Owen began hitting me as soon as I coerced him to get off the van. I should say say swatting because his hitting isn’t very hard. But this swatting carried a lot more intent than other times: anger and frustration. I was not prepared for it, groggy from my nap, and felt a flash of anger rise in me and I popped him in the chest back before I thought about it. Sigh…Not a real good way to teach communication skills. Owen was upset. Still I found it hard to apologize as we walked up to the house, though I knew I should. I lectured him angrily all the way up the lawn. My non-rational side still registered that I had been attacked, for no reason.
We came inside and I went right for the letter-board. What is the matter? I asked him, more calmly now. You need to explain what is going on when you hit someone.
I think that, Owen spelled out slowly, I am angry because you get friendships with people on the van.
I held my arms around him in silence, just loving him, not saying much. This was a good instinct. Owen’s energy was heavy and depressed. It hurt to know that he was in so much pain. I remembered my mom talking so easily to my friends when I was a teenager, and ever so gawky. The frustration. The helpless feeling – how come it was so easy for her?
However, because I am a word-oriented person and a mom, I soon began to layer word solutions over his problem. “Honey don’t you know that the reason I talk to the people on the van is for you? So people will like you?” I said. “And BTW, it isn’t a really great way to get to know people, throwing your trash on them and stealing their stuff…”
Owen pulled away and twitched and I put the stylus into this hands.
I hate my life. he spelled out. I am nothin —
He left without finishing.
No matter what I do it is the wrong thing, I thought. I am getting hit for trying to help. I am hitting when I should be understanding, and talking when I should be silent. Maybe my mom felt the same way years ago, watching with pain her unhappy and awkward teen daughter, unable to transmit to me the social cues I lacked.
I sat exhausted. “I need help,” I said aloud. My mind raced through whom I could call – Marilyn? Angie? Sometimes the best solution is right there near to hand. I went for my cell phone.
Can Owen and I come and see you at the office? I texted to Edward.
On a conference call. Ok in 5 min maybe 10, Edward texted back, unsuspecting what an emotional roil was about to land on him..
“Owen we are going to see Dad,” I said. “Get on your coat.”
In the communication session that followed Edward facilitated, and I tried to support and transcribe, as we gave our son space to express his pain. It wasn’t easy. The truth of the matter is that there wasn’t and there isn’t a “solution” for what Owen is facing, the loneliness that his disabilities impose upon him, the longing for and the inability to generate friendship with another human being. But writing about it has to be better than just having those emotions trapped inside. I hope it was a relief to him to have his parents trying to help. It was a relief to me to share the burden with my best friend and feel his patience and calm.
After a while Edward needed a break and I tried facilitating Owen. Somewhere about here Owen gave up on spelling and went for speaking.
“A beast,” he said, looking me right in the eyes. One of his old familiar morphs, but how poignant it felt.
“No Owen,” I said, my voice breaking into tears, “You are not a beast. You are a man.”
“Pinocchio,” Owen said.
“No,” I wept looking right into his face, “You are a real boy.” The Disney-esque words were not funny.
We packed up to go home. Owen stood in the middle of the office, and I stuffed his communication tools back into his backpack.
“Hercules,” Owen said.
“YES Owen, ” I said, without turning around, “Yes. You are Hercules.”
* * *
Today, as we prepare to gather with family, I am gearing up and wondering how it will go. So many bodies stuffed together in a rented house for the holiday. Owen both loving to be with family, but unable to be with family without grabbing their stuff and generally annoying everyone. It’s only for a few days.
Still I am thinking — Thank the Lord for all of you. For wonderful husbands who take time to hear their children, for open-armed sisters and brothers, who reach out across whatever divides us, for the voice of support at the other end of the phone, or just a drive away.
Get ready. Here comes Hercules.