doesn’t feel the need to release anger, 24/7.
Hope doesn’t complain.
Freedom doesn’t begrudge the future.
Hope doesn’t turn its back on the oppressed.
Freedom does open doors to the great beyond.
Hope does paint pictures of rainbows and sunrises.
Hope, loneliness’ opposite, sprays a room with flowers, herbs, and aromatics.
Freedom breezes in with friendship.
Hope smells good.