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Imagining Autism

By Carrie Montanez

Family PicI wake up. The light is so bright. I cover my eyes with the pillow.

“Are you getting up?” I hear my mother yell. She doesn’t know she’s loud but she is. She could call much more softly.

I throw the covers off and roll out from under the pillow. These sheets are scratchy against my skin – I don’t like that. I should probably tell Mom so she can get me new ones. She doesn’t know about that either.

I look around my room. I see my toys by the wall and start thinking about them. I imagine other universes, with cybernetic beings and aliens controlling the world. If I were a cybernetic human, then I could just heal myself whenever someone shot me or hurt me. Or I could just go to the repair bay, where the cybernetic experts can fix my body.

“Don’t forget to get dressed before you come down for breakfast!” My mother’s second call breaks me from my imaginings. Sometimes I forget what I’m supposed to be doing. Mom reminds me though; she’s good at that. Some things she knows.

I go to my dresser and start digging through clothes. I’m still imagining myself as a robotic human, so I’m making mechanical noises as I move. I look for a shirt with no tag because tags really bother me. Most of my shirts have the tags cut off, but sometimes Mom forgets that. I put the shirt on, and start looking for pants. Pants can have tags; those don’t bother me. There are no pants in my dresser that I want, so I put on the ones I wore yesterday. I put on my shoes and leave my room.

I go down the stairs and into the kitchen. I am aware that Mom is folding laundry. I am aware of everything. The music playing in the kitchen. The light coming through the window. The hum of the refrigerator. The hiss of the coffee machine. The smell of the coffee itself. The smell of the laundry mom is folding. The smell of Mom. These are things only I notice. They are all competing for my attention and overwhelming my brain.

The smell of the coffee triggers my gag reflex. I’m getting good at controlling it, though. I grab a bowl and spoon from the clean dishwasher and get my cereal out of the cupboard. Then I go get the milk. I always pour the milk in first, then the cereal. Mom says that’s not the way you’re supposed to do it, but it’s the way I do it so it’s okay.

“Those are the pants you wore yesterday, hun, you can’t wear them again,” Mom says. She hands me a clean pair of pants from the pile she’s folded and tells me to change after breakfast. I nod, my mouth full of cereal, and set the pants on my desk. I sit down to eat. I take very large bites. Mom doesn’t like that; she worries I might choke myself. She reminds me to take smaller, slower bites and chew them really good. I try to remember, but I really love this cereal.

Suddenly, my little brother is in my face and he’s yelling. He’s smiling and laughing, so he must think it’s funny, but I don’t. He is too close and too loud and he’s scaring me. I push him away, but Mom snaps at me. She tells me I have to be careful and remember I am much bigger than my brother. She worries I could hurt him.

“But Mom, he was bothering me. Can’t you tell him to stop it?” My brother and sister like to bother me a lot. I don’t know why they think it’s funny. It really annoys me.

“Stop bothering your brother, little hell-demon. Be nice.” Mom tries to tell him, but he never listens. He just keeps bothering me. I get up and run outside.

Out here, it is quieter. I hear birds twittering, and I hear cars on the highway. The breeze is a little cool and smells like grass. I see my cats sitting on the porch. They come to meet me as I go to pet them. I love my cats. I love coming outside and sitting with them and petting them and talking to them. Cats are soft and quiet. I like to cuddle them. Sometimes when I come home on the bus, they are waiting for me on the sidewalk. Mom says that’s normal for dogs, but not cats.

Mom opens the door. “Don’t forget to change your pants, hun.”

“Oh, I almost forgot! Thanks for reminding me Mom.” I go back inside and grab my pants off the desk. I go into the bathroom and lock the door to make sure nobody bothers me. In the bathroom it is quiet. The lights are not too bright, but it doesn’t always smell the best. Today it smells okay I guess. Mom should probably clean the toilet, though.

I put my pants on and hurry to put my shoes back on. I don’t like the way the rug feels on my toes and feet. Mom thinks it’s a great rug, that it is beautiful and soft, but I think it feels funny. I look in the mirror. I start to imagine again. If I were a cybernetic human, I would have robot arms and a robot body and a human head. I could touch hot things and they wouldn’t hurt me. I wouldn’t have to take a shower because it might fry my circuits. I wouldn’t have to eat things I don’t like.

Mom knocks on the door. “You about done in there? Your sister’s gotta pee.”

“Oh, right!” I say as I open the door. “I got a little distracted.” Mom pats me on the back.

“It’s okay, kiddo, I understand.” Yeah, some things she gets. I start telling her about what I was imagining in there. She nods and asks me questions. It really makes me feel good about telling her what’s in my imagination. After our talk, I sit down and try to finish my cereal. It’s been sitting there for a few minutes, and now it’s mushy. I don’t like that, so I dump it out.

“Coat time!” Mom yells. It is too loud for me, so I plug my ears. When I am sure she isn’t going to yell again, I go to get my jacket on. I find my backpack and my lunchbox right where I left them yesterday. If Mom moves my things she always tries to put them back where I left them so I can find them again. I lose things very easily.

We go outside to wait for the bus. My brother and my sister are playing on the sidewalk, but I am standing on the porch with my cats. I feel safer over here. I know that they won’t bother me if they are busy playing over there. I sit quietly and pet my cats, telling them all about the things in my imagination.

The bus is here. It’s a small bus, and only a few other kids ride on it. I like to sit by the window so I can wave goodbye to Mom when we leave.

Mom says, “Goodbye! I love you! Have a good day!” and we all wave and smile. My brother and sister stick their tongues out at Mom, and she sticks hers back. I don’t like that, I think its gross, so I don’t do it.

At school, my helper comes to meet me. She goes with me to my classes and helps me with my homework. She is really nice and I like her a lot. We are friends.

All the kids in my class are my friends. They are very nice to me and they help me sometimes. They all say hello to me when I walk into the classroom.

“Are you ready for your math test today?” My helper asks.

“Oh no! I forgot the math test!” I am very nervous. Having tests always makes me nervous, even when I’m very good at things. I start to breathe in and out very quickly.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, nothing to get upset about. We studied for it yesterday and you knew all the answers so I know you’re going to do perfect!” My helper’s words calm me down and I start to breathe normally again. She is right. I am good at math and I shouldn’t worry. Besides, she will be there to help me if I can’t figure out a problem. We sit down and review for the math test. Then we go to the math room for the test, and it is really easy. I can’t believe I was ever so worried!

Later, it is lunchtime. I sit at the table with my helper and open my lunch box. Every day my mother puts an apple into my lunchbox. I don’t like them, but I try to eat a little of it anyway. Mom doesn’t like it when I throw them in the trash. I also have a sandwich with only jelly. I used to like peanut butter with jelly, but then I think Mother started using crunchy peanut butter and I didn’t like that. I take the peanut butter half off and eat the jelly side. So now mother only puts jelly on my sandwiches.

After lunch I have English class. We are reading a book. I read very well, but I don’t always understand what I’m reading. We go very slowly and read just one paragraph at a time. Then my helper and I go back through it sentence by sentence and talk about what the paragraph means. It is slow, but it is the way I learn.

In the hallway, there are lots of other kids. They are all talking and it is very loud in my head. I also hear locker doors opening and shutting loudly. I walk by the bathroom and as the door opens I hear the sound of a flushing toilet. Bathrooms always smell bad to me, too. The busyness sometimes makes me feel dizzy and makes my head hurt. I’m glad my helper is here for me.

At the end of the day, I say goodbye to my helper and rush to get on the bus. I want to make sure I get a comfortable seat. I am so glad I don’t ride a big bus; they are so loud and there are too many kids. My brother and sister get on the bus and it is time to go. When we get to our house, my brother rushes in front of me to be the first in the door. Mom reminds me that he likes to be first, but I don’t like that he always gets his way.

I want to get on my computer, but the parental controls are on. I’m not allowed to be on it until five o’clock. I decide to go up to my room and play with my toys until I can get on the computer. Sometimes I like to play with Mom’s tablet. Mom wants me to read books, but I don’t like to. Sometimes it’s too hard and I start thinking of other things instead of thinking about the book. It’s much easier for me to just play with my toys and use my imagination.

Later, Mom calls me down for dinner. She’s made me a grilled cheese sandwich, because she knows I don’t like tacos. I sit at my computer and open my digital designer while I eat. I love making things on my computer, even if I’m just painting. I like to play Minecraft and use my Lego Digital Designer. Everyone seems impressed by the things I make. They are only things from my imagination, though; I see them inside my head all the time. And I don’t like it when people are too impressed. Sometimes all that attention just makes me nervous, so I don’t like people to make a big deal out of things.

“Where does your plate go when you’re finished?” Mom asks me. I remember it goes in the sink, so I get up to take it in there. On the way I start thinking about Transformers and what I would do if I had the Matrix of Leadership and Megatron was trying to take it away from me. I would run very fast, and hide behind things, like this table. All I have to do is get the Matrix to the sink, and everything will be safe. I sense Megatron is coming around the corner of the table, so I jump up and shoot at him. Direct hit!

“Plate. Sink.” Mom reminds me. Oh, right. I got a little distracted again. I put the plate in the sink and go back to my computer. I play for a few hours, designing and creating fantastic things, until Mom says it’s time for bed. Sometimes I like to sleep on the couch, because my sister likes to sleep there and doesn’t want to sleep alone. I usually like to sleep in my own bed, in my room where it’s quiet.

Mom comes in to say goodnight, but I have been thinking and I want to tell her some things.

“Mom, maybe one day I will create a potion that will make you never get hurt, and never be tired. And all your atoms will reproduce faster. And then humans can split apart and still retain their bodily organs. And maybe I can make an aging potion so we can all stay the age we are.”

“Wow that sounds fascinating. You should go to college and be a scientist when you grow up.”

“Well, maybe I’ll go to college for one day – just to learn how to make potions.”

“Whatever makes you happy, kiddo.” Mom kisses me on the forehead and I giggle, embarrassed.

“Goodnight, Mother. Sleep well,” I say to her.

“Goodnight, buddy, I love you.” She turns the light off and shuts the door. The sheets are still scratchy. I should tell Mom about that. But at least it is dark, and the house is quiet. As I fall asleep, my imagination comes to life.

Carrie Montanez is a 32-year-old stay at home mother of three kids, living in Iowa, and Navy wife to Jacob Montanez, who is currently stationed in Pearl Harbor.

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