Outside! (#336)

Said Charlie on his own, unprompted, running out onto the deck. And then, “shhhhhhhed!”, and he was across the grass and pulling at the latch.
He and I had been cooped up inside for the past two hours. It was not raining, but something was foretold by the heavy air, plus it was Friday, or maybe more like Fryday, when Charlie’s nerves have been known to go from room-temperature calmness to snap, crackle, sizzle, fire. Charlie’s enjoyment of frozen peas and corn turned instantaneously into panic when it was discovered (1) he didn’t like the other frozen vegetables in the freezer and (2) there was no white rice, as he had said “no” everytime I tried to put a bag in the cart at the grocery store.

“Bwown noodohs!” Charlie cried out. “That’s later for dinner,” I said. I put some of the not-so-wanted frozen corn in a bowl; Charlie sat with it for a few seconds then was on the floor. Bang. Bang.
He got up, he did an ABA session (not distracted by a plumber’s visit), but–because of the weather and past experiences taking a “bwown noodoh” asking boy on an unsettling walk–I concluded we would be better off in the house. And we were, though it meant for a rather boring sit on the couch by the front window. When I suggested to a calmer Charlie that we go out and get the bikes, he was up and out instantly and, once Jim came home, off for the hour-plus bike ride that is becoming Charlie’s norm.

But what if Charlie could never go outside?

Like Tyler Tirone, the autistic brother of novelist Mary-Ann Tirone Smith who writes of their childhood in post-WW II Hartford in Girls of Tender Age. Tyler is the author’s older brother who–it is the 1950’s–she and her family describe as “retarded,” occasionally “psychotic.” Tyler does not go to school because he was “too disruptive” (146). When Tyler hits adolescence, Tirone Smith’s father decides that the only thing to do is to have Tyler sleep during the day (sleeping pills do the trick) and stay up at nights, listening to his polka records and reading Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft and Aviation Week. The mother works the “housewife shift”–starting in the late afternoon–to stay home with Tyler. The father sleeps during his lunch break at the Abbott Ball factory and has Tyler take a bath in a bathing suit “to keep his hands away from himself” (93).
Tyler does not go outside.

If anyone knocks four times on the door or the phone rings four times, Tyler bites his wrist. (He also bites it for other reasons.) When the Hartford police knock four times on their door, Tirone Smith’s father adds an extra knock. The police are questioning all the boys in the neighborhood after Tirone Smith’s school mate, Irene, is sexually assaulted and murdered by a serial rapist.

They say to my father, You have a son?


How old is he?

Fourteen. He’s retarded.

So we’ve heard. Where is he?

There is a pause because my father finds that to be such an utterly stupid question. He says, He’s right here.


In his den. He never goes out.

He doesn’t?


Why not?

This cop is clearly not the same guy who gave my father advice on what you do with a retarded kid who pulls fire alarms. (146)

Tirone Smith is referrring to an earlier memory, when Tyler pulled the fire alarm and a policeman “offered no mercy: Keep him inside so he’s not a menace” (145). I have no idea how Jim and I could have done what her parents did, although we have had more than an inkling. Charlie never going to school? Charlie never taught by any of his teachers or therapists? Charlie spending his last years in a nursing home and dying “under suspicious circumstances” (268)?

Sorry for the catastrophic thinking. It happens, when you’re an Autismland parent, and you can’t just let your boy “go outside and play.”

Tyler also develops an aversion to the word “Thursday” (148). Tirone Smith does not speculate as to why but I have to wonder, if he was signalling his anxiety about the changes (parents home from work, his sister home from school) wrought by the weekend.

Just like Charlie.

Not like Charlie, able to go inside, outside, and off on his bike.

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