Anticipation

I dropped her off two weeks ago yesterday.  She left the next morning with her aunt and uncle and cousins.  They were heading west to meet my parents at the halfway point between their house and ours.  That’s not a quick road trip when you live in Texas.  They all had lunch together and stretched their legs and made their goodbyes.  She and one of her cousins climbed into the backseat of their grandparents’ car and continued their journey west.  My sister and her family turned around for the five hour drive back home.

Two weeks without a teenager in the house sounds like bliss during the Summer when you have four others living with you, too.  It’s not.  I am happy that she got to bond with her grandparents.  I am grateful that they took them to see such awesome and amazing natural sites of New Mexico and Arizona.  I am elated that my niece and daughter have had time together, away from their siblings and parents, to build that strong friendship and trust that cousins should have.  But the hole in my heart while she has been away has been difficult to deal with.

I love all of my nearly grown and grown children.  Each one has their own section in my heart.  I enjoyed spending time with my boys this Summer.  I learned that a lot of our conversations are interrupted by my daughters.  With only one daughter, the one who is usually blamed for these interruptions, I realized that it’s not only she who breaks into these moments with the boys.  I need to work on that.

I realized that my two girls, who fight daily because they share a bedroom, love each other to pieces and actually miss one another.  Randa slept in Samiya’s bed the first five days she was gone, just to feel close to her.  She had nightmares the last few days.  She kept getting out of bed, panicked, shouting, “Get in the car, Mommy!  It’s Samiya, trapped in a cave.  It’s save Samiya. Bring her home NOW!”  (She had seen the photos of Samiya and her cousin in Carlsbad Caverns from the second leg of their trip.)  Anxiety and Autism has a way of altering perspectives sometimes.  It took a lot of consoling and coaxing to convince her that Samiya was safe and back at Granddad’s house and that she would be home in just a few days.

Her brothers have missed her, too, although mostly as it relates to the frequency of their turns to wash dishes.  Ismail mentioned to me that he had been texting her throughout the two weeks.  Aiman had been talking to people they regularly game with online and talked to me excitedly about how Samiya had been promoted to a higher level on their team.  Mohamed talked with her, too, a few times by phone while she was gone.

But the person who has missed her most is her father.  He kept asking during the whole two weeks, “It’s long enough, right?” and when I told him that my sister planned to stay the night out there and come back Sunday, I could see his face fall just a little.  Then he said, “We should celebrate her coming back.  I’ll bring home chickens and you grill them on Sunday.  It will be a welcome home party.”  Daddy’s little girl personified.

Today, Randa will be pacing back and forth to the front door to check for her aunt and uncle’s car.  They drove out through the desert again to pick the girls up from Dad’s house.  And I will be washing and cooking and prepping for her return, trying to keep busy so I don’t jump out of my skin with excitement.  I missed my girl.

 

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Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

It’s NOT a Tantrum

Walking through a supermarket, the severely Autistic person wears gun-range headphones to help block excess noise to protect her highly sensitive hearing from the overwhelming barrage of clanking, banging, muzak, baby cries, squeaky buggy wheels and blips and bloops from cash registers. A woman getting over a cold coughs into her elbow, and the Autistic person’s face grows dark. Her mother notices the scowl and the wincing on her non-verbal daughter’s face. She puts the Cheerios back on the shelf and grabs her daughter’s hands and softly speaks into her face, “Poor lady. She’s sick. Sick people cannot help coughing, honey. It’s okay.”

The mom gently guides her daughter from the cereal aisle and the cussing begins followed by screaming and crying. “Ears hurt! STUPID WOMAN!” People begin to stare. Some people whisper and make angry faces. The screaming continues while the mom gives deep pressure hugs and wipes away tears, speaking gently about good choices and soft voices.

An angry woman walks by with her nearly full buggy with the squeaky wheel and stops to SHUSH! the girl. The mother spins around on her heel and tells the woman she is out of line. “You should shut her up! It’s incredibly rude to the other shoppers for her to be throwing a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket! What is she? Retarded?”

“First, she’s got Autism and she is in distress, NOT that we owe you an explanation. A tantrum is a fit thrown in order to get what one wants. This is an Autistic Meltdown which is brought on by environmental situations. What makes them continue is rude judgmental people like you! Secondly, this is Kroger. If you want quiet, go to the fucking library!” The mother turns her back on the sputtering woman, who has now become just another bit of background noise. The girl continues to cry and loudly repeat the same line from her favorite movie, as though stuck on a loop.

The store manager walks up and smiles. He knows the woman and the daughter, as they are regular shoppers here. He asks if everything is all right. The woman nods that it is. The girl notices the manager’s very large mustache and points at his face. “It’s big whiskers!” she says, wiping away her tears. The man laughs and agrees that they are. The girl smiles and says, “Bye. Come on, Mommy. It’s Cheerios.” The mom grabs the hand of her 20-year old girl and mouths a quick thank you over her shoulder to the manager. She returns to the cereal aisle and adds the Cheerios to the buggy while the girl happily pushes beside her.

 

Triggers

I have seen the Stanford yearbook photo of the convicted rapist whose father feels he is being punished too severely for “20 minutes of action” with an unconscious, young woman behind a dumpster. My stomach turns and I fight the nausea that comes in waves along with the memories of fear and disbelief and shock and horror and indescribable panic that I experienced during an attempted rape. It all happened so fast…and in front of his 1 year old daughter who I had come to babysit. She was on the couch and I was sitting on the floor playing solitaire, waiting for him to leave. His girlfriend’s shift started about two hours before his and I had agreed to watch the baby for a few hours each night to help her out. I had known them both for several years. I distinctly remember sitting strategically on the floor in front of the couch so that if the baby decided to get down I could catch her with my body. I remember that I was wearing jeans and a grubby t-shirt because I didn’t have time to go to the laundromat. I was barefoot because it was hot that day and I always took my sandals off at the door. I was bored and wanted to be at my own apartment across the street where my then husband was watching television. But I had agreed to stay with the baby at their place. And I remember thinking, “Why hasn’t he left yet? He’s going to be late for work and then the phone calls are going to start.” You see, he was on house arrest and had a specific number of minutes to get to his job and clock in or his ankle monitor would go off. He had been arrested for robbery. And he wasn’t violent. And I knew him. So I thought I was safe. And I felt him staring at my back. My back that was covered with a baggie t-shirt. And how he managed to jerk my jeans and underpants off and throw me to the floor with only one hand holding my ankles together and over my head while I was pinned to the floor with his body weight was unbelievable. I am a strong woman. I lifted weights in high school and college. I ran track and cross country and have very powerful legs. I forced my feet onto his chest and started to force him off of me. His face was replaced by that of a menacing monster and his fist that was twice the size of mine threatened to break my face if I kicked him. I felt pure fear for the first time that day. My mind raced to his daughter who was sitting on the couch watching this assault unfold in front of her innocent eyes and I started to cry. And I managed to choke out, “I cannot believe you would rape me in front of her” and then the tip of his penis that was already touching my labia was gone. And he pulled up his pants and walked into the back of the apartment. I threw on my underpants and jeans, grabbed the baby  and ran to my apartment across the street. I called her mother from my house and told her that she should call me before she leaves work so that I could bring the baby back home as she got home.  She was upset that I told her I couldn’t watch her anymore. I am sure she felt betrayed by me; leaving her in the lurch having to take off work to find short-notice babysitting that she could afford. And I never told her. And I never told my husband. And I never told a soul…because I knew that my past one-night-stand with the baby’s father that had happened when I was engaged to be married would come out and then my friend would be hurt and my husband would be hurt and I would be labeled a whore and what difference did it make since he was going to go off to prison soon anyway?

It mattered. I lost my friend anyway. I lost my husband anyway. True,  not for the reasons I had imagined, but they were gone nonetheless. And I still find myself afraid in parking garages, storage facilities, elevators with just one male rider. I doubt my ability to make good choices, whether or not turning my back to him to play cards on the floor was an invitation. This was 26 years ago. And I still panic over it. And I wasn’t “actually raped.” And though there was no penetration, I still felt violated and terrified and dirty and ashamed. And in my effort to protect the feelings of others in my life, I never told anyone and ended up carrying this violation, terror and dirt and shame in my soul and mind anyway and it is the reason for my self-doubt on so many occasions.

And I can’t help thinking that if all the Stanford rapist gets is 3-6 months in a county jail, then maybe he’ll end up on the other end of that equation at least once. He won’t make the connection that he is experiencing what she did. He’ll blame her for it. And the Swedes. And the system and probably even the judge who did him the favor of slapping his wrist instead of teaching him the accountability he so desperately needs to be taught. And no one will be any wiser or safer or better for it.