Everything we had planned for this afternoon and evening being cancelled due to the impending winter storm, Charlie and I found ourselves at Target and, in particular, the mega-sized Target store by the town we used to live in.
Charlie’s face lit up when I said we needed to go there for a selection of mundane items: Fabric softener sheets. The contact lens solution I have not been able to find in any store. The special “no bleach” cleanser for the shower.
And, valentines for Charlie to pass out: We had bought candy for his teachers and the bus driver and bus aide, and still needed some for the five other students in his classroom.
The parking lot was packed. I found a place near the back and opened the door for Charlie, who simply sat, then climbed out s-l-o-w-l-y and silently followed me in.
From the moment the fluorescent lights were shining down on us in the familiar space where Charlie and I had used to try to while away an idle moment on a hot or cold or rainy day, Charlie squared his shoulders and tensed his facial muscles. I said to myself, “No dawdling……” and pushed the cart myself. We went past the knock-off handbags on our right and Isaac Mizrahi’s latest on the left and straight towards several racks of board shorts (Easter items were already on display in the front shelves). Past the sporting goods and the shoes and towards the toys Charlie shows less than zero interest in and I realized we were in a landscape so deeply remembered inside Charlie that every aisle, every thing, bore the aura of our own old town and all those long days in the wrong school.
“Daddy blue bankett! Grannpah!” Charlie called out by the kitchenware. I had left the cart in the aisle while I looked for an item and suddenly heard a lot of shake-rattle-and-rolling: Charlie was pushing the cart at full speed and I had to run to stop it, and him.
Shampoo, that contact lens solution: I threw these into the cart, we got in line, we got into the car and I remembered we had not gotten any valentines. Charlie sat on his heels and said “Daddy” when I told him we would were going to meet Jim—-and then burst into tears soon as he was in the house and sitting in his favorite swivel chair by the front steps. “We’re home,” we said and slowly he pulled off his hat and coat. Charlie shuffled downstairs for his blanket and ball and calendar, arrayed them on the rug, and ran to jump on the couch, calling out the names of his teachers.
At the end of the Roman poet Virgil’s epic poem about the founding of Rome, the Aeneid Virgil shows his hero, the Trojan prince Aeneas, fighting with Turnus, the leader of the native Italian people. They fight with swords and shields; they throw rocks; finally, Aeneas chases Turnus, ever more weakening, ever more desperate, round and round in a terrible pursuit that is more than reminiscent of a similar scene in Book 22 of the ancient Greek poet Homer’s Iiad, when Achilles chases Hector around the walls of Troy, “swiftly indeed did they run, for the prize was no mere beast for sacrifice or bullock’s hide, as it might be for a common foot-race, but they ran for the life of Hector.” Just as, in Virgil’s Aeneid, it is hard not to see Aeneas as like Achilles, a godlike warrior, and Turnus like Hector, a noble prince whose time is over. Aeneas and Turnus ight on a landscape of mythological memories that are no less strong as Charlie’s unforgettable sense of what every step and aisle of that Target store means to him.
Our lives in Autismland are more about finding, and using, household cleansers than fighting battles on the windswept fields of Troy. And yet I think our simple, daily feats of taking our child who has autism to the grocery store—-waiting in a doctor’s office—coaxing out a new, full sentence—-are more than worthy of any epic poet worth his keep in dactylic hexameters.
And I think you know who the hero of epic—the Charliad?—is.