Suchen und Finden
We have two traditions every summer.
One, we spend our entire summer on the farm—a mega-huge, three-hundred-plus homestead that has been our family for five generations. Two, we stop at a famous diner on our way down to the farm. Famous to us, at least–my mom, me, and Blue.
Three hours into the drive, packed into Mom’s SUV, we are getting close. And Blue knows it.
The place is called the Blue Wind Diner. It’s special for one reason: it’s Blue’s favorite. And mine—mainly because it’s the only place we can stop without worrying too much about Blue’s challenging behavior.
My brother is not being bad on purpose. He’s simply being himself—the best self he can be.
Blue just turned fifteen, and like so many autistic people, his behavior in public places is at best unpredictable. Mom has overseen Blue’s therapy since his diagnosis—a spinning vortex of speech, occupational, and other therapists marching in and out of the house; special schools and mainstream schools (he attends with an aide). Lately there’ve been scheduled “public visits’ once a week for “training interaction with normal people.”
However, eating out is a situation Mom can’t cope with. She’s so uptight about how Blue might act and what others will think, it’s easier to eat at home. That’s what we do. All the time.
The exception is the Blue Wind Diner. Blue looks forward to it big time. If he could verbalize, he’d be the one whining, “Are we there yet?”
He makes his anticipation obvious in other ways. When we’re about five miles away, the rocking begins. He’ll stop, but only briefly to show me a pretty cool drawing he had done of the Blue Wind Diner’s neon sign.
We’ve barely parked when my brother unbuckles his seat belt and squeals with delight. I’m pretty sure he thinks the diner was named after him. Best of all, Blue is fascinated by the mini jukeboxes stationed at each booth. It’s totally off the charts on his personal happy-meter.
Before we leave the car, my mother twists her head around and recites the rules. “No hand flipping or loud voices; inside voices only. Must sit without rocking so as not to disturb others—” An abundance of dos and don’ts—which, most likely, never make it to or through his brain.
The kid tries, though. You have to give him that. It takes extreme effort to dial down his autistic behaviors before attempting a public appearance in front of the “Normals.” I secretly get a kick out of this “energy-letting.” He looks like one of those windup toys going berzcircus for the first few cycles, then slowing down as we open the diner door. I confess that Mom isn’t the only one concerned about Blue. I always cross my fingers hoping that other diners are tolerant, that no one will complain. I also hope no one was counting on a quiet lunch.
The first sign was not a good one. Booth Two is where we always sit. Today, it’s occupied. I drew a breath in; Mom did the same. But Blue surprises us. He doesn’t let his dependency on consistency curb his enthusiasm about being here. He appears to accept the situation, blows past the hostess, and plops down in Booth Three. Mom and I exhaled as we slipped in beside him.
The hostess, tasked with assigning seating, is not cool with this. She’d been leading us to another booth. The place was not crowded, so I intercepted. In a “confidential” tone, I explained the situation, adding, “He thinks the Blue Wind Diner is named for him.”
My bad. Instantly, I regretted that last bit. “BLUE!!!” my brother shouted at the top of his lungs accompanied by a combination of stunning SFX; hand flipping, screeching and butt-bouncing on the booth seat. The freak-flag had now been officially raised at our table, while the Autism Anthem played in the background. “Oh, say can you see! The weird kid at booth three…”
Unsurprisingly, we’re the main attraction here, the human equivalent of the “blue plate special.” Out of habit, I surveyed the customers. As I made eye contact, each one turned away. My personal stare down I call the Guiltinator. It’s amazing how hard The Normals try to mask their “I-know-I’m-not-supposed-to-stare-at-the-odd-kid-but-can’t-help-myself.” The Guiltinator does the trick. They look away.
Although he’s fifteen, his childlike expressions make him look much younger. I think he is adorable with his wavy blond hair, light blue eyes, and always-in-motion expression-filled face. This opinion is not shared by the customers here. To them, he looks like he could easily ruin their lunch.
My brother’s real name is Montgomery, but Blue is way more fitting. My grandfather gave him that moniker since it’s his favorite color—he’s worn something blue every day since he was a toddler.
Best of all, what you see isn’t what you get. He is the paradox of “Blue.”
Blue, the color, is different shades of sapphire. Our Blue’s skin is creamy white and freckly. Blue, the mood, could mean melancholy or sad. Our Blue is one of the most joyful souls in the universe. Every inch of him dances, figuratively, to the beat of his inner hum. And he hums all day long. I see a brilliant Blue filled with limitless passion. Others see a boy with severe limitations, struggling with autism—including the hostess reluctantly at our table.
“Will you be needing three menus?” Tactlessly, Mom responds, “No, just two.” She takes Blue’s bagged lunch out of her tote. The Blue Wind Diner may be Blue’s favorite place, but actually eating something there is not on mom’s personal menu.
She’s into organics. At a recent Autism Speaks meeting, she learned that organic food might be the magic bullet that’ll rewire her son’s brain and lead him to the Land of the Normals. Today, Blue’s sandwich, on whole wheat bread, is filled with organic turkey and sprouts, carrots, and something that appears to be a tofu cookie. It all sounds—and looks—severely unappetizing. Blue is oblivious. He’s never shown an interest in food. He knows it goes in his mouth and exits the other end.
At this point, the other diners are out-and-out gawking. They’re eyeballing Mom sympathetically. Reactivate the Guiltinator. Not as effective this time. But it could be Mom they are staring at.
I hate to say it, but Mom embarrasses me more than my brother. Blue can’t help his behavior. My mom can—at the very least do something about her appearance. It’s pretty dreadful, not unlike the crumpled brown bag atop the table, which resembles her short and squat body. Her dishwater brown hair is desperately in need of something—at least a brush-through. The dark rings under her eyes could use some cover-up—or better, sleep.
Today she’s stuffed herself into a brown turtleneck tucked into a pair of elastic waist Mom jeans.
The thing is, mom doesn’t care and doesn’t care that you know she doesn’t care. Which is too bad. Under that tangle of hair and bare face, she actually is pretty. Her complexion is smooth if pale, except for the little red bumps that often cover her neck and chest. I call them her worry bumps. She sprouted a new batch in the last five minutes.
At moments like this, I wish she’d made a life for herself outside of caring for Blue. Her smotherhood approach to “curing” him is over-the-top. As it is, she hasn’t even gone out with her girlfriends, let alone a date since the divorce. Her snooze-button on enjoying life was pressed nearly a decade ago.
Although her son has barely spoken since we got here, mom felt compelled to warn him, “Blue, are you using your quiet voice?” with her Serious Mom Lemon Face. “Because if you’re not, you cannot play the music machine.”
Blue’s expression changes from an ecstatic happy grin to that of a retrained puppet in seconds.
Our waitress appears, looking like the loser of a coin toss to get out of serving us.
“What would you like to drink?” she asks briskly.
“Just a cup, please,” my mom says politely, whipping special organic bottled water out of her bag.
“Coke for me,” I pipe up. “And we’re ready to order.” We better speed this up. “I’ll take a turkey club—Mom?”
“I’ll have the same with no mayo or bacon,” Mom shoots me a condemning look.
I revise my order. “No bacon for me either.” Pork is a no-no when Mom’s around. It’s not for religious or vegetarian reasons—it’s for love. As a girl growing up on the farm, she formed a bond with the hogs. Friends, not food!
“Does he want anything? The waitress asks me, reducing Blue to not-a-person-status. He says one of his eight words. “Milk.”
Before she can write it down, Mom quickly nixes the milk. “He’s allergic,” she explains.
Funny thing is, he really is allergic to milk. He gets gas that would melt wallpaper. But for some reason, whenever you ask Blue what he wants to drink, he says, “Milk.”
What’s instantly clear to me: Blue doesn’t care about which booth we’re in, who the waitress...