Thanks

Written for my MatadorU course a few weeks ago. The assignment was to write a piece that included dialogue. There were a few other requirements as well, but I don’t remember what they were (other than the 500 word limit) and may have disregarded some of them anyway, so there’s no point in trying to figure out what they were. 

Yellowstone National Park

“Next please!”

I lead the way to the cashier.

“Ok Eric, you go first. Get your wallet out.” It’s already in his hand from the pouch of his hooded sweatshirt. Brown leather, embossed Ohio State logo on the front, bulging with old receipts. He’s the only male I’ve ever met who keeps coins in his billfold.

The cashier rings up his book: Jasotron: 2012. This is how he refers to it, for it’s important to recite the whole title each time the book is mentioned, which will happen hundreds of times in the next few days.

“That’s $17.49.” She is a young college student, in black-rimmed glasses and a cardigan, watching us quietly.

He looks at me over his glasses, one of his usual intense looks, staring into my eyes, waiting for me to re-direct.

“Ok, how are you going to pay?” I ask. “With your debit card or cash?”

“I think I have enough cash.” He thumbs through the bills; ones, a few fives, and two twenties.

“Then get out the right amount,” I say.

He pulls out a $20 bill, stares at it a beat longer than seems necessary, and hands it to the cashier. He won’t, or can’t, look at her. She efficiently completes the transaction.

“Here’s you change.”

He holds out a large hand, chapped and red because he won’t wear gloves or use lotion, and she carefully places the bills and coins into his palm. She puts the receipt between the pages of his book and slides it to him.

“Have a good evening,” she says. He won’t look up or acknowledge her, too busy putting bills and coins in their proper place, tucking his wallet safely away. He stands close behind me while I pay for my book, his nose buried in his purchase.

“Have a good evening,” she says again.

“Thanks, you too,” I reply.

He’s in the autism spectrum, I want to explain. He has Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD. He’s 21 and he’s only once gone into a store alone and bought something by himself. He can’t make eye contact with strangers, and only with intense nudging will he speak to them. It used to be worse; now he’ll order for himself in restaurants.

He’s my little brother, and I can’t imagine life without him. He’s frustrating at times, but my life is infinitely richer because of him. He’s funny, he tells jokes. He’s genuine; he never tries to be something or someone he isn’t. He doesn’t know how to be malicious. He can do so much, if only you know how to prompt him along. Just because he appears to be unresponsive doesn’t mean he’s stupid. He can’t communicate. But we’re working on it.

Thanks, I want to say again. Thank you for treating him as you would any other customer. Thanks for trying to look him in the eye and understand.

I want to say this, but I don’t, and we walk out to the car.

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