Posts Tagged ‘Shaker High School’

Jonah’s doing really well, aside from his word perseveration (cycling through nonsensical requests and phrases with conflicting messages).  Sometimes I think we should wean him off his meds and see what happens.  And that’s just what it feels like it would be – a roll of the dice, the spin of a roulette wheel.  Jonah’s not a chip in a poker game.  We’ve got to be as sure as possible that we’re doing the right things with his meds, and there’s no surety in it whatsoever.

It just seems to me that the meds might be causing the perseveration.  I keep thinking someone somewhere has got to be close to developing some kind of brain surgery to repair or regrow affected parts of the brain.   Like in Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark:  Lou, the high functioning protagonist, must decide whether or not to undergo a procedure to make him “normal.”  Lou’s decision surprised me, and the whole book opened my eyes to the struggles that people with high functioning autism face.

Autism can bite me.

Andy and I got Jonah’s 4th quarter report card today.  He’s working on things like taking an object and following directions to bring it to a named individual (maybe down the hall and around a corner), first stopping to knock and say “here,” probably — that’s likely the most they’re going to get out of Jonah — and then return to the classroom, having delivered the item.  I guess this kind of thing is where Jonah shines.

He remembers building layouts, street patterns, directions, etc. very quickly with a seemingly innate sense of where he is in the world.  And he also learns and recalls names, so he’ll get an A in Interoffice Communications 101.  (Actually, there are no letter grades.  Just 1-4, indicating how far along the student has come to reaching his/her goal in all kinds of specific things).  So this is Jonah’s forte.

I see mail delivery of some sort in his future.  Probably not the U.S. mail, but maybe he’ll be some interoffice Übermensch mail sorter at Microsoft.

Who knows what skills and talents will emerge from our amazing boy?

Who knows what skills & talents are inside Boo?

I forgot my camera last Saturday, so no new pics to share.  Last week the guy who seal-coated my driveway came back to clean out rubble, wood, & junk from when this other dude built my porch and left me with all the scrap.  I hired him because he gave me a great deal on the driveway, didn’t charge a lot, and was cool besides.  So the guy arrives and I give him leave to go through my garage.

He comes to the door a little bit later and he’s got this strange look on his face.  “All set?” I ask him. Uhmmm…Welllll….he mutters, obviously not wanting to say.

Then he’s out with it:  “Do you, um, collect squirrels?  Or bones?”

I look at him like he’s crazy.  “Wait.  What?”

“There’s a pile of squirrels in your garage,” he tells me.

“Auuggghhhhh!” I yell like a Peanuts character, my whole body shuddering.  And then:  “You jerk!  You thought I was a squirrel collector?”  I start laughing, and so does he, and I explain that it’s my damned serial-killer cat, Almanzo.  My garage door is manual-only and since Manzo’s a nocturnal critter, I let him out at night and keep about a foot of the garage door open so he can take refuge as needed.  He must have been ~gag~ stockpiling squirrels,  for the love of God.

“How come I didn’t smell them?” I ask.

“Oh, these are waaaaay past smelling,” he says with confidence.

Finally I request he show me, feeling like I was going in close to look at a car wreck or a deer shot dead.  So he pushes aside a few lawn & leaf bags and sure enough I notice two, uh, pelts right away.  That’s all I needed to see.  They’re gone now so good riddance to my pile ‘o’ squirrels.

I’ve had killer cats before but not serial killer cats.  I named the damn cat after an incredibly innocuous historical figure, for God’s sake; Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband, Almanzo.

this innocent looking kitty

this innocent looking kitty

I’m missing Boo a lot but I get to see him tomorrow and I’ll be sure to bring the camera.  In my pictures folder I found all these videos of Jonah.  Here’s one I don’t think I’ve ever shared:

I should mention my new boyfriend, T, who lives in Bloomington, Indiana – a city so cool I never thought it could possibly exist in the Midwest.   We went to high school together, were in a few musicals and in chorus together (though he was also in the elite “select chorus” of the most stellar voices), and had been chatting on Facebook for some time.  I decided to drive out, kind of on impulse, to see if what we were feeling would translate to reality, though I really had no doubt.

The week was amazing.  The city felt like home.  We fell even more in love.  So now I live alone with my long-distance man.  He’s coming to visit me in three weeks, and then I’ll fly out to him in early December.  In the meantime I swell with pride, as if I manifested him – for he is, among other things, a night shift direct care giver to adults with autism, those just like my Boo but older.  On more than one occasion T has had to hold a resident in his arms all night during seizure after seizure, keeping his composure and offering compassionate care, no matter how tired he is — and he’s often very tired, as he puts everything he’s got into everything he does.

He’s also a geography professor, a bass in the men’s choir (though he’s got more than a 4-octave range) and the lead singer in a (mostly 80s) cover band, Don’t Call Me Betty.

I was trying to describe T to someone the other day, and I wrote:

I feel as though every tiny decision I have ever made in my life has led me to this sweet, loving, poetic, vulnerable, forgiving, brilliant, dedicated, sacrificing, fun, kind, honorable, humble, handsome, trusting, tactile, silly, singing, strong, self-aware, magical rock star king of a man. I’m grateful beyond words to have found him.

I kept going back and adding adjectives until it turned into the overly effusive paragraph you see above.  I am of the ridiculous and I am in love!

– – –

“All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.
~ Albert Camus
Mama's Indiana Love

Mama’s Indiana Love

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Well I almost missed my connecting plane in the ridiculously gigantic Atlanta airport but thank god and little baby jason, my next flight was just one gate away, maybe a 60 foot walk.  And it was so wonderful to step off the plane and back to my pretty little city, even though it was about 35 degrees colder than San Antonio.

I didn’t get in until midnight, which is waaaaayyyy past my freakishly early bedtime.

Andy drove Jonah up to see me and “gwandma” at my mom’s house around 11am the next day, thank you Andy, so I didn’t have to get up early and drive down.  But the visit was short, and Jonah wanted daddy or grandma, not me.  I’m jealous, and it hurts, and I know intellectually I should not take this personally, but I long for Jonah to run into my arms and squeeze me tight, the way he does with his daddy.  I want him to ask for me the way he asks gwandma? gwandma?

And then of course I don’t.  Why would I want my child to hurt more by missing yet another person?  I love him with all my heart and that’s what matters.  His daddy is down there with him – takes him to the grocery store despite Jonah’s screeches and screams,  bearing stares and glares and God only knows what, then drives him to the park or the train station…in the cold, on windy days, without complaining, just so Jonah can get fresh air, fun, and exercise.  There is no denying Andy is a fantastic father.  No wonder Jonah goes flying into his arms.

But the last time I drove down with my mom to visit Jonah, I walked in the door first and there he was, my sweet little boo, sitting in the chair nearest the door.  He looked up, saw me, and immediately looked around me for his father.  And it felt like shit.

I need to remind myself this blog is subtitled “autism: sans sugar-coating.” 

I’ve been sugar-coating-by-omission, trying to sound optimistic and cheerful and fine.  This visit wasn’t fine.  They were gone before we knew it because Jonah started flipping out, getting all ramped up and squirrely, rapidly cycling through requests, growing more and more frenetic.  All red flags for meltdown/violent behavior.  Tune Fish Samwich?  Car ride?  Bath?  Bath?  Bentley (the neighbor’s dog)?  Hot dog?  Bath?  Want Cookie?  Then, always, and worst of all:

Home?  Home?  Home?

After their visit I lay down, my head aching, thinking about the Ned Fleischer Life Celebration that night.  Luckily I got to sleep for a few hours, then I picked up an old high school friend (who also has a child on the autism spectrum) and we drove there together.  

It all scared me the death.  In high school I mostly stood in the background and admired people.  And was jealous.   (There we go, cycling back to the jealousy).  Here’s where I could learn a lesson or two from my son; I bet Jonah’s never been jealous a day in his life.

But I was not jealous, not even one little bit, when Anne Empie Ryan stood up to sing.  With that incredible voice, that voice I hadn’t heard in 25 years and would have paid money to hear, she sang two soft, heart-wringingly tender songs.  Clear and strong, she bravely swallowed down everything – her grief, her self-doubt – and sang her heart out.  I put my hand to my face to try to catch the tears rolling freely at all this beauty and pain….a standing-room-only of young and old who loved a man dearly because he was, without doubt, one-of-a-kind – and her perfect tribute to him, from all of us, delivered by the voice of an angel.

Memories landed on memoies, filtering, slowly, and I was unsure at first of names, though I recognized so many people.  I put on the bravest face I could and approached many folks I knew (and a few I didn’t), trying to appear normal and fine.  Luckily, crying didn’t seem out of place here.  When I walked over to Anne after she sang, we hugged tight, sobbing and holding one another like best friends.  

Everyone was so kind to me.   I didn’t have an anxiety attack (which felt more like an accomplishment than it should have)  and I was grateful for the smiles and gracious greetings.  I had fun and met or re-acquainted myself with a dozen or two really awesome people.

That’s something to be said for Mr. Fleischer; after all, every one of them was there to celebrate him.  He attracted good people. 

It was a beautiful tribute – and though, yeah,  he may have been pissed at all the attention given to his “life and times,” I think he also, deep down, would have been proud. 

Is proud.  Smiling.

And still perpetually tanned.

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It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m on the train headed to NYC for an all-day Adoption Conference tomorrow, which I love.  I’m an adoptee who also understands the frustration of not knowing when (or if) something is going to happen, so I can relate to the people who attend.  I enjoy helping them, listening when they need it, and sharing their joy when they find a child.

I have a heavy heart, though, because yesterday morning I opened the Albany Times Union, and on the front page was an article about the passing of Ned B. Fleischer, my high school chorus teacher – the man who nicknamed me “The Winklett” at age 14 when I was a geeky, awkward, skinny freshman at Shaker High School, class of ’87.  I’ve been winklett everywhere ever since.  That article didn’t say how he died; another one only said he was “stricken.”  Stricken.  I wavered on my feet, shaking, put the newspaper down on the counter, and realized I’d been holding my breath.  Stricken.  Gone.

Frustratingly, there was no wake/funeral/obituary I could find, even though I called the reporter who wrote the article, hoping he’d have the contact number of someone I could ask.  I left a message for him to please call me back.  I’ve yet to hear from the guy, and that was Friday of last week.  Well who the hell am I, anyway?  Nobody.  Just one of hundreds – maybe thousands – who’d really appreciate a way to mourn a man who made a tremendous difference in their lives.  Before I left Facebook, I was in the “Ned Fleischer Fan Club” and understood exactly why everyone else was too.

Mr. Fleischer was one of those rare individuals you can’t pigeonhole or categorize (I can’t help but revert to what I called him when he was my teacher; I never could refer to him as Ned).  He was perpetually tanned – a swarthy, slight figure with an aura of mystique.  He could be peevish and moody.  You’d ask him a question and he’d nod and say “no” simultaneously, just to throw you off.  He had this uncanny way of figuring people out – discerning what he could expect of you and demanding exactly that, without cruelty or condescension.  High school kids’ egos are frail.  He knew not to crush sensitive youth but rather to build us up, through persistence and integrity and damn hard work – work to which he was unfailingly dedicated.  Equally dedicated because of it, we rose to his expectations.

He nicknamed us.  He reveled in the process of orchestrating a new combination of people every year – a new set of personalities and voices to blend into songs.  We gave him our all.  Something made us want to please him – perhaps the confidence he bestowed upon us as both trophy and duty – perhaps the way he’d lend an ear when you needed one, because he genuinely cared.  He was counselor and confidante to me more than a few times.

He’d sit with me in his office, cigarette lit in the ashtray, gifting me with his full attention until the cigarette had a four-inch ash on it because he hadn’t smoked it at all.  He was too busy listening.  Finally, he’d take a final puff, press it out in his glass ashtray, and utter something wise – sometimes soothing, sometimes not at all.  But after a talk with him, I always felt validated.  He made me feel like I was somebody.

Every one of us learned the language of his looks:  Sarcastic.  Angry.  Proud.  A heavy glance from him could mean anything from Nice pitch to Enunciate! or Smile!

To let him down was unthinkable.  It simply wasn’t an option.

While I understand his family’s decision to hold a private funeral, I know I can’t be alone in longing for a way to gather, mourn, and honor him.  So many of us loved him.  And while I respect Shaker High School’s request for mourners to refrain from placing memorabilia or candles, etc. on the school grounds, I long to return to the chorus room, sit at his bench behind the big black grand piano, cover its surface with flowers, and cry my eyes out.

I was lucky enough to sing in Melodies of Christmas all four years of high school; back then, it was always the Shaker High School Chorus who did Melodies.  Even in the subsequent years when they chose kids from various high schools to perform, Mr. Fleischer remained their leader.

During I think three of the four years we sang Melodies, we ended the show with The Halleluiah Chorus.  There was nothing in this world more beautifully fulfilling, more excitingly breathtaking than singing that amazing piece of music with a full chorus, orchestra, audience, and Mr. Fleischer’s let’s do this intensity at the helm.

The Halleluiah Chorus was a climactic apex of all the hard work, of months of singing-while-smiling, learning, laughing, memorizing, struggling – of doing it all over and over and over again.  Melodies of Christmas was a long performance in front of a live audience, 60 of us or so collectively standing tall and singing full, from the diaphragm, diction trained into sharp consonants and cool vowels, eyes and mouth smiling despite heavy red chorus robes under hot lights.  By the last song, Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus, we were exhausted…and yet exhilarated.   It was this final, from-the-gut push upward into flight – Mr. Fleischer in the lead, all of us lifting and v-ing out behind him on wings of The Messiah.  God it felt good.  Like magic.

To be honest I was a decent singer at best.  My voice peaked around age 10, then settled into a mediocrity which was on pitch, but breathy and limited.  Shaker High School had a special “select chorus” of 10 or so of the best voices in the general chorus.  Select Chorus had special rehearsals and performances, and we all wanted in.  I tried out too, auditioning for a position among the elite.  Mr. Fleischer never encouraged me not to, and he never implied I couldn’t do it, even though I knew I couldn’t.  With blind hope and stubborn persistence, I auditioned every year.  Though I did my best, I never did make it into the select chorus.

It didn’t help that two girls in particular, P.D. and A.E., both one year ahead of me, had voices like angels –and not only led the select chorus but won all the leading roles in every musical as well.  I couldn’t even be upset about that.  These were girls you’d pay money just to hear sing something.  Anything.  They really were that good, and were pretty and stylish too.  I envied them not only for that, but also for the extra time they got to work with Mr. Fleischer, who must have loved such incredible vocal instruments to shape into maturity.  I still think about them sometimes.  I can still hear their rich, clear, beautiful voices.  I wonder if they continued to sing.  I hope so.  Damn, they were good.

I went back to visit Mr. Fleischer only a few times.  He’d recognize me immediately, greeting me with a joyful shout — The Winklett!

I hope I can find out where he is buried so I can visit his grave, at least, just to sit with him.  I always took it for granted I’d see him again.  One more time.  One more visit.  One more Melodies.

Goodbye, Mr. Fleischer.

You are loved, and you will be deeply missed.

“Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.”

~ Mr. Holland’s Opus

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