The journey of a train enthusiast on the spectrum of reality seperate-titus

IMG_0810Cooper is my 13-year-old son who Lindy Hops on the Autism Spectrum. I have written about him as a child and his rabid fascination with NJ Transit, not trains but Transit trains specifically. The one thing that you should know about Cooper’s different-ability is it is wildly specific. It’s not spaghetti its spaghetti with Pomodoro sauce from Daniella Trattoria in NYC (not an ad, but could be an ad, if you are willing to pony up a few plates of pricey pasta for him). Okay, I could spend an entire story catching you up on Cooper but instead I am going to jump to the recent iteration of what we refer to as “Life With Cooper”.

Cooper’s joy the last several months is “working” the trains whenever possible. He spent time thinking he could be satisfied traveling various train lines, some of which include but are not limited to: Trenton, Montclair State University, North Jersey Coast in New Jersey. Oyster Bay & Long Beach on Long Island and countless requests for Amtrak, although to date I think he realizes that this without tickets is prohibitive. Word has it he was permitted a ride on Amtrak from Newark Penn to New York Penn one day, but I think travel outside the tri-state area will have to wait. Now if you are thinking, what irresponsible parenting letting her son ride Transit without supervision, please stop reading and return to your perfect parenting, because mine is an imperfect household filled with the perfect understanding of our shortcomings. So, Cooper “works” for Transit.

Friday night lights, filled with horns and bells
The movement beneath his solid stance feels easy.
4632 to Bay Head making stops at…

Saturday runs to and fro starting with Les and ending with Randy
The rhythm of the tracks the only steady in his brain
7695 to New York City making stops at…

Sunday is reserved for morris/essex maybe multis or commons
The traps and the doors every task he will sharpen his skills
7920 to Dover making stops at…

Cooper and I were on our own a few weeks ago while Doreen and the girls were in South Carolina. We were in a nice routine together and he took time away from his busy work schedules to be with me at the theatre or at home, so the only time he “worked” was when we were riding back and forth on the train to my work. Wednesday night we were on our way home after the show; typically Cooper isn’t on Wednesday night trains because of therapies or school, but this week was special. The rules are always the same when Cooper is with me at theatre in the evenings, he leaves the Palace early so he can find out what track our train will be on and secure the first four-seater at the front of the train, on the top left hand side specifically, for me to sit in with his skateboard and back pack while he works. He loads his pockets with schedules and maps in homage to his heroes, the conductors. A few of these conductors are super friendly to Cooper, they give him old zone maps and let him help with the traps at the train doors, they are okay with him trailing behind as they check tickets or letting him announce the stops throughout the lead train car. Cooper carries my work flashlight at night so he can wave down the platforms to the ticket takers signaling the all clear at station stops, when instructed of course. The night before, Cooper sat with one young conductor having a pretty incredible conversation about engines, equipment, schedules and the recent cancelations. It was a really friendly conversation that made my heart full and proud. I guess you might say it was a parental high to hear your son, who doesn’t always know how to conduct himself in conversation, really engaged. On this particular Wednesday night I was in my seat early so I got to hear his exchanges with familiar people (and some not familiar) as they boarded the train. These were far more typical of Cooper’s interactions; some of the guys would ask, “how many stops to Orange?” and Cooper would quickly rattle off a response which includes what zone that stop is. Somebody got on asking if the train stopped in Newark Penn to which Cooper replied, “No, you need to get off this train and go to track 7 I believe that is where the train to Trenton is. This train doesn’t go there.” A lady across the aisle smiles at me as she hears men board the train with greetings of, “hi ya Coop?”, “how’s it going tonight Cooper?” Cooper will assume a voice of a conductor he spends a lot of time with, “how’s it going? Very good, very good.” Pretty typical stuff. This Wednesday  was a pretty crowded train so I was sharing my four seater suite with a few commoners that didn’t realize that I was train royalty because of my association to Cooper.

We were about 15 minutes into our journey, having just left Secaucus Junction, when I hear the actual conductor talking, he is one of the grumpier fellas, but I cannot make out what he is saying. A few minutes later Cooper appears in front of me, his brow furrowed in distress. “Can you come with me please?” He says in a low sweet voice. Knowing that this is serious I grab all my wares and Cooper’s skateboard and backpack and as I head back to the rear of the car after Cooper I continue to hear the conductor talking to someone. I punch through the door into the train’s vestibule where Cooper is standing on a trap looking out the window with his head low. I said softly, “did you get in trouble buster?” and he turned to me crying, lowered his head on my shoulder and said, “he took my maps, he said they were Transit property and I wasn’t allowed to have them.” I said, “Did you explain that you had been given them Buster?” The tears were coming harder when he said, “I want them back.” I was in a parenting pickle, I wanted to march up to the conductor and give him an ear full, but frankly the way Cooper processes information I didn’t want him seeing me barking at a conductor as a solution. I continued to comfort him and said, “Buster, obviously he doesn’t think you should have them and that they are Transit’s property. Do you want to go ride in the back of the train?” “No, I want to get off at Broad Street and Lyft home.” I hugged him harder and said that wasn’t going to happen, but we could sit in a different car. Suddenly the door opened behind me and it was the conductor he sees me and hands me the maps saying, “I didn’t realize you were on the train,” he recognized me, “here I’m giving these back to you.” He says handing me the maps, “but he shouldn’t have them, so he should put them away.” He went on to say, “I had my bag stolen so I saw those maps and you know it set me off.” I calmly said, “he was given those maps sir, he didn’t steal them.” “Oh, I know” he responds quickly, “it’s just there is another kid who walks around on these trains and he’s really crazy.” Referring to another kid that I see Cooper with who is also clearly on the spectrum. He then says, “come on now, stop crying, big men don’t cry. Stop.” Now I actually want to punch him, not only has he referred to a kid as crazy but he is now shaming my son for being upset. I can tell Cooper is trying to stop, wiping his eyes and nose on my shoulder so instead of letting loose on the conductor I say to Cooper, “Did you hear that Buster, he had his bag stolen and so he got mad when he saw your maps thinking they might have been his.” That ended the exchange and Cooper and I went to sit at the end of the car on benches until we got home. As we left the train a fellow theatre commuter, a musician, asks if Cooper is okay and said to me he tried to reason with the conductor about what a good kid Cooper is and how he loves the trains, but he wouldn’t listen. Cooper was quiet when we got home, he just wanted a bath and an ice pack and went to bed. His spirit was broken. I had no idea if I had done the right thing as a parent, I mean should I have said to the conductor; you know what, fuck you and your big man bull shit, he’s my son and he can cry if he wants to because you were a dick and took away his maps. Furthermore, if you had an aware bone in your fuckin’ body you would know that he is autistic and not “crazy” you douche bag… But I didn’t say any of that, I just didn’t want Cooper to think anger is the way to deal with problems.

This incident had me a little shaken the next day, I further advised Cooper to keep his maps low unless he knew the conductor was a friend. I also reminded him that the conductor from last night wasn’t bad he was just upset about his bag. I considered having Coop take a train break but that’s like suggesting a bull dozer go easy. So Friday that week off Cooper went on a journey while I was at work. Within a few hours he was calling me to report that his conductor buddy Randy had given him an up to date zone map for the Morris Essex line and he was thinking maybe he should give it to the conductor from the other night who had his bag stolen so he could replace his missing maps…

I think that’s my son displaying empathy or ready to show that conductor who was the real “big man”. Maybe, just maybe it was a parenting win after all.

An incomplete thought

I am my mother’s daughter
I am my fathers DNA
they both are fading quickly as I grow stronger
still becoming who I want to be.

I am distracted by the dream that my father could one day be proud
of the seed he planted, but lessons were the nutrients and my repellent.
I don’t know who he is, maybe I never did
he has not been punished as I though would be.
I danced with the belief that his actions would see him pay
in the lonely well of spirit lost but he has been saved by a fog of past lost
He will never reflect on the pain he caused
He will never wonder why I didn’t come around
I guess the joke is on me all these years later as I stare into the eyes
of a man who does not know that he created me.
Tortured me with false attachments.
I will never be you Dad. I will never strive for tidy solutions
problems that just disappear.

I am messy, I am my Mother’s Daughter.
I feel too much, I complicate my own decisions.
My problems help define my days as I try to find solutions that may not exist.
I dream in leagues so deep no ocean can contain.
I love so hard that hurt is inevitable and yet I will love again and again.

I found this draft today, one week after my Dad’s death, one week before his birthday. I am not sure why I didn’t revisit it until today and it is too late to work it into a coherent piece of writing, but for me its perfectly unresolved. My mom, while thankfully still alive and healthy, will never be the person she was, the years of stress have taken their toll. She has been stripped of her short term memory and with that comes no new long term memories. So she will never know what my kids are becoming, what I dream for their future. So it looks like its up to me to flip this narrative, to strike out on my own. I need to no longer look for parental approval, but know instead that I have the heart and soul that my parents gave me, for better or worse, and use it to make sure my children never need to feel regret over opportunity lost on my watch.  Its a pretty big goal… here goes nothing.

 

The Reluctant Vegan

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Here I am 50 years old and finally committing to a Vegan diet. For those who have known me over the years you known I have made the dance with food for years. At the age of twenty-one I stopped eating meat, I had made a trip to KFC that put me under. Sadly never lost the 10 pounds that comes with being a vegetarian because I balanced my diet out with Cheetos & Budweiser. In my late 20’s I added seafood into my diet, sort of. My girlfriend Lisa, who was also a “lacto-ovo” vegetarian  loved seafood (I’m certain that has yet another name to tag onto the ovo) so I did my best to include it in my diet, even making Lisa a celebratory fresh lobster dinner for one of her birthdays. It took a lot to kill those little suckers but I did it. But as with most things I could take seafood, especially fish, or leave it. The beer and Cheetos persisted, my mainstay. Fast forward to another girlfriend (can you see a pattern developing)… who was a foodie. I managed to go to restaurant after restaurant and stick to my multi-named vegetarian ways… although I did jam down a piece of turkey, one Thanksgiving, with plenty of sides to mask the meat. My friend Matt was a witness to this & a fellow turkey choker at that particular Thanksgiving of ’97. When I went through my “I’m single again” rennisance in my late 20’s I finally lost that 10 pounds, plus another 15 for good measure, but it was a brief victory as my bad habits still persisted. Fast forward to my early 30’s and my current girlfriend… now wife Doreen, who is a real bonafide meat eater, and was pregnant. I decided to try to embrace some meat as long as I either made it at home or masked it in toppings, refer back to the Turkey choke of 97, for details. I mean I didn’t want to be a vegetarian while everyone else in my family was eating meat. This started the next phase of my relationship to food which was all about weight loss. No matter how much I justified my way around it I was always diving into new habits to slim down. I did weight watchers with such investment I could have been a group leader, I did challenge after challenge, whole 30 this, no-carb that, the list went on and on and on for the next 13 years. A vegan diet danced into my adult conscience while doing Motown, The Musical when finding out that the big boss, Mr Gordy, was a late in life Vegan inspired me. I of course knew plenty of vegans (I am a lesbian after all) but there seemed to be a vegan renaissance at Motown that wasn’t co-op and Birkenstock based. Many members of the Gordy camp, as well as our director, were self proclaimed vegans. Since it seemed so prominent I started pulling away from meat again and making the odd vegan meal here and there. No matter how many food dance parties I attended I always ended up sleeping with my old friend Budweiser and Cheetos (I’m being metaphorical here, I mixed it up and would have blue moon and salt and vinegar chips as well…). Between my bright orange lover and my justifying “oh, this left over food from the kids is already here” my diet was on a rapid decline, except for my manic bursts of cooking in between junk food. Last summer while I was out of town in Chicago doing the magical show, The SpongeBob Musical, I started experiencing intense foot pain. I kept popping ibuprofen and moving forward. I went to see a podiatrist well after I returned from Chicago, which proved useless, I stood bare foot in her office, was given a hands off exam, and was told, “plantar fasciitis & flat feet giving you some tendonitis in your ankle”, “Ice, stretch & pain killers.”  More western medicine bullshit, if you don’t need surgery you don’t really rate. I grabbed a Physical Therapy appointment at An American In Paris (the company provided PT for the cast) and those wonderful PT’s definitely felt something else was going on but since they are trained to refer everything to doctors first they just gave me some other stretches. Finally, after over a year of hobbling around, I started doing my own research and soul searching and everything pointed to inflammation and that inflammation pointed to diet… not the kind of “loose 20 pounds” diet I came to know so well but a different diet, a life choice diet; a Forks Over Knives realization diet. A plant based, whole food diet. So here I am, proclaiming that after years of having “an odd relationship with meat/food” I am going to follow a Vegan diet. I am going to take control of my own destiny. Ironically as soon as I threw this fact down & Doreen watched Forks Over Knives she decided to join me in my pursuits to feel better, although the ovo draw might be a little to powerful for her to avoid ultimately. I’m not expecting a magic bullet with my foot but the changes are starting to come and I couldn’t be more excited about the next 50 years of my food life.

PLEASE NOTE: If I do live to be 102 years old… I will then go down with Budweiser and Cheetos! Make no mistake this midwestern girl is not going to end it with a Kombucha & kale chips!

Oh Jesuit, my Jesuit! (a Sunday night story)

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As a kid I played at the feet of Jesuits. Not in some creepy “show me on the doll where he touched you” sort of way, I literally played at their feet under our dining room table; tying together shoe laces, tapping on their legs and hiding as they peered under the table pretending not to know what just tapped them. I guess these fellas, along with my two queer brothers and one slightly napoleonic brother, were my male role models growing up. Oh brother, I can here the jokes on the rolling in. I grew up in middle class suburban America without a single right to. I was the youngest of seven children being raised by a single, very freakin’ hard working, mom. The early 70’s, this was no joke; we are talking bra burning feminism, parents without partners mixers, Divine’s Pink Flamingos,  Vatican II had given permission for winners like The Flying Nun and Change Of Habit, Tricky Dick was the president (for a minute) and here I was doing Sunday night hangs with the Jesuits from St. Louis University. Okay, in all fairness I wasn’t hanging with the good fathers, I was more an observer. That was really the 70’s for me in general…, but that’s not the story I am telling right now. Right now I am talking about a group of righteous cats that could bend the opinion of even the biggest Roman Catholic skeptic; these were good dudes. I might be a practicing catholic to this day if I still had these guys in my life… mmmm, yep, I’ll leave it there. I am not going to pretend to be able to give you some enlightened description of the history of Jesuits but I think its important to note that this particular order of religious live in community and took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and they are heavily focused in education. I know, “duh, they are priest of course they take vows.” Not so my friends, there are other boys out there that just make “promises” to do these things not vows, these guys are diocesan priests. These are the guys that are at most of your parishes and they can own shit, make some coin here and there, maybe a vacation, maybe keep company with a little someone special because its a promise, not a vow. Now, I could go a little deeper to say that this is why this current Pope, Mr Francis is so different and seems to really be about people and love, and not just church rhetoric, because he is a Jesuit and the first freakin Jesuit to ever be the pope out of 266 of those bad boys who have worn the papal ring. Yes, the major bullshit still exists… the church is NOT like, “come our dyke sister with your lover and your children and feel God’s unbiased love.” but I kinda feel like old Francis would say that on the  QT and really mean it. Trying to be really accepting and non judgmental in the Catholic church hierarchy must be like trying to be a black president in the USA. Pretty lonely!

Whew, did I get off topic or what… So, my mom would send my brother Lance or Mike down to the Jesuit housing at St. Louis University Sunday late afternoon and he would bring back a car load of these men in black to break bread with my mom, my sibs that were around and me. There was usually a big pot of spaghetti sauce which is sort of my families version of the fishes and the loaves… a little ground meat went a long way when mixed with cans of tomato sauce and paste. Wine and laughter were typically a part of the meal. After dinner there was a lot of conversation & pipe smoke. Father Jim, who was our Sunday regular, loved a pipe. I mentioned before that my mom was a single mother. My old man did not die, my parents were divorced, yep the big evil D-word. Not a popular thing in the late 60’s and even less favored by the catholic church without an annulment. Which I am never clear why my mom didn’t get an annulment cause its not like she was all boss and said, “you know what Hal go find yourself a waitress at a diner in Perryville MO and take up with her and leave me and your seven damn kids to fend for ourselves.” Granted, I was only 6-months old so I don’t remember anything but I’m pretty fucking sure that is not how it went down. So my non-annulled mother who could no longer receive communion when she went to church EVERY Sunday and holy day of obligation would make special Sunday night’s for a bunch of priests. Maybe it was because the leader of the pack, Father Jim Burke, was a tremendously bright light who would speak intelligently and lovingly in our home. He was respectful of the job my mom was doing, along with the help of my older siblings, in keeping our family together. Now, I don’t think Father Jim or any of his brothers of the cloth that visited were naive, nope not at all. I have two queer brothers (at the time I was merely an adorable tomboy), one, my brother Lance, very outspoken and warm the other, Jeff, who is an artist was probably just out smoking pot and avoiding any conflict possible particularly involving his sexuality, my eldest sister, Deb, who was cut out of the bloom of the love that permeated the late 60’s early 70’s. Another brother, Mike, who played the obedient boy to the letter but was in fact the biggest & funniest con-artist on the pot smoking planet. A sister, Judy,who was plagued by her off color family and I’m convinced to this day has memory loss in order to not suffer the embarrassment of our eccentricities and last but not least my sister Tracy, the stunning looking athletic girl who would make sure things went how she had them planned. So with this wonderful and oversized family all in one house, Father Jim and company would come to our home to  laugh, listen and discuss life, art, science, philosophy or whatever for hours on end before saying goodnight and tumbling back into our Dodge Dart Swinger to be deposited back at their housing. Our own little 27 rue de Fleurus right there at 7920 Colonel Dent Drive.

To this day on my mom’s kitchen window sill you can still see a photograph of Father Jim that accompanies his obituary, that twinkle in his eyes that gave everyone permission to be happy around him. Father Jim was a Jesuit so he went were his order sent him which was Spokane Washington for the later part of his life. My mom did get to see him in Spokane and indeed he spread no less of his love and teaching there than he bestowed upon our band of merry misfits at 7920. My mom was once told she led a “charmed life” by a boss of hers. Now to know my Mom’s story that statement is debatable at various times but there was something charmed that brought all of those thinkers into our home and share so much love on those Sunday nights. Perhaps, if I care to let myself indulge in that love, this is why are family stayed so bonded in our differences and healthy through some tricky times.

Dear Cooper. I love you. Please read this letter. Mommy

Dear Cooper,

You are growing into a young man and I am proudly terrified. Please listen to me. You are a young black man and you are a target. A target for so much hatred and violence in this country. The people who loved you as a cute little boy don’t love you any less than they did but the people who never met you, the police that don’t know your good natured ways are going to look at you as a threat. Crazy right? You a threat, that’s impossible! Not my buster who loves watching videos and sitting in a hot bath (several a day), you’re definitely not a threat to anything but my water bill. My sweet Mommy’s boy that cuddles up with me in the mornings before it’s time to start our day, my train loving guy who wants nothing more than a trip with me on a NJ Transit train being pulled by an F40PH3C engine, my baby that I sit and watch sleep late at night and you will occasionally appear as your sucking a pacifier ten years after the “paci” is an option. These are not the threatening qualities that you will be judged by. Strangers will judge my big twelve year old boy with dark skin who demonstrates behavior that can be taken the wrong way by someone who doesn’t understand you have autism. A young black man riding his bike or his skateboard at dusk in the park is frightening to a racist. When some lady yells at you because while you’re walking through a parking lot and you look in a car that looks just like ours don’t talk back in your big loud voice because you don’t know why your being yelled at, “you didn’t do anything wrong.” That lady may  call the police who don’t know you and won’t know you have a 3DS, a few Pokémon cards and maybe some candy in your back pack and when you can’t make eye contact because you have a neurological difference called autism they may mistake that for guilt and then you say something that they don’t like because your brain actually cannot keep up with the situation and then they can say they thought that bey blade and it’s launcher in your backpack was a gun so they had to shoot you.

I will keep fighting for this obscene violence to stop. I will keep questioning shoot to kill, stop and frisk, excessive use of force; but in the meantime I pray that you will safe when I am not there to be your “white” sheild in this still sadly racist world where black people are often guilty until proven innocent… if given time to prove that innocents.

I love you buster and I wish I could just keep you trapped inside or by my side but you have the spirit of an explorer and that is so awesome. Know that Mama and I will never give up on you learning right from wrong so you stay safe in this world which still, with all the great progress that has been made, is far from created equal.

Mommy xo

 

Bipolar: There is nothing righter than the disease

You may never find the peace you strive for
although you search perusing the many possibilities that can get you there.
Then there is a crack and pieces of peace cover the ground
but not the piece of the peaceful mind
just that piece of glass that cuts into your skin asking for peace.

Your beautiful mind is in pieces spread across the universe
A shining of a star flaring too soon, a soul lost in space and time.
Your beauty flows swiftly and pools, your beauty, your blood
your mind swims lightly in a sense of peace.
The sun reflecting but not off your once bright eyes mind and spirit
Just off of your blood lost.

There is a glimmer of hope that steadies you as you go deeper
into this magical place where the release of inhibitions seem to come so easily
and all at once you are hoping that feeling will not end.
You don’t know who is controlling what or when what is controlling you
but you don’t care the who or what as the heat rises to the top of your
at last peace, some kind of peace.
But as the heat subsides and cool air rushes in you see you are left alone
but you can’t possibly be alone, you had peace, where is it now?
Maybe you are alone. Could you be alone?

You may never find the peace that you strive for, for it may not exist.
But pick up those pieces baby and see if they don’t just go back together
in a different way to create a new beautiful piece giving you the peace you so deserve.

Love,
Mommy

My daughter suffers alone with her bi-polar, with only her guides; her demons that tell her “right” from “wrong”. Trust me, her mom and I try to help. I pray prayers to rival the Pope; I fully expect white smoke to fly at any minute. Here’s the thing with mental illness that I am just beginning to understand. There is nothing righter than that disease in the moment. Bi-Polar is the powerful cunt that holds all of the cards. I adore my angel. From the minute that little baby girl was placed in my arms at the hospital I was hooked but there are more days than not that I have no idea who she is. I keep telling myself that puberty is upping the stakes, if her mom and I can keep her alive through this maybe with proper continued treatment she’ll be okay… I hate the word okay. I want her to be better than okay. I want that brilliant light to shine as she goes through life. God has delivered an Angel who must fight incredible demons every day and one day she will triumph and wake up with peace. I hope.

Getting on with a day, joke by joke

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I can jump up and down on a ball while juggling knives and telling jokes! ..Nope, not at all. Unless, bare with me on this, the ball I balance on is my career and my home life very well rounded and somewhat hard and very springy and often unpredictable in joyous ways. The daggers I toss in the air are the bi-polar manias of my incredibly talented and sweet natured pre-teen daughter who is super sick with a disease that most of us choose not to try to understand. The son who chooses only to listen to me and even then the term “listening” is a stretch, oh and he thinks we are wealthy. The youngest daughter who doesn’t say much but is full of experience at the ripe old age of nine thanks to her siblings and their oil & water personalities fueled by developmental delays and mental illness. The jokes I tell while jumping and juggling are real, I tell jokes all the time. Jokes to get by, jokes to let people know I’m listening, jokes to make everything okay in the heat of the moment, jokes to feel better, jokes to lift up, jokes that self deprecate, jokes to break the ice. So many jokes. I tell them to myself all day long, hilarious observations that will just die in my stunning memory. I have my buddy Matt who is my steady, my best friend outside my family, who goes down this darkened path of inappropriate humor with me. I cannot describe our relationship very well but to say when I’m not with him regularly I feel less whole. He is the man who makes my juggling seem bearable. I can tell him about the most horrific events that transpire and he’ll help me move on for the minute, hour, day. He’ll turn the worst possible situation into a reason to laugh and trust me when I say he has been put to the test over our nearly twenty year friendship.

I guess a good laugh isn’t always the best option, I know some people are heavily invested in the hearty cry and when I fall off  my ball and a knive stabs me right in the heart I can roar like a wounded animal with water works that match. This is not my favorite road to take because then I end up exhausted and listening to The Carpenters as a result of hitting this emotional rock bottom.  Then I have to start the process of cycling up musically, maybe next is James Taylor, perhaps Joni Mitchell, then early Springstein from there I can go in a variety of directions but it can be a long process of minor keys.

There’s also getting really angry and needing to give a good physical reaction to release. These were far more common responses for me years past and kinda dangerous roads for me to go down cause I’m pretty strong and my temper can get a little over the top. Then I feel huge waves of regret and occasionally have repairs to tend to. These huge waves of regret can also lead to The Carpenters which puts me in the above mentioned exhaustive cycle.

So I think its safe to say that the inappropriate monologue of humor that runs through my brain as an endless loop and slips out into the open maybe too often is my best course of action.

The Cooper Conundrum

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As many of my work colleagues, friends on Social Media, New Jersey police & Transit Police know my 11 year old son Cooper went missing this past Saturday for six hours. For many people this isn’t a surprise; I mean semi regularly Doreen, my wife, posts an “on the look out for Cooper” on her Facebook page. It is such a common sentiment that recently I went to get a cup of coffee at a local vendor, The Able Baker, and the woman helping me introduced herself as being part of the “Cooper look out team.” How awesome is that? I must give a shout out to the wonderful citizens and employees in our town who definitely keep a watchful eye out for my son. So why was this Saturday evening any different?

For those of you who don’t know my son suffers from autism. High functioning thank God, but as any parent of a kid on the spectrum can tell you, its a real thing! There are certain givens with Cooper: He adores NJ Transit, he desires many objects (often found in my shopping cart on Amazon is a Pokemon card or a plush toy), He loves to be on the go (and has had several bikes stolen in the process), He would like to go to NYC with me everyday if he could, He is passionate about eating at the diner and going to the ice cream store. So this last Saturday when he went to skate in the park just before 4:00 in the afternoon equipped with his cell phone and a plan to meet Doreen and his sister’s at the diner at 5:00 for dinner and then a stop by the ice cream shop it seemed like a lock. Doreen and I were babysitter ready with plans to attend the late show of Rita Wilson’s concert at the Cafe Carlyle that night; Doreen was perfectly priming the kids so her meeting me after my show would be a non event. Cooper never showed up at the diner or the ice cream store. His phone went straight to voice mail and texts were not being responded to. Doreen phoned to tell me he was missing at 7:00 in case he showed up at my work, which he has in the past. The Maplewood Police department and NJ transit Authority were informed in short order. As the night wore on the fact that Coop missed the diner and hadn’t called Doreen started to bother me more and more. By 9:00 terrible thoughts were racing through my mind and I just said many o’ prayer as the An American In Paris Orchestra continued to play and the performers went about their magic. By 9:30 Doreen and I were abandoning our anniversary plans, both of us bereft with worry, her trying to keep her fear from our girls while I tried to keep mine from my co-workers. Then at 10:10 I received word from a train conductor friend, Andre, that one of his conductor friends saw Cooper on the train that afternoon saying he was going to Trenton. Within minutes of this information coming in to me and Stairway to Paradise wrapping up onstage at the Palace Theatre Doreen got a call from the Trenton Transit Center that Cooper was there and needed to be picked up. Relief and exhaustion set in immediately!

I arrived home from work at midnight and sent our “date-night” baby sitter on her way and Doreen and Cooper rolled in at 1:30 in the morning. An extremely cuddly Cooper with nary a care in the world and a ticket for the SEPTA train in his hand comes up and rubs his face gently against mine. I took a serious tone, looked Cooper in the eye and said, “Buster, you simply cannot do that again. Mama and I were terrified that something horrible had happened to you. Your phone turned off. No more Cooper!” Coopers very sincere response was, “I wanted to go to Atlantic City and get a hotel room and come home tomorrow but it got too late to get a train.” Um… speechless.

We do the required take-aways from Coop’s freedoms and treasured stuff to try to make him understand the severity of the situation but the fact of the matter is Cooper is going to understand everything until the next time he is instantly taken by a need to journey. Cooper is a generally well mannered young man full of charm and an extra helping of life with a penchant to be on the move. So we have armed him with GPS tiles (thank you Apple) that will locate him wherever free wi-fi is available and added trackers to his phone that will work if it is on or not (thank you t-mobile) but the best we can arm him with is knowledge of people good & bad and an incredible network of friends that have his sweet back… that said, I will continue to pray!