(Friends, I’ve started some short story writing practice. I’m given a prompt…like…”You don’t have enough points, sir.” And, then I’m supposed to write a less than 700 word short story. So, here is my newest story. And, I’m sorry for the bad word…but I felt it was necessary for the character. He’s talking… not me, but you know…I sometimes say bad words too, so I don’t know why I’m apologizing. =) This was a tough, hard, and sad story for me. I feel so much for the main character. Hope he gives you those deep feelings too)
“You don’t have enough points, sir.”
“Of course I don’t have enough points. This shitty machine is broken,” I said, kicking the plastic rubber ducky on the defective game. I started to pace back and forth, clenching my fists. Mumbling something. It took me a few moments to realize I was mumbling programming codes.
As I looked up, the pimply faced arcade worker was staring at me. He stared as if a green martian fell through the roof in his living room. This look was familiar. A look in which disbelief trumps fear. It was the look of my childhood. My education. My life. A look that not so subtly said, “Weirdo.”
I started to speak, to make my case again about the defective game, but he interrupted me.
“I’m going to get my manager. You need to stay right here, sir.” The worker said as he disappeared behind the soda machine.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Ray.” Her voice said flatly, “What happened?”
“This machine isn’t working. I was supposed to get 10 tickets. I squirted those freaking ducks ten times, which is supposed to give me 250 points, which is supposed to give me 10 tickets! I was calling that kid over here to make it right, and he didn’t believe me.”
“What!” I said pushing her hand off my shoulder. She knows I don’t want to be touched when I’m feeling “wound up” as she likes to call it.
“Ray,” My wife whispered. Her face calm. I hated when she talked slow to me like this. Like I was some kind of idiot. I graduated with a doctorate from MIT. I make six figures. I’m a 42 year old man, father, husband.
“Ray, you’ve got to get a hold of yourself. They are going to make you leave. Jack is going to be crushed if his own father gets kicked out of his birthday party over arcade game points. Why don’t you go sit in the car for a little bit. Just take a little break.”
Take a little break. That’s what my therapist has been saying. I knew this therapy thing was going to come back and haunt me.
“Ray, the lights, the crowd, the noise in here – these can set you off. Remember the Psychologist called that sensory overload. She said that was what can trigger this kind of behavior. Irrational anger. You know – this situation exactly.”
I begrudgingly made my way to the car, before Emily forced me to go, before I made a scene in front of Jack.
I had been causing scenes most of my life. I’d always called it a “short fuse.” But, my fuse only became short when things didn’t go as they were supposed to. Like giving extra credit at the end of the semester? The syllabus clearly stated how we were to earn our grades. I think I had the right to flip out about that.
I started running programming codes over and over in my mind. Somehow this always seemed to relax me. The codes didn’t change. They weren’t sarcastic. They weren’t flexible. They were static, consistent, expected.
I unlocked the car door and sat down. I turned the key and watched as the air conditioner’s cold blast ruffled the checklist in the passenger seat. I slowly read the title: “Strategies for self-regulation”.
The checklist was from my new psychologist. The one, just last week, who had diagnosed me.
Diagnosed me with the same disorder my son had been diagnosed with four years ago.
Somehow I’d been invited to join a club I’d always belonged to, only I didn’t know I was a member. Membership is not voluntary. You can’t get out. You can only cope. And, try to help the younger members navigate. Like Jack. My boy. My heart.
I thought I knew what Autism was. I didn’t.