The Most Vulnerable Child

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My son is 16 today. We’re going to make vanilla cupcakes and sugar cookies and go shopping for Nerf guns and Disney Cars toys.

 

There’s a man in town who breaks my heart every time I see him. He walks everywhere. You see him calamity-ing down the sidewalk, his backpack sliding down his arm as he juggles all the items he’s carrying. His hair is feather fine and greasy. His face is always dirty and his clothes are beyond saving. People avoid eye contact and give him a wide berth because he’s loud and he smells terrible. I can’t help but follow him and talk to him when I cross paths with him at the grocery store because I see my own son every time I look at him.

 

When Alex was younger, let’s say 6 or 7, I thought I had to use every day in April to make every person I knew aware that it was Autism Awareness month. I shared a different statistic or a link to an article or the ASA so they might make a donation. I wrote clever and gently emotional blog posts about the misadventures of parenting an autistic child. My tone was always upbeat and maybe cheekily stoic. If that’s possible. I’ve stopped as Alex has gotten older.

 

If you have a 6 or a 7 year old with Autism, the world has your back and you’re brave. When your child is 16 people get annoyed because he wanders in their path when they’re just trying to grab a few groceries and get out of the store before they see someone they know. People give him looks because he’s carrying a Build-A-Bear or a pillow pet and he does weird things with his hands. If you’re an adult with autism, maybe in your mid thirties, people give you a wide berth because you’re loud, dirty and smell like you walk the length and width of town twice a day.

 

When I talk to people about my writing, I’m often asked how I find the time to write a book almost every month. Don’t get it twisted. It doesn’t happen that often and the other question I hear a lot is “Why?”. But people are mostly (mildly) impressed because I have time for 50,000 or so words a month. It’s not that hard to believe if you take sleep out of the equation. When you have a child with severe autism, sleep stops being your friend and the nights are awful. Writing books in my head about wars and the politics of Pre WWI Europe and Russia was how I kept my brain from spiraling during the quiet hours of the night. I just repurposed that time into physical writing and that’s how we got here.

 

If you have a child with autism you go to assheaded lengths to avoid the quiet moments in your head and you save yourself by laughing as much and as often as you can. If you’re smart. When it’s quiet and there’s nothing to laugh at you ask yourself the hard questions and you worry about things that can only hurt your heart. I worry about what’s going to happen to Alex when I’m not here anymore and how much of a burden he’s going to be on his sisters’ futures. I worry about him being the man no one wants to look at or stand next to in line at the grocery store. I know the life expectancy for a woman who can’t fall asleep without a sleeping pill, a tranquilizer and smoking a few bowls isn’t that generous. I’m going out like Michael Jackson or it’s going to be cancer.

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If I see 60 I’m going to be quite nonplussed. I write like my ass is on fire because my books will exist as long as there’s an internet and my girls and their children might be able to find more clever ways to market them than I can. I write because it might save Alex later. The services for people with autism wanes as they become adults, as does the compassion of those around them.

 

Autism Awareness month isn’t the megaphone for advocating and support that it used to be, for me. Now, it’s a month of reflecting on how much we’ve lost or what we’re never going to get. It’s also prom season and I see all the things Alex isn’t going to do with his peers. He isn’t even in high school. I’ve homeschooled him for the last five years because there aren’t enough resources in the school system and we couldn’t get to the root of what was scaring him bad enough to wet his pants every time I dropped him off. But he’s never going to ask a girl (or boy) to prom, drive a car or graduate from college. Autism Awareness month has become a month of disappointment as I’ve grown to realize that all the awareness, sympathy and empathy is reserved for toddlers and younger children. The awareness and support slows to a trickle and then becomes a negligent drip as autistic children become teenagers and adults. People stop making eye contact and the gentle, patient smiles and nods dry up by the time there’s acne and a few intrepid chin hairs.

 

It’s getting harder to write about Alex because I feel myself becoming more bitter as he gets older. I used to push for some intellectual or emotional growth every day. I wanted him to be better at telling time or tying his shoes because in my head, those were one less thing my girls would have to struggle with, when I’m not there. But the list of things I have to teach him keeps getting bigger and the hours get shorter. How do I teach someone with the intellectual maturity of a 4 year old to shave? How do I make the world easier for a man who will never be older than 6?

 

My little boy is 16 today. Instead of looking forward and wondering where he’ll go to college or when he’ll start his own family, I worry about how much less there is for him in the world as he gets older. I worry about how much taller he is than me and what we’ll do when he realizes he’s already stronger. I pray he’ll get to live with me until I die and he doesn’t have to go to a home or spend his days medicated into passivity.

 

I stopped writing about parenting an autistic child because parents like me don’t need another brave face or to hear an exhausted mom say “Fuck Autism.” in every way she can articulate.  Mostly, I realized I don’t like a lot of the people who blog about parenting. Especially those with disabled children. I can always see their forced smiles and I catch the panic in their eyes, I can hear their internal screaming as they laugh about scrubbing poop off walls and tantrums in Walmart. Stop trying to make it look fun and easy. Stop telling the rest of us that we have to act like this is just fine. Quit lying.

 

As the mother of a 16 year old with autism, I just ask that you be kind. When you see a that man in the store, don’t look away and let him struggle on his own. Know that he’s probably lost his mother and she tried her best to make him as strong as she could but there just wasn’t enough time. Remember that the world got harder and less patient as he got older. People cared less because he wasn’t small and cute and the people he spent his whole life depending on have died or have lives of their own. Autism doesn’t go away as people get older, we just become less aware of them.

 

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The Most Vulnerable Child

The Evolution Of A Gay Romantic Hero With Asperger’s

It occurred to me today, as I was editing my current WIP, that this new book about a man with Asperger’s is going to be released during Autism Awareness month. It’s just one of those happy accidents, truly. Aiden Sharp didn’t start out as a man with Asperger’s. He didn’t even start out as a man. In the back of my mind, an entirely different sort of book bobbed in the mirky depths (the very mirky depths) until I had one of those lightbulb moments and decided to adjust a few concepts.

Why not have one of my heroes be a gay man with Asperger’s? I try to write characters that feel like they could be real people. That’s my ultimate goal. I want the reader so invested in the people in my head that they can practically hear them gasping and laughing. And I love the idea that there probably is a gay man with Asperger’s out there, being the romantic hero of his own story. And, goodness, he’s incredible.

I have my own “little” hero, here in my Bawdy house. Alex doesn’t have Asperger’s and he isn’t very much like Aiden. Alex has classical, severe Autism so he’s still a bit of a mystery for us. I did borrow a lot of his eating habits, though. And I tried to have fun with it. I’ll always find a way to have fun. If you’ve read Claimed By Chaos, you’ll know that Aiden isn’t my first Asperger’s hero. Though, Alastair was a very different character. Alastair hid it well and he could be a bit of a sociopath.

I think we all take for granted that our brains just work. We never have to worry that everything will spark and click along just like it should. We don’t have to worry that our hearing might go out if we focus a little too hard on the toy in our hand or we won’t be able to taste a food if our brain doesn’t recognize it. And, pervert that I am, I imagine how different sex would be for someone who’s interaction with people and their own brain is so different from ours.

I’m just going to take a few more days to edit and I’ll have to buckle down and find a real title. I swear, titles are one of the worst parts, for me. Just for fun, I thought I’d share a what this book looked like when I first set out. I decided to tone down the crime/thriller aspect of the book. In fact, I took out the whole serial killer element. I didn’t want the book becoming unwieldy. I thought a gay erotic romcom drama mystery thriller had the potential of just being a hot mess. Originally, Aiden’s character was a woman and the male hero probably wasn’t going to be a love interest. Then, I decided to make her Aiden and put him with Lane.   The end result is still a little dark but nothing like this excerpt:

“Sorry, GQ.” Chief grimaced as Lane got out of the car. Lane shook his head and shrugged as he leaned against the door.

“It’s not like I had anything going on.” Lane said as he looked around. Everyone that should have been inside the warehouse was milling around the parking lot restlessly. Chief rested his hand on Lane’s shoulder.

“I feel bad. You haven’t had a weekend off in months. But this is big, Lane.” He gestured toward the warehouse and shook his head. “The F.B.I. sent some special expert before we could even get a look. He’s in there now, waiting on you.” Chief said as he gestured for Lane to follow. Lane frowned as he looked at the warehouse.

“How did the F.B.I. get in there before we did?” He asked incredulously. Chief shook his head again.

“Thing got called in and my phone lit up two minutes later, it was Washington D.C. telling me to keep everyone out. Three hours later, this expert shows up and shuts us out. Tells Cabbot that he’ll wait for the head detective to show up and everyone else needs to stay out.” He snorted and crossed his arms. Lane stared at the warehouse. What the hell? He wondered as the hairs on the back of his neck stood. He narrowed his eyes as he turned to Chief.

“Do you have any idea what we’re looking at?” He asked and Chief nodded as he leaned close.

“It’s a serial Killer, GQ. I was told that this is his case. We’re running support and he get’s everything we’ve got.” His gaze was a firm warning and Lane nodded.

“He can have it.” His cheeks puffed out as he shook his head and shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers. Lane’s shoulders tightened at the idea of a long, drawn-out investigation. He preferred something more fast paced and straightforward. The idea of a string of tragic victims had his stomach twisting before he’d even seen them. “So, I have to babysit some suit and smile as he bosses us around?” Lane asked as he walked toward the door to the warehouse. Chief laughed as he slapped Lane on the back.

“You’re Head Detective, it’s why you get the big bucks. Get in there and make us look good.” He said. Lane glared over his shoulder before he pushed the door open.

Lane stepped forward and the door slammed shut behind him, echoing through the almost empty space. In the distance, a light glowed through the dust heavy air and Lane’s heart slowed as he moved closer. Jesus Christ, he thought as his eyes absorbed the horror in front of him.

Beneath a single, bright light, a body was suspended from the ceiling by a dozen or so chains. One arm was cut off at the shoulder and the other just above the elbow. Two patches of skin were removed from the chest and the flesh was peeled and artfully draped, from the waist down. On the floor, a puddle of blood and tissue congealed. The arms were crossed, carefully arranged on top of the mess. In the silence, Lane’s heartbeat sounded deafening as he slowly walked toward the… What the fuck is that? A victim? Art? He wondered as his head fell to the side. The victim was in his mid twenties and his youth and beauty made the whole display even more horrific.

“What was your first thought, detective?” The voice was warm and deep and the words were soft and low but Lane jumped as if someone had fired a pistol in the room as he spun around. His eyes fell to the wall, next to the door he’d come through. Lane squinted and saw a man sitting on the floor, against the wall. His knees were pulled up and his elbows rested on them.

“Venus De Milo.” Lane replied softly.

He heard a soft gasp and the other man rose to his feet. Lane held his breath as the shadow shrouded figure walked toward him. He was wearing a grey hoodie, jeans and a pair of black Converse. Lane frowned when he noticed the bluetooth headphones around his neck and that he held a smartphone in his hand. This is the F.B.I.’s special expert? He looks like a hipster college student. Lane thought as he tried to see more of his face but the shadow from the hoodie covered everything but his lips and chin. He passed Lane and went to the body.

Lane watched as he stepped close to the body, his feet spread wide, avoiding the puddle as he leaned close. Lane frowned and suppressed a shiver when it looked like the guy was about to kiss the victim. Lane strained to hear as he whispered something but couldn’t make it out. The man stepped back and slowly made his way around the body. Lane’s mouth fell open as the man’s hand gently brushed down the body’s side.

“You can’t touch him…” Lane’s voice fell away as the man’s head tilted as he stared around the body at Lane. He saw the hint of visible lips form a smile.

“You’ll have to excuse me. I’m afraid I have an unusual connection.” Once again, Lane was struck by the velvety smoothness of his voice. “Come here and tell me what you smell.” He said.

Lane wanted to shake his head and insist that he was fine right where he was but he could feel the other man’s expectation and he didn’t want to appear squeamish or inexperienced. He clenched his jaw as he drew closer. The man’s hand raised and gestured impatiently for Lane to move quicker. He drew close to the corpse and the other man and Lane pulled in an exaggerated breath and ground his teeth as the sweet, rotten smell of a body in mid rigor mortis assaulted him. Lane looked and raised a brow. The other man’s forehead rested against the victim’s back between the two large hooks that pierced the flesh inside the shoulder blades. Lane had to swallow as his stomach churned angrily.

“Sweat, saliva, urine…” The man murmured as he raised his head and moved around to the front of the body and looked up toward the overhead light. Lane followed and his eyes clung to the man’s face, taking in the angular jaw and sharp cheek bones and straight nose, all revealed as the light pushed back the shadows over his face. It stopped just below his eyes and Lane frowned. The man’s head tilted down as he looked at the puddle by his feet. “He was alive for most of this. He screamed and he begged.” His hand swept over a tattoo across the victim’s stomach, just below the navel. Lane bit back the urge to tell him to stop. The man dropped to his knees and his fingers traced the tattoos on the inner forearms. Lane came around and stood next to him.

“What am I looking at?” Lane asked quietly.

“Open his eyes.” He whispered.

Lane removed a pair of rubber gloves from his pocket and pulled one on. He gently spread the eyelids and his brows pulled together. Blue contacts covered milky irises.

“He’s wearing colored contacts.” Lane murmured and the man nodded as he stood up.

“You’ll also find that his hair has been cut and colored and the tattoos are new.” He said. Lane saw the redness and swelling around the tattoos and nodded.

“Why? Who is he?” Lane asked. The man sighed as he stood and pulled back his hood and the air left Lane’s lungs.

“He’s me.” He said as he pulled his sweatshirt up. Lane’s eyes swept quickly over him, cataloguing almost identical hair, eyes the same shade of blue and similar facial structure. His eyes reached the tight, muscled stomach and he gasped in shock. It was the same tattoo. Lane’s eyes went even wider when the man released his shirt and pulled up his sleeves, presenting the exact same Hebrew script on his forearms.

“What the hell is going on here?” Lane whispered as he searched the man’s eyes. He smiled softly as he pulled his phone from one of his front pockets.

“In the beginning, I changed my hair every time there was a new body.” He said as he leaned close and held up his phone as his fingers swiped across the screen. Lane focused on keeping his breathing slow and even as a gruesome series of images rushed by. They were all almost identical, with the exception of the hair. “I’m sure you can understand that that would be unsettling. But I realized it was pointless.” He said as he watched Lane.

“Right. Unsettling and pointless.” Lane mumbled weakly as he stared in confusion. “I’m sorry, who are you?” He whispered loudly. The man turned back to the body and for a moment, Lane thought he might have dismissed him.

“Aiden Sharp.” He announced as he raised his phone and started taking pictures. Lane waited until he was done and his phone was back in his pocket.

“Detective Lane West, Agent Sharp.” Lane said as he offered his hand. Sharp shook his head as his eyes swept over Lane before he offered his hand.

“I never went to the academy. I’m a doctor but just call me Aiden.” He took Lane’s hand and shook it before he strode for the door. Lane’s head pulled back in shock.

“Wait!” He called and Aiden stopped and turned. His brows were raised and he stared back. Lane frowned as he crossed the room. “Are we done here?” He asked as he gestured around the warehouse. Aiden shrugged.

“I’m done. And I’m hungry. Can you take me to McDonald’s?” He asked as he turned and went for the door. Lane’s jaw fell.

“You want me to take you to McDonald’s?” He asked incredulously. Aiden nodded as he looked over his shoulder at Lane.

“I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning.” He explained as he pulled the door open. Lane squinted at the late afternoon sun as he stepped through.

“I can get you a car to use while you’re here.” Lane offered and Aiden shook his head.

“I don’t drive and I can brief you on the way and while I eat.” He said as he ignored the circus outside the warehouse. Lane waved as Chief rushed toward them.

“Can I send my people in?” Chief asked as he eyed Aiden warily. Aiden shrugged as he examined the parking lot.

“Fine. Death by exsanguination or cardiac arrest. Homicide.” Aiden said flatly as he turned to Lane. “Where’s your car. I really need to eat.” He added impatiently. Chief’s eyes were wide as they swung to Lane. Lane threw his hands up.

“He can’t drive and he’s hungry. You said I have to babysit.” He offered sarcastically and Chief nodded weakly as he waved toward Lane’s car.

“This is your car?” Aiden asked as Lane went to the driver’s side. Lane slid him an impatient look and gestured for him to get in.

“Yes.” He said as he buckled his seatbelt. Lane started the car and waited for Aiden to settle into the passenger seat.

“This is a 1960 Mercedes-Benz 190SL. You can’t afford this on your salary.” Aiden said as he rubbed his hand over the red leather dashboard. Lane reached over and pushed Aiden’s hand off the dash.

“You don’t know what I can afford.” He said bluntly and put the car in Drive. He could feel Aiden’s eyes on him, the side of his face felt warm.

“I can guess your salary with reasonable accuracy.” Aiden said and Lane jumped then ducked his shoulders when he felt Aiden’s hand pulling back the collar of his shirt. “Banana Republic. More reasonable on a detective’s salary.” He added. Lane glared out of the corner of his eye.

“Do you mind?” He asked as he leaned away. He saw Aiden shake his head dismissively.

“Expensive haircut and manicured nails.” Aiden observed. “Is this is how you think a gay man should look?” He asked. Lane’s head whipped toward Aiden and his mouth fell open.

“What?” Lane asked in shock. “Why would you assume I’m gay? Because I don’t wear bad suits and put effort into my grooming?” He knew he sounded defensive. Aiden looked confused.

“I don’t make assumptions. You kept looking at my lips and your pupils dilated and your body temperature rose when I pulled up my shirt. And you don’t wear bad suits and you put effort into your grooming.” He stated as he tilted his head so he could see more of Lane’s face. “Are you gay?” Aiden asked. Lane’s lips pulled in and he nodded stiffly. Aiden nodded as well. “Good. I’d like to have sex with you, if there’s time.” He said casually as he looked out at the street around the car. Lane gasped and forced his attention back to the road. He noticed that the light turned red and slammed on the brake.

“What’s wrong with you? Who says shit like that?” Lane asked loudly. Aiden shrugged.

“I do. I have Asperger’s syndrome. And I generally don’t care about what other people do.” He explained.

The Evolution Of A Gay Romantic Hero With Asperger’s

Happy Autism Awareness Month!

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It’s Autism Awareness Month! Actually, in our house, every day is Autism Awareness Month. I think people in general are much more aware of Autism now than when I first became aware of it. Which is great. April is always about Reflection, for me. Every reminder that it’s Autism Awareness Month makes me think about what that means for me and my family. I also think about the things that people that don’t live with Autism probably aren’t aware of.

1. Children aren’t the only people with Autism. I wish there was more focus on adults with Autism. For a parent of an autistic child, that is the nightmare. One day, your child isn’t going to be small and cute and the awkward, inappropriate shenanigans won’t go over as well. Hell, it could get them arrested. One day, your child will be an adult and most likely have to survive without you. Homeless people have become a lot more terrifying for me.

2. Puberty is as bad as I thought it would be. And it’s just begun. It’s… ew. After an hour of bouncing on a yoga ball to Sia, Alex smells like a for real dude. A dude that forgot to put on deodorant and sweats like he’s getting paid by the gallon. I won’t creep you out with the obvious physical changes and why doors are one of the best inventions ever.

3. There will never be a made for t.v. movie about my life. If there were, I’d want Christina Hendricks to play me. My character would be sassy and roll with the punches. She’d definitely swear a lot less and she’d manage her time better. Which is why there won’t be a movie. I’ve accepted that it’s ok to hate Autism. I’m not brave and I fail. A lot. I’ve been asked about being a mentor for other parents and I’ve declined. I’m not a model for successful Special Needs Parenting. I don’t have a lot of healthy coping mechanisms. Mostly because I don’t feel like I need them. But, I don’t do support groups because I know I won’t enjoy the people or talking to them. I have no shame in admitting that I’m a fan of Day Drinking, especially if a particular day feels a little long. Sometimes, a day is long before noon. If I journaled, it would look like this:

March 11

Alex peed on my reading chair. Asshole.

None of this makes for an uplifting movie and the other parents are probably better off sorting themselves out.

4. Your opinion is not needed when it comes to another parent medicating their child. Unless you’ve been there and you’ve been asked. I STILL have to defend this. After eight years of living with Alex on and off of various prescription drugs, I feel completely certain that they have worked wonders. For us. After having Alex off of ALL medications since last November, I’m very aware of their benefits. For us. We took him off because puberty has been like a wrench in the brain chemical balance we worked so hard to achieve. We needed to see where Alex was, eight years later, what needed to be treated, what could be treated, what was Autism and what was puberty, what was being caused by the medications themselves. I will say this: It hasn’t been fun. Alex isn’t a lot of fun right now and it’s hard to watch him struggle. He’s not back on medications yet because we’re just not sure what is going to work well enough with all that his brain and body are going through. He’s on a hormone roller coaster and that makes it all more complicated. But one day, hopefully soon, he’ll be back on medications. Why? Because right now, he CAN’T speak loud enough for us to hear him. He’s injuring himself a lot more than he used to. His level of eye contact is plummeting. He will fall apart and lose his shit over nothing. Just knowing that he’s going to Target the next day is enough to raise his anxiety to the point that we will discuss it forty times in 24 hours. Literally. Who got time for that? I don’t. He doesn’t.

5. Even on his worst day and even with eye watering body odor, he’s still better than 99.9% of the people in the world. I’d take him over any of the people I have to suffer when I go to the grocery store or the post office. Always. Which isn’t saying a lot, now that I think of it. My point is, he’s pretty amazing, even on a bad day. I’m still homeschooling him and he impresses me every day. I may have to fight him more to get it out of him but it happens. He’s still improving despite puberty and being off of medications. When we can hear what he’s saying, there’s a statement or just a word that stops us in our tracks and tells us he’s paying attention and wants to be included.

6. Alex loves us and he knows we love him. The perception that people with Autism don’t connect with others emotionally is wrong. Alex is almost solely motivated by Love. And Angry Birds and YouTube. But, mostly Love. Every big revelation is based on an act of love or a desire to receive love, on Alex’s part. That’s how we get through to him, that’s what works.

Happy Autism Awareness Month!