Aidan, seated next to me in the booth of a Mexican restaurant, says, “I have a joke for you, Nigel.”
Nigel, seated across from us on the other side of the booth, asks, “What is it?”
“A plane crashes on the border of California and Mexico. Where do you bury the survivors?”
I have heard this one before. And when a visually-oriented person hears it, as opposed to reading it, that person, especially if he happens to be interested in disasters of all kinds, will not hear the word “survivors.” He will hear “plane” and “crashes” and “border of California and Mexico,” and he will hear “bury.” And he will matter-of-factly answer, “They should be buried in the country they are from.”
And Aidan smugly delivers the punch line: “You don’t bury survivors.”
If Nigel had read it somewhere, had seen it in print, he would have immediately caught the trick. But verbally, of course, it’s lost on him. He has to be reminded that the word “survivors” is part of the equation, and then he understands. He calmly takes it in stride, filing it away for future reference.
Meanwhile, what is not lost on me is the fact that all of this is taking place in a busy restaurant. Not too long ago, going to restaurants was highly problematic. Up until about seven years of age, Nigel’s sensory issues were so crippling that he would writhe on the floor, wailing in agony whenever I tried to take him into a restaurant. He couldn’t handle all the people and their respective sounds, the background music over the speaker system, the clanking of dishes, glasses, and silverware, crying babies, whirring fans, lights, and whatever else affected him. God forbid he should need to go to the bathroom with its echo-inducing walls, air hand driers, and loud toilets. God forbid the staff should decide to vacuum around the table right next to ours.
Yet, tonight at the Mexican restaurant, every single one of those things happened. Every one of those things – except Nigel writhing and wailing on the floor. That’s right – he was completely fine tonight. When he was around eight or nine years old, things seemed to get a little easier for him (except for the bathrooms and vacuum cleaners), and we could usually experience a successful fifteen minutes in a restaurant. After fifteen minutes or so, his sensory issues would reach a build-up point, and then he just couldn’t take any more. He’d have to crawl under our table (this, at age twelve, did not look okay to staff and other patrons, but hey! That’s what the boy needed to do). At least the writhing and wailing had stopped by that age.
Now, however, blessed Now, he can eat a full meal in a restaurant without any discomfort or distress. Unfortunately, my ASD-parent PTSD is always affecting me, and I cringe at every single sound. The music, the babies, the clanking. When they bring out that damned vacuum cleaner right next to our table (Gah! Why must they do that? Why?! We’re eating, for God’s sake!), I about have a heart attack. But Nigel is completely unfazed. No ear plugs. No covering his ears. No diving under the table. He calmly munches on chips and salsa while he talks with his brother about G-force and physics. The old adage about things changing? In our case, they don’t stay the same. And I, for one, am relieved.
Aidan continues with his next joke. “Imagine you’re in a box with a pig and a stick. How do you get out of the box?”
Nigel briefly contemplates, then answers, “I would hit the pig with the stick until he gets mad enough to break down a side of the box, then I could get out.”
Aidan says, “Stop imagining. If you’re imagining that you’re in a box, just stop imagining and then you won’t be in it anymore.”
Nigel smiles and files that one away too.