The countdown started 29 days ago just like it has since he learned how to talk. He was afraid before then too and it was worse to see tears streaming down his cheeks without knowing what was wrong with my youngest son. He has autism but this was not the kind of thing that happened so many days in a row where we couldn’t connect it with something that was happening in that moment.
We figured out he didn’t like wasps or bees even without words. He saw a bee or wasp and he would get the look he wore now and his eyes never wandered off of it even if I was holding him and the tiny insect he saw as a killer beast was on the other side of a rolled up car window or screen door. His teachers said they were sure he had never been stung there. We would have known if it happened at home– he was rarely without one of us or his siblings. When something went wrong, he wasn’t the kind that could brush it off and move on quickly. But then again, his idea of something going wrong was very different than most.
The music is helping tonight. He asks the question and then answers the question himself. After so many years, I am sure he will be saying it long after me and his daddy have departed from this world. I push myself to do more. It’s the reason I can’t ever give up. I need to be sure what I told him is true and this truth might be more important for my own comfort than his.
“Mom, what is that?”
“I said it’s 29 minutes until the TNT goes POW.”
“Mom, I’m afraid of today.”
“Gustavo is using the words, the talking, mom.”
“Gustavo, what do mommy and daddy say when it’s 29 days or 29 minutes away? When momma hugs you and Mikey hugs you, what do we say? What do you know?” he asks himself.
He places his hand on the top of the cats head and keeps the puppy at a safe distance from the cat. He just joined the family at 42 hours before the TNT comes this year. He understands the cat still doesn’t want to be friends with Machete. The little teddy bear looking puppy smells fresh. The cat hates taking a bath and it’s been a long time since he smelled that way and it’s likely going to be a long while before that changes.
He puts the puppy down next to his newest tin of Pokemon cards to start rolling up the little rubber mat he uses as a game board to play a game too complex for his momma and daddy to understand. We only know he is good at it and understands the rules and can beat people who are not letting trying to let him win because they feel sorry for him. He is a force to be reckoned with in the world of Pokemon. His skill and strategy honed every day and people often comment on how well he cares for his collection. He used his last batch of coins to buy more sheets of a thin plastic sheet with pockets that the cards fit perfectly into. I pointed out to him that he still had some free spaces in some of the sheets in a few of the binders now full.
“Super rare,” he says as he gently takes the lime green binder from my unschooled hands. Colors like lime green and hot pink appear to be where he keeps special cards and I sense that if he had ever picked up the teenage habit I had mastered at his age, his eyes would have been rolling as he made some comment under his breath with annoyance.
He slipped his earmuffs back over both ears after the binders where returned to his shelf near the bed. The earmuffs were presented to him on Christmas Day, his poppa bought them last year. He had the same pair he wore when he was target shooting. They replaced the orange and blue earplugs that our youngest carried in his pockets as soon as the countdown began. I was working late and when I got home I found Gustavo curled on the couch with his head rested on his dad who had fallen asleep on the couch too. They looked like the earmuffs the employees at work had to wear when the audiologist came out to do the hearing tests to see if anyone had a shift or loss of hearing.
My husband stretched out his neck to return my kiss and asked how my day went. I hadn’t noticed the cat sleeping in the space between them. He looked like a furry coil, almost like the caterpillars who go into corn overdose and are caught in the empty space where a fresh kernel of corn used to be. Sometimes they unfurl themselves when you pull back the soft waxy sheets to uncover what will soon become corn on the cob. Some just keep lying there like the cat– the corn in the belly doing what turkey does to humans on Thanksgiving. I brought them a blanket. He didn’t want Gustavo to wake up and feel afraid. The countdown was over. It was time. I neared the little plush powder blue foot rest near the side by where our teenage boy had his long legs stretched on. I joined them on the couch and dozed off to the sounds of Noche de Paz. Silent Night playing in Spanish on repeat for the last 15 minutes. It had become part of the countdown and seemed to make the minutes crossing into the 4th of July a little easier. If he was still awake we would have been talking about what tin he would buy next for his Pokemon collection. He would correct us when we pronounced the names of the strange players that I learned morphed into even stranger shapes with special abilities. It reminded me of the days the speech therapist would visit our house once a week with toys to help Gustavo learn how to find his voice. “Moo goes the cow,” we would all say when she pulled the lever on the See N Say.
Noche de Paz was over and he has fallen asleep. He will wake up a few times and say, “We’re safe. I’m safe. My mom loves me. My dad loves me. I have a brother. I have a sister. Gustavo is safe. We take care of each other. We are safe. It will be over soon. It’s a celebration. Don’t be afraid, Gustavo. You are safe my son,” He will repeat this and insert the cat’s name in one cycle of question and answer. The dog’s also get the same assurance from Gustavo. He taps me on the shoulder from his sleeping bag on the floor. It’s our annual living room camp out each 4th of July. I turn on Noche de Paz one more time. “The countdown is over. We’re safe. Your’e safe my son.”