ďAutism is what Nicole has,Ē Dr. Willis told my mother a few years ago, avoiding my five-year-old curiosity by only staring into her soothing blue eyes. Because his shrill voice clanged as if a cymbal against my eardrums, and the redness of his pen stung my eyes to the point of watering, I drowned out the rest of the conversation and stared down at my new baby blue Nike tennis shoes, as I rocked back and forth to calm my wretched nerves.
Concerned that I might have to be put away in a group home if I continued with my erratic outbursts, my mother kept me busy reading and learning from any book she could find that made me smile. ďDonít give her that,Ē my father said one day, as Mom handed me Jane Austenís Pride and Prejudice, which would keep me busy for a couple hours.
ďErnie, what else would you have me do? Filling her day with reading calms her down, and she doesnít have as many spells.Ē
ďGrace, Iíll take her to the park. Hell, no harm could come to her there.Ē
I hadnít been outside much since the diagnosis, my mother being afraid I might embarrass her in public with my illness, that no one could seem to figure out how to deal with. Just when I thought a treatment would work, my senses would start playing tricks on my mind and nerves again and I was back at square one. Kicking the book and watching it slide across the glossy wooden floor between them, I made my opinion known.
Looking up at Dad with a smile, I nodded my head. ďMaybe itíll be alright. Nicole needs the fresh air,Ē Mom said, her eyes softening to my happiness.
Outside, the sun shined brightly and the birds chirped with glee. Perfect day for a walk in the park. Quiet sounds turned into ruckus, as Dad and I walked down a path in Central Park. Road noises, people chattering in their own conversations, footsteps pounding against the pavement, litter hitting the ground, rusty swing set chain hinges creaking, children laughing and screaming, parents scolding, dogs barking, and birds chirping their various, menacing melodies all grew louder and louder and drilled into my brain with a dull bit, never ending its cycle and only building in intensity as I walked onward, mumbling a prayer to myself that it would only be my hearing thatís affected this time, and not be as severe as my last spell I had when Dad was trying to show me a good time outside. Soon, the smell of garbage, my fatherís cologne, the freshly mowed grass, dog stench and poop overwhelmed me.
Taking my small hand out of Dadís grasp, I stopped and stared at the people walking, running, playing, and wearing all these bright reds and yellows. Under the constant pressure of all this chaos, my vision turned into black and white splotches of nothingness, my nose stung from the pungent smells, and I tried to keep my ears from ringing for Dadís sake. Very quickly, I grabbed hold of my fatherís leg, and then let go and fell onto the wet grass as fire singed my nerves with each initial touch.
When this happened, the best thing to do was close my eyes, sit up, pull my knees into my chest, and rock back and forth until everything subsided or Dad could get me out of the situation. Xenophobia, thatís what these people probably thought I had, that I disliked them and their smells and noises, their every movement. Young and old voices chatter in interrogation to my dad. Zero, I was back to square zero, not one.