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

Fallon Hotel: Chapter Two

Fallon Hotel is a book by T. Katz

(presented in chapter installments over a 13 month period).

Synopsis:

A young autistic boy and his mother come to stay at the Fallon Hotel in HistoricColumbiaState Parkwhile looking to establish a new life in the foothills of the Gold Mining district of California.  The little boy, Andy, is severely autistic and “comes to life” only in the presence of a ghost child that no one else can see, hear or detect.  Andy displays all of the textbook symptoms of his debilitating autism (solitary play, no language, tantrums, stimming, etc.) but when his “friend” is nearby, the autistic behaviors disappear and Andy is “present” – but not 21st century present. He’s fully engaged: making eye contact, laughing, playing games, singing songs and requesting foods… right out of the 19th century.  His mother, who was completely heartbroken before, due to her son’s detached autistic nature, is now more distressed with this bizarre new behavior…

* * *

Once inside room #108 Jeri quickly started in on the task of unpacking.  Ever since she was a young girl she couldn’t stand to have anything stuck in a box or a bag from the minute it was in her possession and it was an irritation that translated to traveling and luggage as she grew older.  Sadly, not everyone understood or appreciated her frustration.

She remembered her grandmother had given her a dollhouse for her 7th birthday with a large number of furniture and accessories that were individually packaged.  The look of disappointment on Jeri’s face upset her grandmother and the old woman had called her spoiled and ungrateful in front of everyone before she left the house a short time later.  Only Jeri knew that it had nothing to do with gratitude or from having too many worldly possessions.  It was the packaging.  Jeri had received the gift in the early morning, a really large box filled with smaller boxes of scaled down beds, chairs, pots and pans and it was all held in place in molded plastic with wires and rubber cement glue.   Her tiny hands felt so big and clumsy as she worked tirelessly right on into evening until every tiny item for the house was unwrapped and the house was furnished.  Her mother had come in throughout the day and begged her to give the house a rest and take her time putting it together, but Jeri would have none of it.  As an adult, she could still remember the feelings of anxiety she experienced from having all those itty bitty household items hermetically sealed in their plastic sarcophaguses.  It was all too much for her to enjoy.  Jeri remembered it was after eleven o’clock at night when the dollhouse was completely assembled and she fell into an exhausted heap, a burnt out 2nd grader crying on her puffy pink and green quilt.

It wasn’t until the next morning, after she’d slept for ten hours, that Jeri could look at the dollhouse and fully appreciate the incredible gift that her grandmother had given her.  But the damage was done.  Her grandmother never could understand the initial problem the girl had had with the generous gift she’d bought.  The old woman never forgave her, despite the tremendous efforts Jeri made over the years to try and express her true gratitude for what Jeri would come to consider an heirloom gift from her grandmother.  For her, out of all of the gifts she’d ever received in her lifetime, Jeri cherished the dollhouse and all that it symbolized: a contained place for everything and everything in its tidy place.  It pained her that no matter how hard she had tried, she could not share with her grandma her true appreciation for the wondrous present she had received.  The order, logic and beauty of the dollhouse became a source of comfort well into her teens and twenties when she visited her childhood home.  When she and Brian were married, her mother, also never understanding what the house had meant to her, had given the dollhouse away without consulting Jeri and it broke her heart, never to be repaired.  During the roughest part of her marriage, Jeri would lie in bed at night and envision herself approximately two inches high and roaming the rooms in her beloved dollhouse. The fantasy gave her a sense of order and wellbeing that she found she did not have in her own larger-than-life chaotic household.  She’d even taken to wearing an old skeleton key she’d found in an antique store around her neck, secretly making it the key to her now phantom dollhouse that was void of chaos and disorder.  Someday, she hoped to create a home of peace and order for her and Andy, no matter how large or small.

Realizing how oddly quiet it was in room #108 now, Jeri turned to see what it was that had captured Andy’s attention.  She looked down at her beautiful son as he sat perfectly still on the floor, something highly unusual for him, as Andy’s typical state of being was one of constant motion.  Even if he wasn’t making a sound he was rocking or spinning his body, wiggling his fingers in the manner the doctors had labeled “stimming” or worse, banging his head on the ground or nearby wall.  Tonight, he wasn’t doing any of those things.  In fact, the boy who ordinarily looked so completely uncomfortable in his own body seemed calm, almost serene, really.  Sitting with his legs tucked to one side, Andy sat motionless, with his arms resting on his thighs and his cocked to one side and slightly forward as though he was listening to something, or someone.  Jeri held her breath and the t-shirt she was folding in mid-air and strained to hear what Andy might be listening to.  There was nothing.  The room was completely quiet.  Even outside the hotel, there was no droning hum of traffic, emergency vehicle sirens or any of the sounds they were used to back home. Jeri realized that they were surrounded, quite possibly for the first time ever, by silence.  There wasn’t even the general humming of electronics in the background, as the heater and bathroom exhaust fan were off and there weren’t any other possible sources of sound in the small room.  Glancing over at the nightstand, Jeri realized there wasn’t a clock ticking, mini-bar refrigerator buzzing, a phone to ring or a television to turn on.  Suddenly, her heart sank.  They were in a room without television.

Andy had never known a life without television.  Ever since he was a tiny toddler, the magical black box that had entertained him was one of the few things on the planet that comforted him.  Andy had rarely smiled since the onset of his autism, but when he did it was typically due to the music and colorful motion coming from one of the many DVDs in his collection.  It was also the only reason his mother had ever heard his voice, Andy might not have had the ability to express himself through self-motivated language, but he could perfectly recite long passages of dialogue and music from the shows he watched.  She learned from her many pamphlets and books that this was a typical autistic trait, this thing they called echolalaic language.  Andy, it turned out, was an incredible mimic and his voice would rise and fall in perfect imitation of the smiling, dancing children on Sesame Street and other kid’s shows.

Jeri started to panic.

Television was the one activity that kept Andy occupied long enough for her to take a quick shower at home.  Jeri dropped the t-shirt she’d been holding as she suddenly became conscious of the fact that there also was no shower in the room.  There was a basket of towels with a note directing guests to the “shared shower room, down the hall.”

Jeri had forgotten that the quaint hotel had pledged on their website to stay as faithful to 19th century décor as possible and that meant a Shared Shower Room, which was down the stinking hall outside of the room that had no television.  She had already committed to stay in the Fallon Hotel for an extended period of time in exchange for plum rates, and now wondered what in the world had she gotten herself into.

Sitting on the bed with her head in her hands, Jeri started to weep softly.  Maybe all of this was a great big, monumental mistake.  Maybe she should have never left Brian.  Even if Brian wasn’t willing to tackle Andy’s autism with her, Jeri thought that maybe it would have been helpful to have another set of hands around.  Hostile hands, but another set of hands, nonetheless.  The more she thought about having to endure Brian’s loud, angry outbursts and then his long drawn out days of moody, speech-free door and drawer slamming, it occurred to her that the stillness and peace of the Fallon Hotel might turn out to be a good thing for her and Andy.  Sure, Brian might have watched Andy for the 15 minutes of solitude a shower would afford her, but deep down she knew that the passive-aggressive cost was too high.

She looked over at her son.  The look on Andy’s face was so angelic and tranquil, that in that moment Jeri was convinced that everything was going to be just fine.  She hung her head and thought, This funny little place is our home now and I need to stop crying about everything.  Besides, crying never solved anything.

As if he she had spoken aloud, Andy lifted his chin and stared at his mother.  The sudden connection with her son, the boy who never made eye contact, took her by surprise and Jeri gasped.  Andy stood up and walked over to his mother.  Placing his hands on her knees, he began to hum softly then rested his head on his hands, in her lap.  Jeri softly ran her fingers through Andy’s baby fine hair, the one act of affection he would tolerate from his mother.  Since infancy, he could not and would not bear any form of hugging or cuddling, but the feel of his mother’s hair lightly brushing his skin or her fingers lightly in his hair was an acceptable form of comfort to him.

Andy’s clear sweet voice rang out in the small room, “Kathleen, mavourneen, awake from thy slumbers.  The blue mountains glow in the sun’s golden light.  Ah!  Where is the spell that once hung on thy numbers?  Arise in thy beauty, thou star of my night.”

Jeri smiled.  She had never heard Andy sing this particular song before.  Not expecting any answer from him she said, “Now, where ever in the world did you hear that lovely song?”

Andy yawned and climbed over his mother to lie on the bed.   “Ezra’s mum sang it, before she died, on their journey across the Isthmus.”

Despite the words being completely bizarre, it was the tone of Andy’s voice, so completely conversational, that disturbed Jeri the most.  Had the doctors atUniversityHospitalperhaps been incorrect in their diagnosis of Andy?  Could it have simply been that the chaotic and hostile environment he’d been living in, that forced him into his own world?  Was everything really going to be alright after all?  She rolled Andy over to look at his face.  “What do you mean, Ezra’s mother sang it?  Who is Ezra, Andy?”

Pulling away from her, Andy rolled back over.  “He’s the boy with the yellow hair, here in the hotel.”

She walked around to the other side of the bed.  “Boy?  Did you meet him downstairs?  Was he in the lobby when we came in?  I didn’t see anyone, Andy.  Andy!  Look at me.”  Her voice was probably higher and louder than she meant it to be, but she couldn’t disguise her concern.

Andy sat up in bed and began rocking and moaning, obviously agitated.  Whatever trace of hope Jeri had had that the Developmental Pediatricians were wrong about Andy’s diagnosis of autism flew right out the lace curtains of the window of their second floor room.

“Okay, okay.  I’m sorry, Andy.  It’s alright.  Mommy didn’t mean to upset you.  Crap.  But, since I did… come on, let’s go brush your teeth.  You’re already upset now, so we might as well get that unsavory task over with.”  Andy couldn’t stand having his teeth brushed or the taste of toothpaste.  It had taken Jeri weeks and weeks of trial and error to finally find the one toothpaste that wouldn’t make him gag.  It was a strawberry flavored one that finally did the trick, but it made the process only slightly less turbulent than before.  Every day, mother and son would get tangled up in what strangers might describe as a cross between a strange tribal dance and erratic martial arts routine.  Holding Andy’s head the best she could with one arm, while protecting herself from his swinging arms and legs, Jeri would vigorously and blindly brush as many teeth as possible, hoping she was doing more good than harm.  To date, his one and only dental appointment had involved intravenous sedation which ended with him vomiting all over the backseat of the car on the ride home and an evening of Andy slapping his cheeks, screaming, “Bees!  Bees!” as the Novocain wore off from all of the fillings that were done.  Jeri vowed to never replay that scenario again.  Her son would eventually have a regular, non-sedated and zero cavities visit to the dentist, even if it meant hog-tying him nightly and assaulting him with delicious strawberry toothpaste and an eight dollar Spiderman toothbrush that lit up.

Once she got Andy back into bed, he was worn out from fighting and fell sound asleep relatively quickly.  The room was once again filled with blissful silence.  Jeri set to putting away toys, clothes and tipped over boxes and baskets.  When the room was in order and met with her satisfaction, Jeri walked over to the sink to brush her own teeth.  Standing in front of the beautifully carved oak mirror, she stared at her bedraggled reflection and sighed.  For a moment, the world was in order and she was a mess and Never the twain shall meet, she thought.  At least, not in the world where autism lives.  She was so looking forward to a good night’s sleep and hoped, beyond hope, that Andy would sleep late so she could try and figure out the shower situation in the morning.

Walking over to the bed, she stopped to read the framed sign on the door.  It was the typical information about check-in and check-out times, and information on where the exits were located in the event of a fire.  She yawned and smiled at the courtesy mention of breakfast being served at the City Hotel from 8:00am to 9:30am in the morning.  But, the last line of information caused her to frown and hang her head:   We are happy to have children as guests, but because of the antiques and quiet ambiance of the hotel, please restrain your young ones from disturbing other guests and wandering unattended.  Jeri shook her head.  Her entire life was nothing but a constant struggle to restrain her child and it seemed as if his whole secret agenda was to wander unattended and disturb as many people as possible along the way.  She wasn’t sure how they were going to abide by this simple, italicized, underlined and bold request.  If the management of the Fallon Hotel kicked them out, she surely didn’t know where they’d go next.

For the average bear family, it wasn’t that big of a demand.  But, for Jeri and Andy it was likely going to be the biggest hurdle for them to jump.  For now, she couldn’t worry about it.  She stretched out on the bed, put her head on the pillow and mindlessly began humming the tune that Andy had sung to her earlier.  Jeri tried to recall exactly how long it had taken her to run upstairs and deposit the luggage in their room earlier.  It didn’t make sense how, in that short amount of time, some kid would’ve wandered into the lobby, sung a song and just disappeared.  When Jeri had come back downstairs she only remembered seeing the previously snarky, all-up-in-your-grill-woman at the desk, who had somehow turned into saintly nostalgic Candy Woman, smiling all sweet and nice at Andy.

Another thing bothered her, too.  Hearing Andy talk about someone’s mother who had died, crossing the Isthmus, seemed so foreign.  Try as she might, Jeri could not remember where she herself had ever heard that phrase before. Isthmus.  Isthmus?  For some reason, she kept picturing her high school social studies teacher and vaguely remembered hearing something in that class about the Isthmus of Panama, but that didn’t make sense to her either.  Rolling over she decided it just wasn’t worth losing sleep over and decided that in the morning she was going to have to bring herself to speak to highly unbalanced Miss Evil It at the front desk all over again, in order to try and get some questions answered.

One night in the Fallon Hotel and Jeri hoped it wasn’t their last.

6 thoughts on “Fallon Hotel: Chapter Two

  • Denise Tomey says:

    Love it T! Looking forward to next month… 🙂

    • TKatz says:

      Thank you!
      xo – t.

      • Jean Anne Allen says:

        Really enjoying reading your work and seeing you in it. I love this story and it helps me understand something I know nothing about, raising an autistic child, (I totally get the spirits and past life energies part, lol!) Thanks for the treat. XOJA
        P.S. Angel’s Camp?

        • TKatz says:

          Thank you! It is very much a slice of what my life was like with my son, especially the early years.

          Historic Columbia State Park is not far from Angels Camp, California. About 20 minutes, or so. Angels Camp will figure into the story later, too.

          Glad you enjoy it! Please feel free to share with friends —

          xo – t.

  • Judie King says:

    T I like the poem with the music. Waiting for the next chapter and admiring u so much.

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