Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Fallon Hotel: Chapter Three

fallon45Jeri awoke to the low steady rumble of traffic as life began to stir on E18, also called Parrots Ferry Road, near the Fallon Hotel.  The road was a connection between historic highway 49 and highway 4, a thread that ran through some of the most beautiful California countryside called the Gold Rush Trail.  Jeri still wasn’t sure where she and Andy would ultimately land and plant roots in the area, so she figured some upcoming day trips on the two highways would soon be in order to scope it out.

Lying in bed with the muffled sounds of cars and chirping birds in the background, she thought how the room might just be quiet enough for Andy to sleep for another 15 minutes or so.  She slipped out from under the covers as gently as she could and took one of the robes and a towel from the hooks near the sink, glancing over at Andy who had his eyes closed and mouth open, like one of the members of the porcelain angel choir her put on the mantle during the holidays.  Stuffing the room key into the robe pocket, she turned and opened the squeaking door as quietly as she could and exited to the hallway letting the door shut with a subtle click behind her.  She stood perfectly still for a moment, listening to the sounds of Andy’s light snoring behind the door, wishing she could know exactly how long he’d sleep.  Long, luxurious showers were a thing of the past and she missed them.

Turning to survey the hallway and all of the old artwork on display, Jeri’s eyes landed on a black and white framed print on the wall.  She tilted her head in disbelief at the image before her.  Rubbing her eyes and stepping forward for a closer look, Jeri realized it was a somber Victorian era drawing of three young children sitting in front of a tombstone.  Behind them, an imposing winged figure hovered, watching over them.   Three huddled children keeping vigil over a headstone that seemed to imply that the occupants were most likely their parents, as an angel kept guard.  Jeri felt nauseous and strangely riveted to the door, unable to pull away.  She thought about what an odd piece of art this was to have in a hotel, a place of temporary respite and recovery after a long journey and how a cemetery scene might be suited for … well, nowhere really.  Except maybe a funeral parlor or mortuary, places of permanent rest.  Morticians should be the only folks allowed to collect and display works of art like that.

Shaking her head, Jeri forced herself to look away from the strange image of the children seated at their parents’ grave.  It was the oddest combination of creepy and peaceful as Jeri had ever come across and she found herself wishing that someone would watch over Andy while she grabbed a short shower, not necessarily a long dirt nap.  It was just one more thing to question Evil It about, when she went downstairs

Having lost precious time to the children and their angel, Jeri quickly turned left and headed toward the upstairs parlor sitting area, near the main stairs.  Located to the right of the parlor, she found the door marked “Women” as though it were a restroom.  She tapped on the door and receiving no reply of protest from inside, turned the handle.  The door swung open to reveal a shower room, similar to the one at the gym she belonged to, before Andy was born.  Jeri took what she considered to be a world record breaking shower in terms of time and efficiency.  She slipped on the robe, wrapped the towel around her head, and stepped back into the still empty hallway and headed back toward her room.

With her key hovering near the lock of #108, Jeri thought she heard sounds coming from inside the room.  She pressed her ear against the door and heard a soft, sweet voice on the other side of the door.  It was unlike the voice that she normally heard, as she was used to hearing Andy perfectly recite long passages of dialogue from shows he had watched and memorized or snippets of other people’s conversations.  Her son was a brilliant mimic and could flawlessly capture the rise and fall of any kind of voice or sound effect, and as impressive as it was, Jeri longed to hear the sound of Andy’s true voice, not just his version of bright blue cartoon characters or the pinched, nasally voice of the absorbent and yellow sponge whose theme song says he lives in a pineapple under the sea.  Listening now, to the sounds coming out of room #108, Jeri thought she could almost imagine Andy in normal conversation.

Turning the tumbler in the lock, Jeri sighed.  She slowly opened the door with a long, drawn out squeak, not wanting to startle Andy.  The sound and movement of the opening door caused Andy to turn, but he didn’t look up at his mother, he looked past her and smiled, saying, “Bye-bye, Ezra.”

Hearing the Ezra’s name again, Jeri spun to look behind her.  The outside hall was still completely empty and she knew that she surely could not have missed seeing a boy before.  She clearly remembered not seeing anyone as she entered or left the shower.  Holding the door open with her foot, Jeri leaned out of the room as far as she could and scanned the empty hallways in either direction of their room.  Mystified as she was, she told herself that the stairwell really was only about seven steps from their doorway, so perhaps it was possible that a child could run past her and down the stairs, even if it did seem rather unlikely.  Rather than fret about it, Jeri decided to shrug it off and closed the door.

It was strange to Jeri that Andy would seek to connect with this boy in at the Fallon Hotel when, to date, he had not engaged with anyone else, not children or adults.  Not in therapy or Social Skills playdates.  Not at family gatherings or with the neighbor kids.  Andy was like a boy in a self-imposed, invisible bubble.

Apparently, there was something about this particular child that intrigued Andy enough to want to come out of his shell and do things he had never done before.  It was nothing short of a miracle in Jeri’s mind and cemented the notion that they had done a good thing by coming to this quirky little hotel.  Everything was going to get better — she just knew it in her heart of hearts and she was beginning to get excited about meeting this obviously swift kid with the old fashioned name.  For a moment she panicked, hoping that Ezra was a resident and not a guest, because there just might be a friend in Andy’s future, something Jeri had never thought possible before.

Pulling the second drawer out from the oak dresser between the windows, Jeri grabbed sweatpants, a t-shirt and a sweatshirt for Andy.  Clothing had been a real challenge ever since Andy could walk, due in part to something called Tactile Defensiveness.  Andy’s sensory processing disorder meant he couldn’t stand the feeling of most fabrics being anywhere near his skin.  In fact, he most preferred running around naked.  Early on, Jeri had given up the exasperating task of buttoning buttons and zipping zippers on a moving target as Andy tried to run away from every session that involved getting dressed.  Pull-on clothing had been working for the two of them for a while now, but when Andy wasn’t wearing them he was naked.  Those were the only two options he could handle.  Most of the neighborhood kids had learned how to dress themselves (in wildly colorful combinations, too) by the time they were three years old and Jeri often wondered how old Andy would be before he would even attempt the task of buttons and zippers, much less clasps and shoelaces.  Thankful that Velcro straps had came into vogue in the past few years, even for adult shoes, Jeri hoped they would be for a long time to come.

Today Andy had his slip-on navy blue Vans that, coupled with the sweats he had on, made him look like the athlete Jeri used to think he might grow up to be.  She closed her eyes and pictured Andy standing straight and tall with the power and confidence that kids in sports usually have and shooting hoops in a driveway or playing ball with his dad.  The image and the idea that Andy’s father had retreated to his own bubble brought tears to her eyes.  Blinking the drops away, she instead saw her sweet baby boy curled into himself, elbows bent holding his hands near his shoulder blades and rolling his fingers as though he were playing a maniacal, invisible flute.  Jeri wondered if Andy would ever outgrow the habit of “stimming” or what the doctors called self-stimulatory behavior.  There were a series of stims that Andy engaged in that, over time, Jeri had begun to associate certain emotions with.  When he was bored, with no outside stimulus like TV or music, Andy rolled and wiggled his fingers like he did now.  When he was excited and could not contain his happiness, he would stretch his arms out straight behind him and flap like a bird preparing for flight.  Anger brought out the worst kind of stimming, a type of self-injurious behavior where Andy would bang his head or hit himself in the chest, legs or, at the very worst, his head and face.  Some of the stimming Jeri just allowed and accepted, figuring it did no harm, but when anger and frustration caused Andy to hit himself it would often escalate to the point that he would lash out at whoever was standing nearby and that was never going to be okay.  It was during these times that Jeri found herself not just embarrassed, but outright mortified in public, knowing that she had to contain her son at all costs, no matter where they were or who was watching.  In those situations, people often lost the ability to control their facial expressions, and occasionally their mouths, and the disdain they expressed would often hurt Jeri’s feelings.  She never did learn the age-old art of Just Not Caring What Other People Think.  She did care and that compounded with the pain of watching her son suffer, sometimes made the simple act of getting up in the morning and brushing her own teeth too painful.

The stimming began to escalate into rocking and Jeri glanced at her watch.  “Oh, crud buddy, you need to eat.  That’s what’s wrong, isn’t it?  Come on, let’s walk to the City Hotel and see what feast has been prepared for our enjoyment, shall we?”  In one swift motion she took Andy by the elbow and, without looking, grabbed her purse with her other hand.  Living with Andy had made Jeri’s multi-tasking skills that of a Jedi Master.  When all was right in her world and there was emotional, physical and spiritual equilibrium she felt as though she could conquer anything and face whatever challenges came her way.  She felt like today, very well could be, one of those days.

As the door shut behind them, Jeri turned Andy away from the gravesite scene on the wall.  More as a simple reflex than for his benefit, because it would most likely would not bring any reaction from Andy.  Try as she might, she just could not find any justification to look at the odd picture a second time.

At the bottom of the main stairs Jeri took a quick glance to her left and noticed that the front desk in the lobby was vacant.  She stopped and strained to listen for signs of activity down the hall leading to the back door exit, thinking that Evil It would come barreling through at any moment.  When she didn’t, Jeri led Andy toward the hall saying, “Hey, Buddy!  Let’s go look at the pictures in this hallway.”  After she had said it, she wished she hadn’t.  All she could think was, if the upstairs guest hall featured images of cemeteries, what might be in store in the business end of the building.

A bit of morning light came through the window of the back door, but even so, the hallway was dimly lit.  Andy stared down the hall at the glowing red exit sign above the back door and began to rock gently, in time to the fainting ticking of a clock on the registration desk behind them.  Stopping in front of an oil painting in an ornately carved frame, Jeri grabbed Andy’s shoulder and let out a small gasp.  Andy glanced up at his mother, but she didn’t notice.  She was lost in the 11 x 16 world in front of her.  The artwork featured a deep, dark green, dense forest at twilight that would have been simply beautiful, if not for the smoke and flames tucked between the trees.  Jeri was dizzy from the emotional effect of being overcome with appreciation for the beauty of nature and overwhelming sadness and fear.  To nobody in particular, she spoke softly, “A full blown forest fire captured on canvas.  Who, in their right mind, sits in tranquility day after day and paints that kind of thing?”  Below her, she felt Andy’s body twist in the direction of the painting.

Suddenly, Andy’s body stiffened and he cried out, “No more fire!  No, Poppa!  Please!  Not like ‘54!  Not like ’57!!  No more fire!  Poor Miss Bella!”

By the time Jeri dropped to her knees to calm Andy, he was whimpering and convulsing with tears.  “Andy, Andy – honey!  Come on, it’s just a picture.  Let’s go.  Let’s just… go outside.”  Andy collapsed in her arms and she picked him up, rushing to the front door.  Once outside, he immediately stopped crying and the cool morning air quickly dried his face.  Jeri led him down a couple of doors to the white bench in front of the Eagle Cotage.  They sat down, more for Jeri’s sake than anything.  She was trying to process what had just happened.  Sure, the painting of the forest fire was unsettling, but she couldn’t understand why Andy would have reacted the way he did.  He had never even seen fire, not even a campfire, since neither Brian nor Jeri were not exactly outdoorsy kind of people.  The only kid movie that she knew of that mentioned a forest fire was Bambi, and since that movie made Jeri an emotional basket case in her own childhood she vowed to never let Andy see it until he asked to see it.  For the life of her, she could not figure out what had brought about this intense reaction.  She wracked her brain trying to come up with shows or movies that Andy could have even walked in on could have caused him to be so upset.  Then, she to think which characters could have spoken the dialogue he had repeated.  Surely it had to be echolalia, just something he’d heard from a show, because Andy had never referred to Brian as Poppa, in fact he barely began saying “Da-da” before all of his language eventually disappeared by the time he was two years old.  Jeri’s head was swimming as she tried to remember ever leaving Andy with anyone where he might have seen such horrible images.  But even if he had seen images of a fire in some news clip footage that did not explain the words that had come out of her son’s mouth.

Andy began softly humming then singing, “Fruits and vegetables, apples and bananas.  Mangoes and papayas, too.”  It was a song from a Janet & Judy CD that Andy used to listen to years before.  As often as it had bothered her before that all of Andy’s words were canned, at this moment, the repeated lyrics she had heard more than a hundred times before from Andy comforted Jeri.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie.  I know you’re hungry.  Let’s go eat.”  Jeri stood up and took Andy by the hand and they walked down Washington Street and headed for Main Street, toward the City Hotel.  She knew that driving hours and hours the night before must have muddled her senses giving her quite the opposite of Andy’s heightened senses, due to autism.  That had to be it.  She was tired and she couldn’t even put two and two together anymore.  They might as well go eat.  Maybe that would help her.  That and a couple more good nights of sleep, surely that would help them both out.  Eventually, Jeri knew that they would settle in, either here, in her beloved Columbia, or whatever town nearby and then everything wouldn’t seem so odd and out of place.  At least she hoped so.

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