The day of the Baltimore riots, I was supposed to be writing a post for this blog. I couldn’t focus, and as you know, I missed posting that week altogether. I couldn’t see a way to connect the life of Owen to the crisis there, and what was happening there was all my brain could hold.
In the days since that Monday I have watched and listened as people respond to an experience of chaos, most of us from the outside, most of us without firsthand experience of life in that part of Baltimore or the lives of those who swept through and looted it. On FaceBook and in person, I have interacted with people who are offended or angry, who protest against or at least wonder about any helping such a set of losers that they would set fire to their own homes, as it were. I have read people speak dismissively of the angry, violent Baltimoreans as individuals so (dumb, violent, ignorant, thuggish) as to be beyond pity, and beyond help. Isn’t a situation like that, and anyone who would act as irrationally as that, hopeless?
Last weekend, as I found Owen emptying his second super-sized bottle of Neutrogena dandruff shampoo into the sink, having already gotten in big trouble for emptying the first super-sized bottle about three days earlier, I had an acute sense of the hopelessness of the cycle we were in. Hopelessness does not describe how Owen felt however, since that afternoon at the doggie park he tried persistently to get to other peoples’ bottles of water for their dogs, because he wanted to rip them up. I drew him away several times, but finally just as we were leaving he charged over and poured a river of Mountain Dew out of a beautiful green bottle. The dog owners sat watching him in uncertain silence. Who does something like that? (We found four quarters in the car for Owen to give the poor shocked former owner of that Mountain Dew.)
It is not acceptable to pour out expensive bottles of shampoo. And regardless of how much you want it, or how frustrated by not having it, it is not ok to grab someone else’s soda and pour out the contents on the ground. Society is dependent on people NOT committing random destructive acts of this kind.
But Owen does insensitive, destructive, invasive things pretty regularly. And day after day, week after week, year after year, Owen’s family can only redirect and educate him that he cannot do them.
The reader may be offended that I compare anything about my mentally handicapped son to those people who became angry and violent in Baltimore. Certainly, the two are not the same. The actions of a mentally handicapped child-man arise from a different intention, a different set of needs, and a very different level of intelligence. Owen can barely be held responsible for his behaviors, and the adults and children who looted stores must be held accountable.
But still I found myself seeing a connection. People who cannot speak, or feel themselves without a voice, will sometimes use strange and inappropriate ways of letting the world know how they feel. It is our job, as receivers of a disruptive communication, to decide what to do with the incoming information, or to walk away.
As I shampooed Owen’s hair this morning with a sweet smelling shampoo product, I had to smile. Why was it the two super-sized bottles of strong smelling tar shampoo that were pitched – and not this one? Owen really loves ALL bottles, but I don’t think he has ever gone for the gentle-smelling organic shampoo. Could it be that the products that Owen dumps out are not usually the ones he likes to use? Maybe a super-size number of shampoos with dandruff shampoo was more than Owen could bear, and he took matters into his own hands.
Or maybe I am reading this motive in.
But it’s a place to start. I believe Owen will learn to communicate better, slowly, over time, with a lot of encouragement; it is going to be a long process. Frustrated as I get though I am not ready to consider his pillaging a hopeless dead end. So far I have not taken off for California. Like my brothers and sisters the looted and pillaged of Baltimore, I get out my broom to sweep up the streets.