The 4th instalment of my story about an autistic boy starting a band in the early 90's.
Chapter 4 - 1989 - If Only Tonight We Could Sleep
“If only tonight we could sleep in a bed made of flowers”
I don’t mean to upset mum but that doesn’t override the fact that my shirt and tie are strangling me. We’ve arranged with the school that I don’t need to wear a tie, so why do I have to now?
“Please, honey,” says mum, her voice wobbling through her gentle flowing tears “Just for today. Alan, just for today”
She moves her eyes down and away, the way she does when she doesn’t want to argue with me. I can see her gently shaking as the crying takes hold. I know that she can’t help it. But I can’t work out how the tie is going to help. How will it make anything better? Dad would have let me go tieless. I feel the pain of this thought and I know that if I say it to mum she will feel it too. Today I don’t really have anything to say. All my thoughts and words are broken, stuck somewhere between my brain and my mouth.
“How does the jacket feel? “ more composure now. I know I shouldn’t argue.
I don’t know why she asks. I have told her endless times that these kinds of outfits squeeze me and tie me up in knots at every joint. I am going to do this for her though. I look straight ahead and try to ignore all the knots.
In the car, mum reaches over and touches my hand. As soon as her skin touches mine I feel like I have been slapped. Every instinct in me screams for me to pull my hand away. I know that this is important to mum. I always feel so bad when mum wants to touch me and I have to pull away. Dad always told me that it breaks her heart when I do it but they both understood why I did. I can now recognise that expression and want to do anything I can to keep it off my mum’s face. Her hand feels heavy on mine, every time she squeezes I think my fingers are going to break. Mum is going to need me today, I remind myself. Aunty Caroline told me so yesterday.
Aunty Caroline is sitting on the other side of mum, holding her other hand. I really like Aunty Caroline, most of the time. She doesn’t really understand me but she really tries hard to. She is always there to help and always tells me I can ring her if I need to. She is very straightforward and straight-talking. You always know where you are with her. I like the fact that if I have upset or offended her she will always tell me how and why. I don’t always agree but at least I know. I hate it when people say ‘nothing’ or ‘I’m fine”. How am I supposed to match facial expressions with moods and feelings if people won’t tell me how they are feeling. I need all the information.
I look over at Caroline and she gives me a strange smile. It sort of looks like she is trying to smile, can’t, but this is the best she can manage. I am confused and as I turn to look away she gives me a firm nod that tells me that I am doing the right thing. I look straight forward again and take a deep breath. I am looking out for mum today, she will need me.
The car journey seems really long as we wind through Hove and Brighton streets. I am not used to sitting for this long without finding something to do to keep my mind busy. Drawing, writing or collecting data about the other cars on the road. I usually have a book in the car just for journeys. All we three are doing is sitting and looking. Occasionally Caroline will say something quietly to mum and they will both nod. Sometimes they both look at me out of the corner of their eyes. I feel really alone.
We pull up at a little church thingy and Caroline gets out of her side of the car. I jolt a little as mum lets go of my hand and I feel a little relief, then I realise that I must get out my side. As I stand I stretch my hand out flat and then back to a fist a few times. It feels like mine again. I wait for mum and Caroline to walk past me before I follow them. We walk slowly along a clean, well-kept path that gently curves through some low gardens and lawns. There are lots of rose bushes with small brass plaques in front of them Like at those posh gardens we went to in London once. The flowers around the gardens are beautiful. The colours are vibrant and bright against the grey sky. I really like these gardens. They look so neat and organised. Someone has really thought about where each plant should be and what should be around it. I don’t know anything about gardening but this makes sense to me.
Outside the church thing, there are neatly arranged pots full of neatly arranged plants and flowers. The pots are different shapes, sizes and by the wear and tear shown on them, different ages but they are neatly organised in a logical way. The person who designed or arranged these is clearly very skilled.
The pots cover the bottom part of the church, the building bricks look quite new and in good condition but the church is designed to look old. ‘Classic’ they would probably call it. A well-dressed man in a neatly fitting black suit, white shirt and black tie is standing by the big arched double doors. I wonder how he can stand to be wearing his suit every day, assuming he does. He shakes mum's hand and then Aunty Caroline’s. He looks at me kindly. I start to panic, “what do I do?” I think, feeling my body freezing. Usually, this is where mum or dad says “he’s autistic” sometimes they add “he doesn’t like to be touched” as often people don’t understand what autism is. I usually wave politely at this point and most often people wave back. Occasionally people ignore this and grab my hand anyway. But not that often.
I wave at the well-dressed man and wait for his reaction
A look of what I am pretty sure is confusion rushes in panic across his face. It would be confusion I think as this is a pretty random thing to happen, especially with no explanation. This man takes it in his stride though, smiles, waves back and steps back a little to let me through. He is good.
“Oh he is autistic”
Aunty Caroline hurriedly adds. Mum’s thoughts are elsewhere. Dad says that hardly anyone knows about autism but more and more people are being diagnosed. He told me that sometimes autistic people have a kind of superpower. I haven’t got one though. He told me that my obsessions are kind of like superpowers but how can being interested in something be a superpower?. He also tells me that my different way of looking at things will be really useful when I am older. The way all the kids treat me at school doesn’t make it feel like I have a superpower. I am just an alien and it doesn’t feel useful. Maybe though, maybe I am an alien like Ziggy Stardust…… or like Bowie himself.
The well-dressed man is talking. I am not sure what about. I can’t concentrate. No-one has explained to me what is going on. I miss dad. He always made sure I knew what was going on. Everyone is so well dressed in here but they all look so sad. I keep looking over at mum. I am supposed to be looking after her today, but I don’t know what to do. The flowers in the church are beautiful. Some of them are from the gardens we walked through. I never knew there were so many shades of black. Some of them are charcoal grey like my school trousers. The inside of the church looks really clean and neat, not like an old church at all. The paint is fresh and clean and not at all faded and patchy. It looks like an old church though. Other flowers in here are newer, fresher and don’t match the garden ones at all. The newer ones are all mum’s favourite colour. She thinks they are dad’s favourite too but he doesn’t really care either way. He just says he likes them to make mum happy. I am supposed to be looking after mum. I put my hand on hers and I feel her tense up. It makes her sad when I do that, why has she done it? I look at her worried that I am making her uncomfortable. She smiles at me with a look that I don’t understand. She mouths silently ‘thank you’ and looks at Aunty Caroline. Aunty Caroline nods at me again. I think I am doing a good job.
When we get home our house is full of people. There is food and drinks out and people are talking. My head starts to get filled with the low rumbling of chattering people. My head is aching a little bit but I am sure that mum wants me to be here so I stand by the crisps for a little while. A few people I recognise say nice things to me. A few ask me how I am but I don’t know how to answer. I watch my mum talking to people and it seems so strange. Usually when my mum talks she ends up laughing or at least smiling. I watch her for ages though and she doesn’t smile once. Aunty Caroline goes and says something quietly in her ear and they both look over at me. Then mum walks over to me and asks if I want to go to my room and listen to music or something. I nod and turn to go up the stairs. Unsure I turn and look back at mum. She smiles ‘go on honey, I know you don’t like parties’. She is right, I don’t like parties.
This doesn’t feel like a party.
I go into my room and sit on my bed. Like I have done thousands of times before. This doesn’t feel like my room. I wonder why mum doesn’t need me to look after her anymore.