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Freedom

“I’m going for a walk!”

“What? You just got back from a walk seven minutes ago!”

“I’m going!” Cole screamed, dashing for the door. I threw him his cell phone as he ran by and burst out the front door, like a hurricane in the form of a human. I couldn’t stop him, he couldn’t be stopped. At least we could take preventative measures.

About five minutes later he walked in the door again.

“That was fast,” I commented. “Good day?”

“Medium,” he muttered, flopping on the couch. He tossed his cell phone on the table near the charger and flipped on the TV. Nothing good was on, but he stared at the screen anyway, and I knew he was embarrassed. He felt he was a burden, a plight to our family. I felt bad that he felt bad.

So far he’d gone on four walks today, and it was only ten o’ clock. It wasn’t as bad as some days, when he’d hop up for a walk every ten or fifteen minutes, but it wasn’t the best day he’d ever had. Sometimes he can make if for 48 hours before he needs a walk. Being as this wasn’t a good day, particularly, I decided not to mention the call from his science teacher. All Cole’s teachers knew about his walks, and they tried to be sympathetic – they knew Cole wanted to be normal – but apparently it had been getting worse lately. He made average grades, slightly better perhaps, and he always did what was assigned, but apparently some of the students were having a problem with it. It wasn’t just an “I feel like going for a walk now, bye-bye” thing. It was a mental disorder: an I-HAVE-to-go-out-for-a-walk-THIS-INSTANT-or-something-REALLY-BAD-will-happen-to-me!-thing. He couldn’t fend it off. He had to go out.

We called them walks, but they were really runs. It varied between sprinting and jogging, but it always started out with him going top speed. Most of the time, I guess, he’d yell “Gotta go!” and run from the classroom, and the kids would laugh, thinking he had to go to the restroom or something. But apparently yesterday he’d bolted when some girl was coming in the door. He’d pretty much flattened her and he’d knocked down five desks – one of them his own – in the process. The teacher had called to just ask if there was any way we could tone it down, medication or therapy or something, that kind of thing. If there was anything we could do, we were already doing it.

Cole watched the TV for about two hours, then he attempted to do some Spanish homework, and he even got some councilor plans done. When Cole wasn’t out running obsessively, he was twitching his hands. Some genius had taught him American sign language, and they decided to let him be a tutor for deaf kids with a few other kids in the school. Being as the “special education” program here was pretty limited, the kids with deafness and other disorders sometimes had a harder time getting along in the classroom, so Cole and the other councilors would help them study. It was a great idea, I think, but now the problem is Cole is talking in sign language all the time. He doesn’t even notice he’s doing that.

I feel bad for him, and I feel bad for feeling bad. It’s hard for him to live normally, and it’s no doubt embarrassing for him. That’s just the way of the world though.

The phone rang, and it was my mom, calling to ask what we wanted for dinner.
“Pizza,” I decided. Then, to be polite, I decided to check with Cole to make sure that was okay. Covering the mouthpiece, I called to the living room, “Cole, you want pizza tonight?!”

“I’m going for a walk!” He shouted, and I heard him thundering down the hallway.

“Mom, pizza’s great. See you at four.” I slammed down the receiver and rushed into the hall. He was already gone, the cell phone still on the table. His jacket was still here too, although it looked like it was going to rain.

I grabbed his phone and jacket and ran out the door. I jumped on my bike, but I had no idea which way he’d gone. He’s too fast.

Our neighbor, Mrs. Henly, saw my confusion. “He went that way,” she shouted out her second-story window, pointing to the east. “Good day?”

“Medium.” Mrs. Henly knew about Cole’s situation, and she, being retired, generally parked herself in front of her window. Thank goodness for that!

I took off down the streets, not knowing where he had gone. I had to find him, I had to make sure he had his phone. Once he ran for two hours at a sprint and collapsed somewhere, unable to move because he’d worn himself out. If he didn’t have his cell phone, we’d never find him.

I rode on, searching for Cole. Up ahead I saw a construction site, and I prayed he hadn’t gone anywhere near it.
Cole could get himself killed! Because of his sudden, desperate urge to run he never really watched where he was going. He’d run out in front of cars several times, narrowly escaping at all. The thought of him in a construction site was horrifying.

I rode in, through the chain-link fence. The gravel made the ride bumpy, and hard to brake, so I hoped that nobody was on their backhoe at the bottom of the hill. Raindrops began falling, the dirt darkening slowly. Most of the machinery had been put to rest during the lunch-break, and so the men began packing up and going home.

“Did you see somebody come through here?” I asked a man with a clipboard. “He was running, about five-foot-eight –”

“Didn’t see anybody, kid.” I got back on my bike and exited.

Where in the world could he be? I’d never followed him on any of his runs before. Did he follow a pattern? Did he just randomly pick a direction? How could I find him?

The rain became heavier, hard to see through, but not to the point of being painful on the skin. His jacket would be useless now, since it was soaking, so I dropped it on a doorstep to get later. Everybody had gone inside to get out of the rain. There was nobody I could ask for directions.

I rode through a few more side-streets when I spotted Cole, running the length of a parking lot. There was fence on two sides, and a mall on the other, no way he could get away. I was about to rush after him when a voice startled me.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” An old lady, clad in her rubber boots and leaky umbrella, smiled next to me, gazing at Cole, who was running a bit slower now, more gracefully and less spazzically. The water glinted off him in a halo. “That’s what freedom is.”

It was the opposite of freedom. It was imprisonment. I watched Cole, running back again in a circle, unable to stop running if his life depended on it. His need to move was maddening, dangerous. We could be driving in our car when he’d suddenly unbuckle and throw open the door, landing in the middle of the street and just take off running, bloody palms and knees stopping the cars that hadn’t slammed on their brakes when he’d run across their path. He couldn’t escape from it: whether he wanted to run or not, he had to.

“I wish I could move like that again,” the old lady laughed. “What a lucky young man. I bet he’s good on the track and field team, hmm?”

“He’s not in track. It’s just his way of trying to prevent rigor mortis in this life,” I muttered. The old lady laughed, although I had not intended her to hear.

“You’re his sister, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“He comes by here quite often. I love to watch him running.” She sighed. “He’s a very interesting young man, I’ll suppose. Always running by here like there’s somebody after him, but then he just runs around this parking lot for awhile. Sometimes he walks back, sometimes he keeps running. It gives you a lot of time to think.”

“I’ll bet it does.” I said. Cole had slowed down to a jog, and he approached us slowly, probably horrified at having an audience for one of his episodes. “Thank you so much.”

“Take this.” She handed me her umbrella. “He can drop it by the next time he comes around.” She left us, skipping off in her rubber boots.

Cole approached me wordlessly.

“You forgot your cell phone,” I said. “Mom said we’re having pizza tonight.”

“Great.” Cole stepped under the umbrella with me, even though we were both soaked by this time. We walked back to my bike, which he wheeled for me back up the street.

This isn’t something you can avoid. It isn’t something we can ignore. Cole’s condition is just part of our life, and I think it will always be. It’s not a freedom, but I guess it doesn’t have to be an imprisonment (although it sure can seem like it sometimes). It’s just the way of life right now.

“What kind of pizza?” Cole asked suddenly.

“No idea.”

“It better not be Hawaiian. Pineapple does not go on a pizza.”

“Lots of people eat pineapple on pizza. You’re just weird.”

“No I’m not, you are.” In some ways, we can still be like the rest of the world.





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