Thursday, September 8, 2011

Another Day-- Another $59.95

Another Day Another $59.95

This itching is driving me crazy. At least I know now that it isn’t poison ivy from puppies jumping on me.  My son Paul broke out in a rash about the same time. He called me and said he used Borax in the laundry and his face and arms flamed red in raised splotches. That figures. One of his mentors took him to an urgent care clinic for a shot and prescribed prednisone tablets. He’s four and a half hours away. I knew sooner or later, he’d need a doctor for something, just didn’t think it would be two weeks into his freshman year of college. My penchant for hygienic laundry led me to good old fashioned Borax. I’d bought a box for the house and one for Paul. Paul and I are the only ones to break out—ironic.

A few days before, Paul let his cockatiel fly around the apartment. They both were adjusting to their new home and Calvin (feathered friend) was a security measure taken to ease homesickness. With so much to consider in this major life transition, I didn’t think to clip Calvin’s wings or remind Paul to close his bedroom door when unlatching the cage. Paul’s roommate returned home and in opening the front door, Calvin flew out. Paul hollered, “Close the door!” In so doing, Calvin disorientated by a closed door, took flight far away from an almost familiar nest. Paul and Mohammed searched the surrounding apartment complex, (Paul, for two hours) to no avail. My husband Rob answered his cell phone to Paul explaining in tears, the tragedy.

In the meantime, another mentor brought Paul’s bike to the shop for a tire repair.

When I arrived for Labor Day weekend to bring Paul’s TV and other necessities, I picked up the bike, and also purchased a tarp to cover it up in weather, and met him that Friday after class. A little sweaty, book bag slung over his back and his “Life Is Good” t-shirt adorning his athletic shoulders, he shuffled into the Beyond Academics building. “There you are! I’m so glad to see you.” He snickered and wrapped his arms around me. A different person than the little boy I used to know. Never to change though is a pronounced cowlick on the left side of his forehead. When I cut his hair, it swipes growth to the right and reminds me of Hermie the elf off of the cartoon, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The one feature that looks like I had something to do with being his mother is our eyes. I matched his with hazel intensity, an earthy summation of focus and struggle.

We ventured on to his apartment where I introduced myself to Mohammed.  My estimation is that he’s at least in his late twenties, and personable. What I learned is that he is Egyptian and a Fulbright Scholar. I was relieved to discover that providence had chosen the right house mate for Paul. Later in the weekend, Mohammed offered me a Beck’s and though I declined, I appreciated the offer and his sharing that he went to Catholic school and his ease with American culture. He also discussed seeing through Paul’s everyday anxiety expressed through slapping fists and echolalia. He added, “I offered to walk with Paul to the clinic to take care of his skin rash.” I could have spent more time talking with him, but Paul and I had a movie date with his VCR and a bowl of popcorn. After a polite prompting that we get the show on the road, five minutes later, Paul waltzed over to the couch to pick me up (like a bridegroom crossing a threshold with his bride) and carried me to his room. Mohammed laughed, “Don’t drop her!”

I had several goals for my visit with my oldest autistic son. One was to teach him how to retrieve messages from his cell phone. In between putting away stuff bought at Target, and him assembling a Lego Empire State Building structure, I suggested he learn how to work his voice mail. He asked, “How long will it take?”

“About five minutes.”

 He abruptly returned, “Well, come on, let’s do it.” Looking up from the Legos, he fluttered his fingers as if to say, “I really can’t be bothered with this but since we have to… woman, will you get on with it?!”

Paul recorded his voice message for callers, like me, Rob, Granny, and his mentors and friends, when he couldn’t be reached. It goes something like this:  “Pause…Hi this is Paul. You’ve reached me, Paul Anderson. I couldn’t answer the phone. I hope you aren’t an emergency for me. I’ll have to call you back.” As he went on, I stifled my laughing and let him run on with it until the system cut off his rant, prompting with, “If you would like to save this message, press one.”

I thought it better to spend my nights at a hotel rather than clutter up their couch. There is also a third roommate who sleeps all day and plays video games all night.

Before I came to visit, I asked Paul what his new roommate’s name was and he said, “I don’t know, I’ll have to re-ask.”

When Abdulla came out of hiding, for a short interval, I introduced myself and judged he was probably about 18 with a head of curly dark soccer player hair. A bit reclusive, but harmless, I’d say.

Both mornings I was in Greensboro, I picked Paul up early to return to my hotel for the complimentary breakfast. He piled his plate high with sausage and scrambled eggs. Included in two more bowls were grits and fruit. I figured we might as well take advantage of the amenity and save Paul some money on his food bill.

After only three weeks of college, I see progress. He’s more aware of the effort people put into doing things for him. He seems to care more. I took him out to eat at The Macaroni Grille and got a sudden pang of anxiety wondering if they could cater to his gluten-free diet. Paul was nervous too and all settled down when we ordered a rice-based penne pasta with Italian sausage and marinara sauce. I submitted to a clear glass of Chardonnay and eggplant parmesan.  

Before digging in, we said grace. Paul is very articulate when it comes to talking to God. He covers all his bases in thanking Him and asking for blessings over dinner. He gets downright deep. “Dear Jesus, help me to know my dreams and how to think and how to talk to people. Help me to not spend too much money. Help me to make the right decisions so Mom doesn’t have to spend too much money.” I grabbed his hand and let him go on. When he finished, I looked at him and said, “Paul, don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m so proud of you. You are trying so hard. Try to enjoy being in college and being in Greensboro. Have fun with this. You can only fit so much in in one day. Remember, you can’t fail.”

Saturday morning we discussed getting a new bird. We ended up at Pet Smart and decided on a male parakeet with stripes on his head which means he’s young and trainable.   We had his wings clipped and bought the necessary cage toys, a mirror and colorful twine rings and a bell. We are hoping he will mimic and talk. “What are you going to name him,” I asked. “I’m not sure.” “What about Spartan?” Paul replied, “I was thinking that.” So, Spartan it is.

So the afternoon moves into laundry and getting Spartan used to his new home. His tiny heart is beating fast and he refuses to sit on our fingers. He needs a gentle transition. He’s a tropical green and seems so little inside the former cage of a larger bird.

Paul is growing agitated as the hot afternoon lingers. I asked if he wanted to go swimming at my hotel. “No, you don’t want to know what I want to do.”

 “Yes, I do. Tell me.”

 “I want to ride my bike.”

 “Well, ok, let’s do that.”

We found a nice park with a loop for walkers, runners, and bikers. I didn’t have my running shoes and I was pooped from being up since 4:30 am. I’d sat with my laptop writing through my sleeplessness. By the time 7 AM rolled around, it was time for coffee.

I sat in my car and read a book and dozed off while Paul peddled his way through the park.

Paul seemed to be gone forever, but I figured it was a pretty wide route in noticing others starting and finishing their own jaunts. Finally, Paul is walking his bike up the hill with his broken bike chain trailing from a greasy hand. He’s upset. I can’t avoid getting upset either, and proclaim, “What happened?”

 “Can we not have a normal experience for a change?”

When I get worked up, it’s difficult for me to remember who said what and in what order, but I will try.

Black grease covers the drive train because Paul compulsively oils the chain every time he rides his bike. I pull a box of tissue and a bottle of alcohol I keep in the car. I’m pouring alcohol on Paul’s hands and handing him tissue.

He’s filthy, so getting the bike in the car is up to me. My white shirt doesn’t fare well under the circumstances, and I’m growing ever more ticked.

“Paul, why do you oil your chain every time? You don’t need to do that!”

“My shirt is ruined.”

 “Ohhhhh,” He groans.

 He’s wringing his hands, clenching his mouth and winding tighter by the minute. My frustration doesn’t help, and I know that, but I can’t help it. Sometimes I think that if he sees what his actions cause, he may learn and not do it again. Mostly though, I feel guilty about overreacting.

“I don’t know why the chain broke,” he says. “I might have changed the gears wrong.”

“Well, how old is the chain?”

“I don’t know. Old enough.”

We rushed over to the bicycle shop again. We decide that to put a new chain on, the bike needed to be cleaned up first.

The guy says, “You could buy this degreaser and brushes and use water to rinse it after it dissolves.” I’m thinking, does the apartment complex even have a hose? There is no way I’m getting into that. That would mean heaving the bike back into my car, grease and all.

“Can you all do it?”

“Yea, we can.”

“How much?”

“We’ll have to work this into the schedule for $59.95.”

“Well, ok. Here we go.”

What choice do we have? I always justify the cost of things when it comes to Paul in counting in the hardship and modifications for education.

We walk out of the bike shop and Paul stops to gesture and look me in the eye. “Mom, at least I am not hurt.”

“You are right Paul. It could be so much worse, couldn’t it?”

We head across the train tracks to Moe’s Mexican Grill.

“Welcome to Moe’s!” they holler.

Ordering is a bit tedious. No wonder it followed suit with our afternoon episode. We get to the end of the counter and I’m pondering the drinks. Soda, “Nah.” French carbonated water?  Not enough zip.

I see beer plunged into ice and I hear Rob in my head say, “Who needs a drink?”

Mind you, I haven’t had a full beer since high school. I prefer zinfandel, or pinot grigio, or a light red vino. I try a few sips every so often, but have never acquired the taste.

I know they don’t have wine and it doesn’t sound all that great with Mexican.

I pull a Bud Lite w/lime out of the chest.

It’s cold after a sweltering day.

I have to admit it helps the $59.95 go down a little easier.



  1. Ok Readers...I think I enabled the comments so that you can tell me what you think and feel about my writing. I hope it works!

  2. i love to hear paul pray. i think everyone should pray as honestly as him. love the story and especially the ending. and i love you and your family!!!

  3. Sweet story...still smiling! :)

  4. You are are such a gifted writer. I feel like I'm right there with you. I read all of your posts because it gives such a good insight as to experiences of an autistic parent.