When I say that we spent a long time simply waiting for Godzilla to trample its way through Tokyo, and that we never had to wait long until this incident repeated itself, I am not exaggerating. J managed, quite consistently, to surprise us with his ire and his frustration.
In fact, he became quite consistent and we eventually figured out his pattern. We like to explain it as Male PMS. Around the 20th of every month, even if a period of relative calm had been the norm, a dark, ominous cloud would descend on us and The Grunt would appear, loud and clear, in the middle of the night.
People would sleep with one foot on the floor. The volume on the baby monitor (which we kept running constantly because some autistic kids have the habit of bolting out the door when you least expect it) was turned to high, and we would sleep in a state of alertness that can only be compared to how a man must feel as his wife’s due date approaches.
Every approach was tested. “Go to sleep! We are having none of this!” GRUNT!!!! “Please, I want to help you. I know you’re upset about something.” GRUNT!!!! “The itsy-bitsy spi…” GRUNT!!!! “Up! Up! Let’s WALK it off!” GRUNT!!!! Deep-tissue massage. White noise. Gentle lighting. Unobtrusive observation. Gruntgruntgruntgruntgruntgrunt…with increasing volume and intensity. The only thing more irritating than the grunting was the sound of his fist banging relentlessly against his forehead.
Holding his hands worked for a few minutes. Speaking in a soothing tone, but firmly, we would tell him that banging his head with such force was unnecessary. Our eyes would meet and J would relax his hands in mine…and BANG, BOOM, POW, THWACK there we went again. One hand would be pounding on his forehead while the other hand would be in his mouth, firmly gripped by his teeth…gums bleeding. J never meant to hit US…but it was pretty inevitable considering that his entire body was flailing about, putting into movement what his grunting and yelling meant to express.
J is no delicate flower. Yes, right now he could stand to lose a bit of weight, but we’ll get to that later. J has a solid body. He is tall and he is big-boned. No, that’s not an euphemism for chubby; he really does have big hands and feet, solid looking legs that remind me of my father (a descendant of solid rural-Italian stock…you know: the kind that can take over for the ox when the ox is too tired to plough the fields.) When J was a baby, his brother used to sit with him watching Disney’s cartoons about Paul Bunyan and John Henry; now it is an occasional topic of conversation (because my oldest believes in “kismet”) that this was a way of the universe hinting at baby brother’s eventual size.
I believe in kismet, too. Everything happens for a reason, and if we pay close enough attention, we will see it coming. When I was very young, I read an article in a Reader’s Digest about an autistic girl. Don’t hate me…my aunt was at the salon, having her hair done for a wedding or something, and alongside the gossip and fashion magazines, there was a Reader’s Digest. If there was a long string of words in front of me, its presence trumped fashion. Many, many years later, when I received J’s diagnosis after a lot of testing, my mind flew back to that vinyl-covered chair in the salon and the article I’d read.
If I’d just been paying attention when the meltdowns started, I’d have had a better grasp on the situation, but I didn’t. Being the female in the household, everyone looks to me for guidance. I don’t know why! I’ve actually managed to leave the house wearing clothes inside out, and I often consume a great deal of my time walking up and down stairs not remembering what it is I’m supposed to be doing. But, there you have it, my family trusts me to figure crap out and guide them, and -in this particular situation- I had nothing.
J, confused and angry, seemed tremendously disappointed in me. “Can’t you tell, woman, that I’m about to turn into Mr. Hyde? Do something!” Of course, he didn’t actually SAY that because he doesn’t speak, but I could tell that he was desperately trying to get an answer from me. His bouts of anger and aggression would dissolve into a profound sadness, and I would find this large teddy bear curling up against me while sobbing in the most heartfelt way. Half an hour later, the teddy bear would develop fangs and claws, a character from a Tim Burton movie…lovable and worthy of our compassion, but with a mean right (and left!) hook. He is, after all, ambidextrous…
Some families have heirlooms they treasure and want to pass along to future generations. Other families have an oral history that is rich with wit and wisdom. We have J. He is Godzilla, Brother Kong, Mongo (Alex Karras in Blazing Saddles…yes, farts around the campfire and all), Baby Huey, Tigger, Paul Bunyan, John Henry, our very own Bear in the Big Blue House. T Rex, we have agreed, is out…arms on the T Rex were way too short…J would have made a good boxer. J has sharpened our sense of the absurd; our sense of humor is honed to perfection by the things he has done over the years which have forced us to realize we’re way in over our heads here…
and then sanity slowly started to seep in, not through the basement or attic, but through a window.