Little Screamerton is five years old. Surfer-boy blond hair, very large pale blue eyes, pug nosed, he is the picture of sweetness. He is adorable. And he is screaming like a fire engine racing to a four alarm blaze. Large droplets of water leap from his eyes. He must be losing weight with such fluid loss. I am amazed. Streams of mucus hang from his nose and flow out the sides of his wide open hollering maw. He looks like he is being burned with hot coals and poked with a stick.
He wails himself into a spasm of coughing, the coughing escalates to gagging until Screamerton's barely digested breakfast erupts in a volcanic stream, landing as a grey puddle by his feet. Little Screamerton has autism spectrum disorder. His worker, who wishes to remain nameless (her real name is Nameless) looks at me with a silent plea for mercy. Or alcohol.
She reaches for the handy wipes and prepares Little Screamerton for a cleanup trip to the family room. "Oh, for the love of God...", Nameless exhales, exasperated. "John, you wouldn't happen to have a fifth of gin in your bag, would you?" She has brought Little Screamerton into the shopping mall, for lunch and to "socialize" him. This is the heroic work of a community support worker.
Nameless has taken on this challenge, and years from now her name will be put forth for sainthood by the Pope. The child bats away offerings of food with one hand, and with the other he pulls the strings of snot, like taffy candy, from his mouth and nose, with a kind of grace that is counterpoint to the howling sounds coming from his perpetually open pie hole. Then, for split second, he stops and watches something in the distance, something that has distracted him from the sensations that torture him, his large blue eyes, pools of water and sorrow, are staring and he is silent. He is a heart breaker. Little Screamerton will break your heart.
But he will also break your balls, and so the crisis is created for the well intended worker, Nameless. Him or me; in the end Nameless must decide. She repeats that she feels badly for this child. She is chanting this like a mantra. I try and jolly her with stupid commentary and steady suggestions that she better take care of herself because no one else will.
The child goes to school, supported there by another worker, and he spends three days with Nameless, swimming and skating, trying to pass time in the presence and company of others, but those others are hard-pressed to accept this caterwauling snot and shriek production machine into their community . Passers-by look at Nameless, their faces scrunched in judgment and disapproval. You can fairly see their thoughts take shape, in those cartoon thought balloons, inflating above their heads. What the hell is going on with that child? Why the hell would that woman bring that child to this place?
Shit, you can hardly blame them. Much. The child looks entirely typical. There is nothing that would identify him as being severely disabled and disadvantaged. Little Screamerton has no words. He cannot speak to name the things or feelings that torment him. Is it the smell of the food around him? The sounds of footsteps reverberating on the hard surface of the mallway? The multi-coloured lights of the greasy food stands in the food court? We're guessing.
Community social service workers do a lot of that. We wonder and speculate about what the "behaviour" of those we support means. Because in our world communication is everything. We are pretty expert in this way. But there are things that are not made better. Even with communication. Little Screamerton has no words to tell us what is comfort and what it just more pain. He has a little video toy that he pokes and prods with a tiny pencil. This appears to sooth him. Nameless is doing her best. I admire her. She will deny, to the death, her sentimentality, but she's attached to Little Screamerton, and it's not hard to see why.
He looks like he was raised by wolves, he's wild, he hollers incessantly, he blows spittle bubbles, and then he reaches over to touch my beard with his sweaty, sticky, smelly fingers and I am instantly infatuated. But I don't forget, even for a moment, there is nothing I can do for this darling boy. I have reached that place in my life and in my work. The truth is a bitter pill, but it holds the only medicine that will sustain us. I wish Little Screamerton and his loyal well meaning caregiver Nameless the very best. Long may they run. But it will have to be in the other direction. Howling all the way.