an autistic child helps a young man to confront his grief.
|Loss. It hits everyone at some point in their life. It struck Matt as hard as a train derailed into a concrete wall when his father died.
He had just left University and was living back at home casual teaching in his local town. He planned to spend his time there figuring out where it was he was actually going, what it was that he wanted to do with his life. Before he knew it, six months had slipped from his grasp and he was still none the wiser. he confided this fact to his Dad one Autumn evening as they sat out on the front porch enjoying a beer together. His Dad touched him on the shoulder.
"I still haven't decided on what it is that I'm doing with my life, and I'm a whole fifty five years of age" He said quietly. "Ah well." He stared up, silent for a few moments. "Maybe it will come to me tomorrow," he mused, "and your mother might even let me off washing the dishes tonight." She didn't, and his death three weeks later was unexpected.
Matt took two time off to be there for his family and help out with the funeral arrangements. His mother's and sisters held eachother and wept, but Matt stood apart, reserved. He had to be strong. Two weeks later he returned to casual teaching and eventually the cogs of his life slotted back into place, oiled by the routine of normal day to day life. Get up, go to work, tea with his mother, out with friends on a Saturday night, football on a Sunday, get up, so on.
He appeared to be coping well, but a nightmare that he used to have as a small boy returned to him, night after night. he was running, pelting fast along a thin dry crust of land towards his family. Suddenly, it cracked open and he was being sucked down into thick mud. It filled his mouth, ears, and nose. It oozed down his throat, and into his lungs, choking him. his sisters were looking for him from above. "Where's Matt?" They were asking. "He was around here." "He's down here," he tried to cry to them, but of course, they could not hear him. As he sank further and further their voices became more distant and eventually faded to nothing. The backs of his eyes stung when he awoke, but he did not cry.
A few weeks later, his agency asked him to go into a Special Needs School for a few weeks. Matt was surprised at this, because he had no experience. They told they were having problems getting teachers to stay because of the stressful environment. He promised he'd give it one day half wondering how bad could it be.
It was in an Autistic Unit. By coffee break, he had been bitten, spat at, kicked, and only just prevented a girl called Anna from climbing out of a window. She had repaid his concern for her personal safety by digging her nails into his face, and scraping them across his cheek, leaving several raw angry weals in their wake.
Yet, he stayed. In fact, the stressful environment suited him perfectly. He was too busy to think, and in the evenings he was so exhausted that he collapsed into a deep dreamless sleep. He didn't have time to grieve.
There were five children in the unit, all diagnosed as having "a Communication Disorder within the Autistic Spectrum." Anna was by far and away the most challenging.
Eight years old, she was as strong, wild and sharp as a mountain cat. Sweeping through the classroom like a hurricane, she kicked, punched, and scratched indiscriminately, and her penetrating screeches echoed throughout the school corridors.
Yet she was so beautiful, with an oval coffee coloured face, and liquid brown eyes fringed by long dark lashes. She loved to dance to "Jenny From the Block," but her limbs jerked clumsily when she moved, resembling a stiff wooden marriot puppet.
The staff wanted to develop her limited speech, so they began to record in a daily log what she said. At first the entries were predictable. "Toilet,"
"juice," "no." All one words, but after a few weeks other statements began to appear. "Check it out," was a particular favourite, and "Guys guys,calm down!" They laughed at that one, because she was imitating Matt. She still lost control on a daily basis, but sometimes, her eyes were filled with mischief as she threw books and toys around the classroom, instead of terror and blind panic. She was making progress.
Matt however was not making progress. The dreams returned with a vengeance, and the painful feelings they evoked were becoming increasingly difficult to contain, sapping all his energy. He stopped football and going out with friends. He still went round to his mother's for tea, but just picked up his plate, and moved away from her and his sisters to sit in front of the T.V. He watched T.V. a lot in those days. A one sided interaction with the world, over which He had total control with a single remote control button. He liked that.
Summer term swung around, and the children's first swimming lesson.
Once they were in the pool, the children were happy and calm. The temperature was warm and soothing, and new toys to play with bobbed upon the gentle ripples. Anna tossed aside her clumsiness and stiff gait as soon as she slipped into the water. She dived agiley to the bottom, and then glided from side to side, graceful as a otter.
Suddenly, her head reared up through the water in front of Matt. He flicked her teasingly with a few drops. She laughed out loud, and splashed him back, so hard that he was momentarily blinded by chlorinated water. Crying out, he placed my hands over his stinging eyes.
Upon lowering them, He found Anna staring into his face, her large eyes briefly concerned. She stroked his face with one finger and said in her stilted manner,
"Nate, you O.K?"
Before he could stop himself, he replied,
"No, Anna, I'm not O.K."
But she did not hear him. She was gone, in a flash, ducking, dipping, diving to another corner of the pool. Then, a strange thing happened. It must have been the shock of the water hitting him so hard, but Matt actually began to weep, standing in the middle of the pool, in front of everone.
Of course he covered it up, brushing aside people's concern, saying it was just chlorine stinging his eyes. But it is was likely that precise moment in time that the process of grieving properly for his father finally began.