It had been a hectic day for the Bromwell family. Baby Alice was teething again, brother John had gone off to school without his lunch, and oldest sibling, Chris, was having another girlfriend crisis. Father was out of town on a business trip, which left Mother to manage everything on her own.
That afternoon, the children and their mother were shopping at their local grocery store. Trying to pacify the baby while shamelessly eavesdropping in on Chris’ cell phone conversation, Mother eventually herded the children into the longest check-out lane. John, running on an empty stomach and taking advantage of his mother’s distraction, snatched tempting non-nutritious snacks from the racks on either side of them and threw them into the already overflowing cart.
Straining her neck over the customers in front of her, Mother spied Andrew bagging up the purchases.
“He needs a haircut again,” she noticed, watching him swipe a dangling shock of hair out of his immediate vision.
Mother’s eyes misted as she studied the young man arranging cans “just so” in the paper and plastic sacks. Did other people notice that he was challenged, she wondered, observing the familiar tell-tale signs of autism in his body language and demeanor. A specialist in the field, she had worked with mentally ill children years ago and had seen a wide range of patients’ abilities and disabilities across the autistic spectrum.
“Andrew is one of the fortunate ones, in spite of his handicap,” she acknowledged, noting his ability to communicate verbally with the people surrounding him.
“Mom, can’t we go to another check-out? This guy is the slowest one here,” Chris stopped text-ing into his phone long enough to complain.
The baby had fallen asleep, drool pooling on her chin like dew drops sliding down a blade of grass. John was devouring a few donut holes from the bakery box they had picked out. These things registered in Mother’s subconscious even while her eyes were glued on Andrew while the line advanced, until it was their turn.
“Hi, lady! My name’s Andrew. Your baby’s cute. Do you want sacks like this or this?” grasping a paper sack in one hand and a plastic bag in his other.
“Paper, please, Andrew. You do such a good job arranging our food in them.”
Mother watched him meticulously line the sliding cans in a precise row before bagging them, flashing her back to a long ago young toddler playing quietly in his room with his carefully placed wooden blocks in straight lines around him.
“You got Wonder bread—that’s good--it makes you strong!” Andrew straightened up to demonstrate his strength.
A siren went off in the hear distance warning of an impending storm. Jut as she anticipated, the young man winced and clasped his large hands over his ears.
“Too loud! Too loud!”
“It will stop soon, son, it’s okay,” Mother lifted her hands up to cover his in comfort and understanding.
Their eyes met in familiar recognition for a brief moment until the sound faded away.
“See, it’s all gone now,” Mother smiled.
“Yeah. That was sure loud! It didn’t hurt me, though, because I’m brave! It stopped now, too! Hey, your baby is waked. Does she like loud noises?”
Andrew placed the filled bags into the family’s grocery cart while Mother paid the cashier. Chris, embarrassed by the exchange between his mother and the bag boy, hung back while she and his siblings moved toward the automatic door exit. Mother turned back for one more look at Andrew, like a parent leaving a kindergartner, reassuring herself that he would be okay. She desperately wanted to prolong the moment. Instead, she shut this private door to his world again in her mind and heart, and turning, joined her remaining children into theirs.
“What’s the matter with that dude, anyway? Chris muttered, “He acts like a retard.”
“People are NOT retards, young man! They have mental challenges and handicaps just like some of your friends have physical ones. How about Josh, who’s paraplegic, or your cousin, Jimmy, who has multiple schlerosis. You don’t think less of them because of their condition, do you?”
John chimed in, “Yeah, and they’re all a lot nicer than you, Chris!”
Later that evening, after thinking a long time about the incident, Chris apologized to Mother about his attitude.
“It’s almost time,” she thought as he went to bed, “almost time to introduce them to their older brother, Andrew.”
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