It was you, Cholly (#445)

“Charlie, maybe you can work here someday,” Vinnie the barber said to Charlie, who had waited his turn in an empty chair before getting a buzz cut from another barber, Michael.

“Sure, maybe someday,” Jim smiled.
“They really know him in there,” Jim added in telling me about his taking Charlie to the barbershop–its walls adorned with photos of the village back in Italy where Vinnie’s relatives live and its only TV monitor turned to ESPN—late this morning.

I was not there. Haircuts, like bike-riding, have been Jim’s doings as Autism Dad (however old).

But the reason I was not present at this morning’s haircut was because I was xeroxing and mailing off the manuscript for Jim’s book on the New Jersey/New York waterfront and, in particular, “the waterfront priest,” Fr. Pete Corridan, on whom the priest in the movie On the Waterfront was based. Jim started working on this project shortly after Charlie was born in May of 1997 and spent many hours in archives out here in New York and New Jersey and elsewhere (including at the University of Minnesota) and in interviewing former dockworkers and Budd Schulberg, who wrote the movie’s screenplay. Jim still has to visit one more archive which houses the papers of a certain famous playwright.

Visits to archives around the country and to interview people famous and not-so-famous tend to take a backseat to activities like haircuts, bike rides, IEP meetings, crisis management training, evening walks to the train station, when you live in Autismland.

There have been times when Jim and I have both asked ourselves, asked each other, how can we keep doing these things?—researching crime on the waterfront before containerization (and that is not a reference to the kind of container—Tupperwares for small colored plastic items and/or food—one tends to use daily in Autismland), analyzing the use of one word in one ancient Greek tragedy—when Charlie’s needs, when autism, are so clearly at the center of our world.

But that’s what happens when you live this Autismland life. You see how “I coulda been somebody” else, done so many things else, career and whatever-wise—you know it’s your calling, and the greatest gift of all, to take care of your autistic child.

Jim posed this question to me as the three of us stood on the beach in the late afternoon—yes, the same beach where we vacationed and that we said good-bye to two weeks ago. We are only two hours away, it was summer-warm, and we had two causes for celebration, Jim’s finishing his manuscript and Charlie’s successful return to school, new teacher and all. Charlie had waited more than patiently as Jim and I raced to print out the final changes to his book and through sitting in some central Jersey stop-and-not-go traffic. As we drove through the town right before the beach, Charlie’s entire physique tensed and then, not a mile away, thump thump thump thump came from him back-arching in the backseat.
He cried out, loud, all the way to the beach and initially threw himself down on his back in the sand. “Cholly! Let’s go for a swim!” said Jim and into the waves they went. It took some ins and outs in the salt water, some shuffling the sand under his soles, a bit of body-surfing, for Charlie’s anxiety to fade. Jim and I posited, Charlie’s love for the ocean—and for this beach in particular—is so great, so absolute, that his first thought is he would rather not go at all, to spare himself the pang of leaving.

“But that’s him,” Jim noted as he and I stood in the shallows, Charlie pacing in the sand and smiling. We had wanted to visit the beach, just as (I suspect) maintaining pursuits utterly unrelated to Autismland—waterfront priests and classical Greek grammar—has been good for us as Charlie’s parents, and, ultimately, for Charlie. And, while Charlie will need our care and attention for longer than a non-autistic child—forever, perhaps, and that will be good—Charlie is his own person, with his own interests, so many yet to be developed. He was eager to see the lighthouse at one end of the beach and handled leaving fine (though with an attack of the sillies on the ride home that led to insomnia—Charlie did not fall asleep until around 3am).

And, truly, what I could have been without Charlie—without life in Autismland these past nine years—is not something I would wish for at all. It was you, Cholly, it was you, that has helped us to have this good life of hope and witness, every day.

It is you.

4 Responses to “It was you, Cholly (#445)”
  1. tara says:

    Thank you Kristina, I needed some perspective on this topic of late.
    The past few weeks have found me scrambling to make my work schedule fit the needs of being a Mom in Autismland. Owen is and remains the priority, however complicated the logistics become.

  2. Jannalou says:

    This is totally random, but the title of this post reminded me of Charlie Chan. I only ever watched a couple of episodes. It’s one of those things my mom used to really like.

    One of the many movies:

  3. Thanks, Jannalou! The lines are from ‘On the Waterfront,’ said by broken down boxer Terry Malloy (played by Marlon Brando) to his brother Charlie: “I coulda been a contenduh,” says Terry.

    Tara: the balancing act is always work in progress, isn’t it?

  4. I can really identify with this post. I too needed some perspective as of late. Thanks. I love the picture of Charlie on the edge of the water. Beautiful.

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