The weekend after Christmas, I drove back home to my mother’s place, about six hours away, with Schuyler. It was just the two of us, and we talked nearly the entire time. Six hours there, more coming back (in part because of a side trip we took, and also some weirdly nasty weather than ambushed us briefly and then vanished like a ninja), and lots of time running around town, showing her the haunts of my youth.
Schuyler is fourteen, and she has the inquisitive nature of a young teen. When I read comments about other developmentally disabled people having the capacity of a whatever-year-old, I’m always dubious. It’s never clear with Schuyler. She understands the world around her, albeit sometimes in a kind of Cliff Notes version, and she’s very hungry to know more. Sometimes she reminds me of the Russian concept of the yurodivy, like the Fool in King Lear or Boris Godunov who turns out to be not a fool at all.
I make it a point to answer her questions honestly and comprehensively, and then she lets me know how much stuck, and what she took away. This is how we have communicated for years, and it’s actually pretty similar to how she learns best at school. She receives the information, processes it through the Schuyler Brain, and lets you hear the Schuyler version. That version is simplified, to be sure, and usually she needs more information. You sculpt around that, and build on it.
The thing I find sometimes is how much there is to learn in the simplified version she gives back. She doesn’t take something complicated and dumb it down. Often, she distills it, tries to break it down to its most elemental parts. When she gets those parts right, it feels like a tiny triumph, not just for her but also for me. Schuyler teaches me to communicate, even as she works hard to learn those skills for herself.
So I found myself answering questions. They seemed simple, but they held truths that perhaps I was still processing myself. Was your dad a mean person? Do real people live out here in the desert? Why don’t you live there anymore? Where will I live when I’m grown up? Did you have a girlfriend in high school? Where is she? Did she want to marry you? Did you want to marry her?
We had lots of time and lots of remote desert miles to work through them. My dad wasn’t a mean person, not all the time, but he wasn’t a very nice person, either. I think he was scared a lot of the time. People do live out in that desert, and as weird as it may sound, when I’m driving past their little houses out away from the highway, I sometimes envy their solitude. But no, there’s no way I could live there now. You will have lots of choices about what to do with your life, and where to live is going to be one of the biggest. I did have a couple of girlfriends in high school, and one of them did want to marry me, and she did. And that was my first wife, and no, you’ll probably never meet her, sorry. Perhaps I should have tried a little harder to marry one of the other ones, but then there’d never be a Schuyler. So it worked out just fine.
I look back on those answers, and while I could probably write a book about growing up in a remote West Texas town, I’m not sure I’d have much more to really say than that.
As Schuyler’s own communication skills grow, we have more opportunities to read her own observations and distillations of her world experience. It probably goes without saying that she has become my favorite writer.
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