My uncle John D looks a little like Johnnie Depp, and, because I was very into pirates when I was first nine, which was about 18 months ago, I thought he was fascinating. Well, you know what nine year olds can be like with their fascinations.
I am ten now, almost eleven, and I like to think I have developed some perspective.
[I didn’t tell you my name, which is Warren. I’m not allowed to give my last name out on the Internet. I may have things to add that are not really related to what I am writing about, and in those cases, I will put those things in brackets and use italics. So, if you want, you can skip the italics and my writing will still all make sense.]
After my parents’ last big fight, when my mother said she was going to take me to be tested and my father replied I was not–I repeat NOT–f*@cking nuts (and then, after my mother left, he told me it was my fault for being–I repeat BEING–f*@king nuts) [I have read that using symbols is an acceptable way of representing words that are mostly considered vulgar], my father said he couldn’t deal with me, and so he took me to my Grandmother Peg’s house. I do not like being away from home but Grandmother Peg’s house is the next best thing to home. It smells right and it feels right.
And back then, as I told you, I was fascinated by pirates and so by my uncle John D.
John D was 25 at that time. He worked in a factory called American Products. They produce hard plastic covers for a variety of products. John D was on the custodial staff. He had a wine-colored 2005 Taurus that had some rust spots and made unusual noises. John D called it a ‘beater’, although a ‘beaten‘ would have been more appropriate, because the term intends to convey that the car has been beaten down.
John D is my father’s half brother and my Grandmother Peg’s youngest child, so he is also my uncle. But I have never called him ‘Uncle’, just John D.
John D has black hair that falls in his eyes, which are dark like Johnnie Depp’s. He had, at that time, a girlfriend named Gretchen. She liked to put her hand on John D’s pants right where his penis is. [My mother has advised me to refer to penises as ‘John Robinsons’ but I cannot understand the value in that; it seems very foolish to me to give personal names to body parts. I don’t, for instance, have personal names for my fingers or legs. Also I realize that it is not polite or pleasant to talk about penises, but my English teacher says, “Revealing the details means revealing the person,” and I think this detail reveals quite a bit about Gretchen.] I think that the reason Gretchen liked to do that,–which seems very disgusting to me, frankly– was that when she did, she told John D there was “the promise of more and better things, later”, and then he tended to agree to anything she suggested.
Which was how we came to take the pirate trip.
I had been showing John D my pirate books. I had a very good collection at that time; since then, I have traded them in at HalfPrice Books, although for less money back than I would have hoped. I am currently engaged in collecting a variety of video games–all in the RPG genre.
Grandmother Peg, who, although she is past the legal age for retirement, still works as a realtor, asked John D to care for me while she showed a house.
John D was seeing Gretchen that day; they had some shopping to do, and he agreed to take me along.
We picked Gretchen up at the house where she lives with her mother. Her parents divorced when Gretchen was four, which could explain some of the many issues she seems to be troubled with. [My psychiatrist, who is a nice and smart person although he looks very much like Dr. Robotnik from the Sonic saga, agrees that this is a very strong possibility.] I could see, because she made an angry face when she saw me in the back seat, that she was not pleased with my presence. But John D explained that I had been temporarily abandoned by both of my parents and that Grandmother Peg was showing a home, and that I was very much interested in pirates.
And Gretchen suggested that it would be fun to take a pirate trip and grab some booty. That made John D laugh and say HE’D like to grab some booty, too, and I have since learned the term ‘booty’ has a dual meaning. Gretchen said the pirate trip would be a game.
The point of the game was this. John D and Gretchen would go into a store and spot an item of ‘treasure.’ I would then be sent in the store with a map they had drawn me. It was my task to appropriate the item, hide it on my person, and bring it to John D and Gretchen. If anyone asked me if I needed help, or what I was doing, I was to say I was looking for something my mother wanted me to buy. If they continued to watch me, I was to say I could not find the item and then I should leave the store without carrying anything out.
John D says I am not a noticeable kid. I am tall for my age and thin and I have very light blond hair [which is like my father’s hair, although my facial features more closely resemble my mother’s side of the family’s] which is cut in a buzz cut. [So called, by the way, because the clippers make a buzzing noise during the styling.] I wear plain T-shirts and khaki shorts in the summer, and socks that just come to the surface of the ankle rims of my sneakers. John D told me I was very presentable and that no one would look twice at a kid like me and that even if I did get caught the fact that I was disabled would get me off the hook. I was not sure what that ‘disabled’ meant–I told him my father said I was NOT f*@king nuts, and he and Gretchen laughed a great deal.
At any rate, no one noticed or spoke to me. I am usually very nervous about going into a strange place, but this adventure was couched in terms of a game, I didn’t have to stay long or make conversation, and I trusted John D very much. In the first store, called TJ Maxx, I retrieved a box of turtle candies normally priced at $10.99. For that task, I just picked up the box and calmly walked out the door. I took it to Gretchen and she opened it and began eating as I went on to Task#2.
In the next store, called Kohl’s, I had to do a little more complicated task. I had to take a pink t-shirt with a silk-screened butterfly on the front. The map showed me how to find it–although I have to say, John D’s spelling was not good. I found the display but discovered there were many shirts on the same table. I needed to find the pink one with the butterfly, size medium. When I did, I had to roll it up and slide it into my shorts, making sure that the waistband secured it from falling out the leg. In this way I was able to successfully take the T-shirt from the store. The price tag suggested that this T-shirt cost $23.99.
My third task–and by then, I was hoping, the final one; this did not seem like fun to me any longer, and there did not seem to be any reward for achieving my goals; John D and Gretchen were kissing and ignoring me–was to take a bag of Verona coffee from Starbucks. It had to be the large size–$15.99, retail–and it should be in bean form, not ground.
There were more people in Starbucks than in the other stores. I saw the exact product on a display shelf. Standing next to it was a tall, heavy woman with short brown hair. She appeared to be waiting for her order to be ready. There were several people sitting in chairs like you would find in your living room. They were reading books or newspapers or tapping on keyboards.
I walked over to where the lady stood, excused myself and picked up the coffee. She looked at me–I would describe her expression like this: ‘The heavyset woman had a curious look on her face.’ When the counter person spoke to her, she turned away, and I then left the store with the coffee.
To my surprise, the lady left the store too. She called to me. She called, “Little boy!” which I found very annoying, and so I ran to John D’s car, and got in, and he ‘gunned it’ and we drove away. Gretchen thought this was very funny.
John D called my grandmother on her cell phone and discovered she had returned home, so he took me there. I believe he and Gretchen were in need of some alone time to fulfill the ‘more and better’ promise. They dropped me off and drove away, and I went in to talk with Grandmother Peg.
My mother says that Grandmother Peg is ‘discerning’ [My mother also says she does not know how Grandmother Peg got saddled with two low-life, dumb-ass sons like my father and John D. This is the kind of remark, I have learned, that I should not share with Grandmother Peg, my father, or my uncle John D. My therapist and I are working on me developing the skill of ‘discretion.’] At any rate, Grandmother Peg knew right away that something was troubling me, and when she asked me about the afternoon, I told her about the pirate game.
During my telling, she asked me some questions, and then she got very quiet and thoughtful. She then said something like this:
“Warren, I am very angry about the pirate game, but I am not angry at you. I am angry with your uncle John D and with that ignorant tramp he runs around with. In fact, I don’t remember ever being quite so pissed off in my entire life.”
“Then she said, ‘You’ll pardon my French, Warren,'” and explained, when I asked, that ‘French’ was a euphemism for cussing. She made a couple of phone calls and then we went out for dinner at the Longhorn Steakhouse, which is my favorite place to eat out. I like that the booths are almost private so nobody is watching me eat. I always order the same thing: New York strip steak, medium well. Baked potato with extra butter. Macaroni and cheese on a separate plate.
After dinner we went to see a movie, The Guardians of the Galaxy. It was fairly late by the time we arrived back at her house, and Grandmother Peg’s friend, Big Dan, was waiting for us on the porch. Big Dan is a State Trooper and often he comes to visit in his ‘civilian’ clothes, but this time, he was in his uniform. He invited me to fist-bump with him, and I did. Grandmother Peg explained that he was there to have a little chat with John D. Big Dan said he was in no hurry, and he would be happy to wait for John D, however long it took him to get home.
I took my bath [I no longer take baths. I have decided that showers are much more sanitary, but last year I only took baths.] Then I put on a clean T-shirt and clean underwear and went to bed in ‘my’ room, which is the front room upstairs. It is also the craft room and the guest room, but Grandmother Peg says, whenever I visit, the room is mine. I was very tired, so I fell asleep pretty quickly. I woke up once, when I heard Big Dan say, “Get in the car, son. We’re taking a ride.”
I heard John D answer, but I couldn’t make out the words. Big Dan said, “Whiz [another euphemism, for ‘urinate’] in the bushes then; you have two minutes. We’re going for a ride to have a little talk.”
I heard the car pull out and I wondered about it, but I fell back to sleep very quickly.
When I woke up, my mother was there. Grandmother Peg made us French toast. [‘French’ toast has nothing to do with cussing.] We all talked. My mother explained that she had been consulting both a doctor and a lawyer. The doctor was referring me to a clinic at a big teaching hospital for testing. The lawyer was insuring that my mother would be able to be my custodial parent without interference from my father.
She told me very clearly what would happen and what I could expect, and what things would be different–including big things, like where we would live. When she was done, Grandmother Peg got up and went upstairs. Shortly after that, John D came down in his baggy sleeping clothes. HIs eyes were red and his head was down.
“Warren,” he said. “Buddy. What we did yesterday–the pirate game–that was messed up, man. We should not have made you play that game. Stealing is bad, dude. I was a jerk.”
I thought about what he had said, and then I thanked him for clarifying the situation, and he shook hands very seriously. Grandmother Peg was crying, and I think maybe John D was about to cry, too.
Not my mother, though. She was just plain mad, and it was probably a good thing John D hurried out of her reach.
So this is what happened then. My mother and I went to live in an apartment in the city near the clinic. My mother got a new job at the university hospital, and I had a comprehensive series of tests. My mother was correct that I would have a diagnosis. I am on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. My therapist explained to me that often other diagnoses are connected to being on the spectrum. In my case, I have clear obsessive compulsive tendencies and I also suffer from episodes of depression. I now take medication every day. I believe that the medication makes it easier for me to cope; for instance, I have currently not had a ‘melt-down’ in three weeks.
I also go to support groups at the university and have some special things at school–like I don’t have to eat in the crowded cafeteria and I can take my tests in a quiet room just off the Guidance Office. I like my teacher. I even like some of the kids, and I have actual friends whom I met at the groups at the university.
I am starting to understand some of the things that make me different–like I still like toys other people say they’ve grown out of, but my vocabulary is like that [my teacher says] of an educated forty year old man. “Pedantic speech” my psychiatrist calls it, but that is okay with me. A pedant is a teacher, and I think that is what I want to be–but at the college level, not in grade school or high school where you have to deal with kids acting like idiots. I don’t know yet what I’ll teach, but it might be something to do with video game design.
My mother and I also learned that I need and crave routine, and so we are very careful to stick to a schedule every week. When the schedule has to change, we talk about it and plan for it.
I like the way we live now.
Several months ago, my father started writing to me. He said he missed me, and he was very sorry for all the things that had gone wrong. Now he comes to visit once a month on the final Friday night. He stays in a hotel, and we go out to Longhorn Steakhouse for dinner. Sometimes Mom comes, too. Then on Saturday, he comes over to play video games before he leaves. He doesn’t swear at me or Mom, and I actually really enjoy his visits.
I asked my mother if she would marry him again, and she said time would tell. She said life is pretty good the way it is right now, and we need some pretty strong proof that dad has really changed. That was a relief, to be honest. I was afraid we would go back to the way things were before–back when I thought pirates were really cool.
Shortly after we moved to the city, Mom and I got library cards, and I borrowed a book about real life pirates. We read it together,and I discovered that pirates were not, really, exciting or glamorous. They were dirty and dishonest and violent and cruel. The day I finished the book, I packed my entire collection of pirate materials into two boxes. That weekend, I took everything to HalfPrice books, where they gave me $13.50,–which, as I have said, was a little disappointing.
I thought of the pirate game and I thought of the pirates I had read about, and I said to my mother, “I could never, in reality, be a pirate.”
She hugged me (sideways, which isn’t so bad) and said, “You’re right, Warren. You just don’t have it in you.” Then she added, “Thank God.”
I am not sure I believe in God [although I did not tell my mother that, as it would be upsetting: my therapist says, “Triumph of discretion!”], but I am definitely thankful. Life is much better now that pirates aren’t a part of it.