(Author’s note: I wrote this post from my son Jack’s perspective, based on conversations and observations of him in New York this weekend, and in life.)
We went to New York City this weekend.
We left on Friday, and it took us five hours to drive there. We stayed in a place called Times Square, which was noisy and smelly and crowded, like all the people in the world were standing and talking and eating in one spot.
My father held my hand the whole time. Usually that would have made me mad and I would have told him no, because I am not a baby, I am twelve and even though I have autism I can walk by myself. But in New York City there were so many people and it made me scared that I might disappear.
Everywhere you looked in Times Square there were people. People laughing and people talking on their phones and people walking with serious faces. People eating hotdogs, and buying sodas, and crossing the street with big bags looped over their arms.
There were people dressed in costumes like Elmo and Minnie Mouse and The Incredible Hulk. There was a lady who had nothing on but underwear and she had the American flag painted all over the top of her body, but you could still see her you-know-whats.
I never saw the American flag like that. I’ve seen it hanging from a flagpole and waving in the wind and, once, wrapped around a man’s shoulders on TV, but I have never seen it painted on a woman’s body.
I started to say, “Naked, naked. She was naked,” over and over again.
“Jack,” my mother said with her voice low. “In our culture we don’t say—“
“I know. Okay, I know.” I tucked the word naked back in my brain where it buzzed around like a bee and I didn’t let it come out of my mouth again.
She says this a lot now, my mother. She tells me there are all kinds of rules in our culture which I have to try to follow. They aren’t like law-rules. If you break them, you won’t go to jail or anything like that. They are just rules that make everyone feel more comfortable.
For example, in our culture, you shouldn’t talk about people’s fatness, or their oldness, or what color their skin is. It is okay to talk about how tall someone is if you say it in just the right way so they don’t feel too bad that they look like a giant.
In our culture, it is not polite to put your hands in your pants if you are a boy even if it feels very good. That is called private behavior and it is something you only do if you are alone by yourself.
In our culture, you are supposed to look people straight into their eyes even if it gives you a headache. That way they know you are listening to them and you hear their words.
A lot of things in our culture don’t make sense to me.
It doesn’t make sense that a lady can walk around with American flags painted on her you-know-what’s, but every time I put my hand in my pants someone tells me to stop.
It doesn’t make sense that people only think you hear them if you look at them. You hear with your ears, not your eyes.
It doesn’t make sense that it’s okay to tell the truth sometimes but not all the time. Like if you were the one who ate the last cookie you have to be honest about it, but if you see a man with no leg you can’t say, “You are missing a leg!” It could hurt his feelings, even though he must know he doesn’t have one of his legs anymore.
On Saturday we walked all around and took a bus that had no top. We sat up there and the sun felt like it was cooking my head right off my neck. I had a fear that I would fall right off the top of that bus and crash onto the street below us, so I held my mother’s arm very tightly.
I have fears all day long. I’ve always had them, but lately I have started to tell my mother about them. I look at her eyes and I say, “I am having a fear now.”
The first time I told her I was having a fear, her whole face got a smile on it and that made me mad and confused.
“Are you for happy. That I have a fear.”
“No! Jack, no. I am just so happy you told me about your fear. So now I can help you.”
Mostly I have fears at school. I have a fear that there won’t be enough computers, and a fear that I will be tagged it at recess and I’ll have to try to catch people even though I am not fast at all.
I have had the same teacher for two years now. Mrs. Steere. It is like you steer a bike, only with an extra e at the end. She was my teacher in fifth grade and now in sixth grade. In fifth grade, whenever I thought about Mrs. Steere I felt light and happy. She has a very quiet voice and a nice smile.
But sixth grade, well, it hasn’t been so good. I got a big mad feeling at her one day and I said mean words and I tried to kick her with my foot. So now when I think about her I feel a little happy, but also sad and kind of like I made myself look bad.
In our culture, it is not okay to try to kick your teacher. You have to take your big feelings to another room where you calm down for a little while.
After the bus with no ceiling, we went to the Empire State Building, and out for lunch, and then to this museum where everyone was made out of wax.
But for the whole day, all I wanted to do was go to the M&M store. I saw it when we first went to our hotel and it had a big, huge screen where M&M’s exploded and danced, which is silly because M&M’s can’t move like that. I asked my mother a lot of times when we were going to go. She kept saying she didn’t know the exact time, but that we would definitely get there.
In our culture, people don’t like when you ask the same question a lot of times. Their mouths get tight like they have eaten a very sour piece of candy.
I liked the wax museum. There was Spiderman, and Taylor Swift, and George Bush, and my very favorite singer, Selena Gomez. I stood next to her for a picture and I couldn’t help it, I reached out and touched her leg to see what it felt like.
My mother was standing with the camera and she called over to me fast-like, “Jack! Don’t do that!”
In our culture, I guess you can’t try to feel fake people who are made out of wax. It is not appropriate.
After all that, we finally made it to the M&M store. I was so happy.
It was very busy in there. There were two floors full of everything you could think of—M&M socks and blankets and t-shirts and hats.
“Jack,” my mother said. “Look at that line. We should go, I’ll buy you candy at home.”
I felt really mad then. I started to hit my hands on my head the way I always do when I need the words to come out but they won’t.
I looked over and Daddy was standing by the door, trying to make sure my brother Henry didn’t keep touching the key chains. My stomach squeezed up tight.
“Jack, come on, it’s crazy in here.”
“I have to. I have to.”
“You have to what? They have M&M’s in New Hampshire, I’ll buy you a bunch as soon as we get home.”
“On Tuesday. Tuesday. It is Mrs. Steere’s birthday.”
My mother turned and looked me right in my face. “You want to buy her a present?”
“Yes. For she likes. Chocolate.”
All day I had been thinking about it. I just didn’t know how to say it. So I picked out a plastic bottle full of M&M’s. It says Happy Birthday on it.
I hope she likes it.