Saturday, June 25, 2016

Autism Answer: A Pack of Cigarettes

The evening was warm and the parking lot was busy with visitors grabbing random items before the store closed for the night. I sat in my car people watching and waiting for Shay,
Shay and Soda
my eighteen year old son, to come out of the local dollar store where he, too, was grabbing random items. 

A typical summer night in small town Texas, I was enjoying the appearance of so many perfectly cast characters - the accents, the unhealthy and unkempt appearances, the comfortable hollering, the stereotypical segregation, the stereotypical integration - and musing at the ways I fit right in. 

I smiled as my son exited the store and headed in my direction. Now here was someone who rarely, regardless of location, fit in! 

Over six feet tall and three hundred pounds he's made for standing out. But more than that, his constant awareness of his own social awkwardness creates habits and energy that are universally distracting. 

I love him so much!

As Shay folded all of himself into our small SUV, I looked apprehensively toward his grocery bag. 

"Don't worry," he said, "I also got Skittles. That's not soda!"

I laughed. He knew exactly what my fear was. He's addicted to soda and I can't stand the stuff. We make jokes that if I could build a time machine I'd use it to hinder the invention of soda while he would use it to stop wars in imaginative (and impossible!) ways. I think we're both onto something!

However, it wasn't the purchase of soda (which was also in his bag) that created interesting conversation. It was the pack of cigarettes. 

"Wait, what?! You bought cigarettes? Why?" I was surprised, but also had a feeling I knew the answer. 

"Well," Shay explained, adjusting his glasses, "I think I can use them to make friends. I know people might want to hang out with me if I say 'Hey, want a smoke?' because smokers are motivated by the addiction."

I had guessed right. "That's what I thought you were thinking. You know, that's not the healthiest way to make friends. Plus, you can't smoke them in or around our house, you know that." 

"Well, duh! I wasn't going to sit outside with a cigarette and hope people would just show up. I'll message them on Facebook or something."

"Oh, brother!" I didn't say anything more about the cigarettes on the drive home. We had the windows open and were enjoying the night air; our silence was comfortable.

This is an ongoing conversation I have with Shay. Making friends is hard for him so he has often devised some strange plan to buy them. Or as he says: "I'm not buying friends, mom. This isn't slavery. I'm buying friendship." So, although I do rack my brain for different ways I can help him make different friends, I didn't feel overly freaked out by this new episode. 

As we arrived home Shay opened the door for me and said, "You know, you should be glad about this. I'm eighteen and this is the first time I've ever bought cigarettes. Most teenagers mess with this stuff a lot sooner than me!"

I laughed and admitted, "Your dad and I do talk often about how amazing you and your brother are. We've hardly had any worries with drugs and alcohol when it comes to you and Declyn. Plus," I added, "you're not even planning on smoking them yourself."

We carried our stuff into the kitchen and he started to pull the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. "What do you think of this kind...." 

I pushed his hand away and said, "I don't want to see them. Put them back." 

Shay smiled. "I love our family. You know? I mean, I just bought cigarettes and instead of yelling or getting all angry you said you don't want to see them. And you told me reasons you don't like it. But we talked, you know? We didn't yell."

"Ya, I like that about us too. But if you buy soda one more time I'm going to lose it!" playfully half yelled. 

Shay booped my nose and squished my cheek (two of his favorite stims) and then headed to his bedroom. 

I thought about the pack of cigarettes. I thought about the "friends" I knew he was messaging. I thought about the new job he has and his struggle with coworkers and customers. 

And I thought about how awesome it is that he's doing so well! He comes home from a nine hour day at work and tells me the things he and his coworkers are figuring out about each other. He seems comfortable talking about, what he calls, "his issues" with folks at work and breaking it down. He doesn't seem too eager to offer excuses but rather more interested in telling his tale. Explaining, not excusing. And, yes, as all my adult sons are wonderfully willing to do, he expects to be accepted. 

My son is still trying to buy friendship, but I have a confidence that it won't be long before that changes. You see, there are places where he will fit in. Places that are more metropolitan, diverse, and artistic.

For a young gay man with social awkwardness and a refusal to keep himself under wraps, small town Texas isn't that place. But he's saving up to get his bartending license (like my dad!) and he's planning to work and live in a city with a more theatrical flair. 

Sure, he'll always be unique. But I'm absolutely confident that he can find an environment where his uniqueness is a compliment to the uniqueness he surrounds himself with. 

I crawled into bed beside my husband and snuggled his strong sexy arm. I didn't tell him about the pack of cigarettes. I know he won't have as easy a time understanding as I do. 

I tell my hubby most things, but there are a few things I keep to myself. 

You see, I have my own way of buying friendship. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

Me and Shay at the movies