She watches him as he sits quiet and content, looking at the television but not watching it. He smiles, he laughs, he looks as if he is in deep thought, but what about? Every few minutes, he flinches and reaches toward her in a failed attempt to annoy her. She’s known him now for twenty-one years. She holds him when he is tired, cares for him when he is ill, and scolds him when he misbehaves. They understand each other though he has only spoken two words in his lifetime. She loves everything about him, except his bad habit of grinding his teeth.
It is almost 6:30 now and she knows he will be hungry again soon. She goes into the kitchen and he follows laughing out loud because he knows it’s time to eat. He has no favorite dish;, however, his preference is meat. She learned at a college seminar that people like him usually become obsessed with something. Sometimes it is books, painting, even building card houses. His obsession was eating. He would devour anything except for cereal. Cameron would get out of bed around 4:00 a.m. and eat all of the food in the refrigerator. It had really gotten out of hand once so they installed a bolt lock on the refrigerator door. He hated those bolt locks.
He was well behaved for the most part. At least when she was around, he knew what he could and could not do. She also had three other brothers, two younger than Cameron. Throughout his life, his two younger brothers would sometimes pick on him ruthlessly but if someone else did, they became infuriated. She knew that this hurts Cameron’s feelings, he didn’t show it but she could feel it. They all loved him in different ways but for some reason, to her, the way she felt for him was stronger…deeper.
Her kids admired him. They would spend hours in his room playing with him and would be upset if they couldn’t. They understand him and they like to help care for him. A couple years back when they were just infants, they would cry and Cameron would scramble to grab their bottle and bring it to Katrina or his Mom. He would get angry if they did not give it to his nieces quickly and would stand watching them and smiling once they did. He knew that bottle made them feel better and he always wanted them to be happy. It was hard for her to explain Autism to two young girls but it worked out well. She told them that God just makes some people different. Special.
“But, Mommy, why did he make our uncle that way?” She laughs out loud as she thought back. Sometimes the questions that children ask are the most difficult to answer. She glances across the room at Cameron, waiting patiently at the dining room table to be served his meal. Sometimes she asks him what he’s thinking about and he just smiles and signs ‘eat’. He doesn’t use much sign language at home except the sign for ‘eat’. It’s definitely his favorite.
Cameron is about 5’9”, 200 pounds but he is a big baby. He likes to curl up in their mother’s lap still at the age of 21. He’s big but gentle and he hates to see any of his family in any type of pain. He would cry uncontrollably sometimes and it hurts them immensely because they never know why. They would offer him his favorite things but nothing stopped his crying until he fell asleep. She used to stand in his doorway and watch him sleep, wondering why he cries that way. Is it because he knows he is different and it was hard to deal with? Is it something happening at school? The thought of someone mistreating him always makes her angry. Lord knows they had been through enough of that with his father. His father. Is that why he cries? Does he miss him or does he hate the memories of his violence?
He looks up and notices her watching him and he smiles again. She loved his smile. Through all the changes the family had been through, one thing that never changed was his smile.
She could remember back when he was only twelve years old. He used to think it was funny to jump out of open windows and run when no one was looking. Sometimes they would hear him crash through the screen; there were even times he would do it while they were in the same room. He would burst the front door open and tear across the field. Boy, he was fast as a bullet too. Their Mom would scream for the two oldest kids to chase him down because she couldn’t catch him, she had tried a few times. He would run like the wind, laughing and never looking back. The family always feared a car would hit him because he ran so carelessly but luckily it never did happen. Their neighbors had grown to know him and they would sometimes hold onto him until they caught up. Cameron would have sand spurs in his feet and he would hold his feet up for his mother to pick them out when he was safe in the house again. She giggled to herself as she prepared to fry his pork loins.
It was as clear as yesterday to her, one Saturday morning at about 3:30 a.m., there was a knock at the door that woke her. When she opened the door, there stood Daryl, one of her older brother’s classmates who lived about four blocks away. She had a huge crush on him and she thought he came to his senses and realized he felt the same way. Her heart fluttered in her chest. He said that he was coming in from the club and he saw Cameron run past his house. Her heart sank, a chill ran down her spine and sheer panic engulfed her as she noticed the time. She ran for her shoes, screaming for everyone to wake up. They all scrambled out of the door and split up into three different directions. She combed her path, calling his name for hours on end. The sun was rising as tears swelled in her eyes and she finally went home. There was Cameron on the couch with his mother picking the sand spurs from his feet. Mother had found him sitting on the back of a parked trailer truck about two miles away from home. He was lost, tired, afraid and of course, hungry. Her Mom said when she found him; he ran to her and hugged her tight all the way home. He wasn’t laughing or smiling. They were all upset when they realized he had ran out but their Mom said when he hugged her, all of her anger melted in his embrace. They were happy to have him home and he was happy to be there. Ever since that morning, he never ran again.
He grabbed her by the arm and she snapped back to reality. She looked at him and he signed ‘eat’. She hurried to prepare his plate and sat it on the table in front of him. He devoured four pork loins and a heap of macaroni and cheese within seven minutes and she just knew he would want more. But he did not want any more today. Cameron rose from the table and went to his room to rest. She would not disturb him because he looked tired. He went into the room and closed the door behind him.
As Cameron closed his door, he sighed out loud. So many thoughts ran through his head. He was full and really wanted to watch television. It did not matter what was on. He needed to put his mind at ease the best way he knew how considering the fact that he could not talk. So his release was television and music. He looked around at his television, headphones, compact disc players, and cassette players they had bought for him. He knew how much his family loved him, especially his Mom and his sister, Katrina.
Katrina was firm but she truly loved him. He knew he could not get away with half of the stuff he could with his mother. His mother was always weak for him because she felt guilty to certain extent. He knew he could have whatever he wanted if he just asked. Sometimes Katrina would try to make her resist but it never worked. He was Mommy’s boy. He laughed to himself.
His two younger brothers were better now. They used to pick on him years ago and his Mom and sister would become defensive. It never bothered him; he knew they were just being children. Though he is autistic, he was much more mature than they thought. But he knew that it made them happy to do everything for him. They liked to wait on him and clean up after him. But whenever he received awards from school for cleaning up and preparing food, they would be surprised. What do they expect? Cameron knew that school was a job and home was like a vacation so he relished in it.
When his sister would stare at him with ‘that look’ he always knew what she was thinking. He would find himself quietly struggling inside to say ‘it’s okay’ but he could only smile. That was his way of telling her that he was just fine. His Mom does the same and when she does it, he struggles even harder to say something but it never happens so he has learned to laugh away the anger. Smiling and laughing always makes him feel better because he knows that it makes them feel better. Whether they know it or not, they really mean the world to him. Cameron felt uncomfortable and had to switch positions in his king-sized bed as he thought back to the unhappy days. The man that his brothers had called Dad. He loved him but his hatred and anger overwhelmed the love that was there. Cameron is always loving and gentle but when someone in his family was hurt, he would see red, literally. ‘Dad’ would make him do just that because he hurt them physically and emotionally. He was relieved when he left although something inside is empty now. Back then he cried because of him and now he cries because of those memories. It would hurt his family when he cried because they didn’t understand why but he could not help himself. Although he is gone, the memories linger. He had heard his sister crying at night sometimes as he lay in his bed. He never knew why she would cry; all he knew is that the next morning, she was all better. So he does the same and it works. It really does work.
Cameron only knew what he was taught and what he saw. It’s hard to be that way but he knew it could be worse. He sees worst-case scenarios each day at school. Some of his classmates can’t walk or feed themselves; some can’t even understand simple English. To make matters worse, some of their families are uncaring and regretful of them. There are even a few that don’t even have their real families. He knew he was blessed to be where he was. He was not too sure who made it possible but he thinks it was that guy who he’s heard his sister talking about. Some guy named God. Whoever He was, Cameron believed that He was the One who blessed him and he was thankful for that.
So as he lay in his bed, dozing off, he smiled again. His door creaked open and he closed his eyes just enough to see but to appear asleep. He was really good at that now. He saw Katrina come in, cover him up and kiss his forehead. She picked up the remote to turn the television off but she paused as she remembered the comfort that it provided for Cameron. She placed the remote back on the dresser and walked to the door. She stopped and looked back just as she always does, then she finally turned and closed the door behind her.
Cameron smiled again.