I push open the door and step onto the plain tiles. My flip flops stick to the grimy surface. I can't tell what's on it. My sister and older brother rush past me, my mom in tow. They babble loudly, unaware of the other people in the restaurant. Words are exchanged between the tattooed pincushion of a woman behind the counter and my mom bedecked in her conservative church dress, flowery print, shoulder pads and all. Empty drink cups appear. My sister and older brother rush past me, grab the cups and go. I take two cups and look behind me. I see my other "older" brother. (He only beat me by 20 minutes). His mouth is soft, hair a sandy blonde, his eyes a rare shade of green. At first glance he seems normal, yet something's not quite right. His hair is ruffled. His eyes vacant. I gesture to the soda fountain and he quickly moves his head in a jerky nod and follows me. I fill two cups to the brim with coke, and put two covers on. I grab two straws and he follows me to the table. We sit in silence while my mom and other siblings wait for food at the counter. My brother patiently eyes the cup of coke I placed before him. I absentmindedly pick up his straw as if to unwrap it, but stop. This high school student didn't pour his own cereal today. He didn't even tie his own shoes. Let him be proud of himself for unwrapping this straw. Throw him a bone, God won’t. I place the plastic thing in his hand, and wait. He pauses for a moment, and studies the object. Being at a public place, I realize he must now be accompanied by his usual audience. I look up and find I'm correct. A little boy is gawking. His father should be telling him staring is rude, but he’s too busy gawking himself. Two older women with heads like fluffy cotton balls take the "subtle" approach and eye him shiftily every few seconds. We all watch him slowly, painfully slowly, tear the paper off the straw in tiny strips. Eventually it’s unwrapped. I point to the hole at the top of his cup, and have him watch me place my straw into my cup. I do my demonstration while my cheeks grow hot trying to ignore the gawks and stares. Will doesn’t seem to mind. After a few more examples, he seems ready to attempt the feat himself. He lifts the straw up, and pushes it around the cover of the cup. He just can't seem to find the hole. People are still watching. The patience he had at the beginning of this episode is running thin. Mute as the day he was born he finds difficulty expressing his exasperation, so instead a guttural, animal like noise escapes from his soft mouth. Before I can stop him he forms his hand into a tight fist and hits himself in the head. He hits himself hard. The crack seems to echo throughout the room. I look up again, the father and his son are still ogling him. The pair of old women are glaring. I suppose they did not expect an autistic boy with Down Syndrome to ruin there sophisticated Wendy’s dining experience. I make eye contact with them but they continue to stare. After 15 years of such treatment from the public I consider telling them all off. Instead I look back at my brother. He now seems to be almost on the verge of tears because he still can not get the straw in the cup and still can not get at the sweet, sugary contents inside. Of course simply pulling off the cover of the cup was too abstract a concept. Still feeling the harsh gazes of the people in the room, I angrily ripped the straw out of my brother’s hands and jammed it into his cup. He nods his head once. I watch the room watch him drink and suck like an animal. The old woman begin to converse in hushed whispers. One of them points. I say nothing.
November 8, 2008