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The Watcher

bridgeEven after all these years, I can’t tell you a great deal about Schuyler’s brain or how she uses it. I have a pretty good idea what she comprehends; even given her disability, she’s a very smart girl, and she gets underestimated often, which I suppose could work to her advantage when she’s out of school one day, but not so much now. Sometimes she surprises me with the sophistication of what she understands. Sometimes she scares me with her naivety. I still have so much to learn about Schuyler and her weird and wonderful brain.

One thing I can say with authority, though. Schuyler is a watcher.

She observes, and she absorbs. She takes stuff in, and then she processes at her own pace and in her own way. Sometimes she comes up short, and she very often overthinks and obsesses about a topic until she just sort of short circuits and moves on. And then there are the times Schuyler distills a simple but essential truth, or at the very least a perception. Those moments can trip me up.

The events of the last week have been hard, on the entire nation and on my local community in Dallas. Schuyler has been watching it all, as she does, and we’ve tried to explain what it means. That’s not been easy. It’s difficult to explain to her that black citizens who have most likely done nothing wrong sometimes get abused or even killed by police, and this isn’t right in any way, and it happens way too often and is a problem that needs to be fixed. But if Schuyler ever finds herself in trouble, she needs to go to the police, and no, that doesn’t make much sense, and honestly, if she weren’t white, we’d probably be having a different conversation about who she should trust in the world when there’s trouble. How do you have that conversation with any kid, let alone one with an intellectual disability?

And then the next night, yeah, another innocent black man killed by another police officer somewhere, and no, I don’t understand why. And then? The next night, trying to explain why someone would ambush and shoot police officers, OUR police officers this time, and no, these police didn’t hurt anyone, these police were protecting the protesters who were upset about the other two shootings earlier in the week. These police have been working with the community, they’ve been a model for other police who want to do better, and no, it makes no sense at all.

Schuyler watches this all, sees it on television, listens to my fumbling, entirely unhelpful explanations. She watches, and she processes. She distills through the parts she doesn’t understand and the parts she gets just enough to be frightened, although she keeps those fears to herself.

She keeps them to herself until Monday night, when we make plans to attend a candlelight vigil at Dallas City Hall. It’ll be good for her, I think. Maybe she’ll have a little bit better understanding of it all, like I hope to. We go to work together, and we leave in time to get there right as it begins.

In the car, I can sense there’s something not quite right with Schuyler. I kind of already know what it might be. I ask her what’s wrong.

“Do you want to go to this thing?” I ask.

“I don’t really know,” she says.

“Are you scared?” I ask. She nods. “What are you afraid of?” She pauses.

“Someone might shoot us.”

We drive on, past downtown Dallas. We go home.

Later, when her mother tries to talk to her about it, Schuyler simply says, “I was afraid someone might try to hurt Daddy and me.”

There’s a lot more for Schuyler to unpack about this, some of it making zero sense at all. I’m not sure Schuyler entirely comprehends racism, except of course she understands being hated and abused or even just dismissed for being different, so I suspect racism’s one she probably gets. It’s hard to explain to her when she’s probably safe and when she’s not, because I don’t know myself. Schuyler’s white, she’s a woman, and she has a disability. She’ll probably be just fine in a way that is horribly unfair, until the day comes when she’s very much NOT fine, also in a way that is horribly unfair. She has both privilege and disadvantage, neither of which is easy to explain to her.

All that will have to be worked through slowly, as we’ve already begun to do. That’s not overnight stuff.

I hate it when the world gets more complicated than Schuyler can make easy sense of. I hate it more when the world becomes meaner than her perfect, giant heart can comprehend.

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