I am a brain within a brain. I dwell at the center of Katie’s outer brain, like a firm fruit suspended within a blob of Jell-O.
Most of the time, I lie dormant.
“Tie your shoes, Katie!” The words snap from the nurse who swishes huffily past my host. I silently observe as Katie fumbles with her laces, her fifty-year-old brow knotted with a child’s concentration.
“Watch what you’re doing, Katie!” The aide’s voice escalates to a piercing shriek as my host wheels Lula’s chair smack across Frank’s extended toes. “Did you just run over that patient?”
I mutely wince as Katie plunges down the hall without responding. I long to relieve the shame that paints her cheeks deep crimson, that sprays the lenses of her glasses with a teary mist. But I remain voiceless, trapped within the storm buffeting my host’s outer brain.
She pushes Lula safely into the dining room, maneuvering her to the correct table. But the other residents—her people—are parked there already. They’re sifting gnarled fingers through scissors, glue, construction paper, markers…
Her eyes widen with shock at her supervisor, who is stooping over Ethel and molding her translucent hands around a lacy heart. Katie’s face crumples in confusion. “What…what is going on here, Tina?”
Tina lifts her head to fling impatient words at my host. “We’ll be done here at ten-thirty, Katie. Then you can sing with your residents.”
“But …but my singalong starts at ten! You…you marked it on the calendar. Time for us to sing right now!”
“I’m running a little late today, okay, sweetie? Just be patient.”
“Patient” proves a bit too hard for Katie. I long to calm her jangled nerves, but I can only watch in silence as she stamps her right foot. Bangs her balled-up fists against her thighs. Whirls and blunders back out to the hall, allowing the doors to slam behind her.
“ ‘Once upon a time…’” Fifteen minutes later I’m still mute, but I can finally relax. Katie has escaped to the room of her friend Clarence, who’s been placed on bedrest this morning. Indulgently I watch their beaming faces, bent over the dog-eared copy of Peter Rabbit she’s dredged up from her canvas bag. Together they have read this story at least twenty times, but neither one will ever tire of it.
As she reads, Katie’s voice grows soft and bright with music. Clarence grins and glows. His eyes are slivered almonds, shaped by his extra chromosome. Hers are round and wide, but they shine with the same light. And when a leaf pops out her sweater sleeve to land upon Flopsy’s bunny nose, the two friends share the same giggle.
I am smiling.
“ ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…’” Thirty minutes later, I’m not only smiling but singing inwardly. Real music now flows from my host. Other voices join hers like gravel bits or silver spiderwebs, together weaving one pattern of praise.
Outwardly I see a tableful of broken people, missing limbs or loved ones or short-term memory. A few nod off to sleep or flip through the pages of their hymnals aimlessly. Katie herself is broken like the rest, lost within a world that usually moves too fast for her. But inside I see beauty, of which my host finally gets to be a part. I gaze with her across her Creator’s sparkling starscape. But I still lie dormant, unable to give voice to the joy that swells through me.
Evening. Katie’s home at last, hunched over her computer. As her fingers strike the letters on her keyboard, that is when my miracle occurs. Ropes swing out to penetrate my host’s outer brain, reaching me like lifelines to which I can grab hold. Writelines, I call them. For writing sets me free to finally give voice, to unlock the core of order buried deep within the chaos. I’m tying knots and building bridges to the outside world.
For so long as she keeps typing, Katie gets to think like other grown-ups. She learns how it feels not to be autistic. She enters the realm of the abstract. For writing is her language, the pathway for the brain within her brain to come alive.
For now, I am awake. When she shuts down her computer, I too will go to sleep. And Katie will return to her lifelong childhood. But I will be there waiting for when my turn comes again. I am the brain within her brain.
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