It started out as a way to get some exercise. We worked out at home the day before; me on the elliptical machine and Mike on the recumbent bike. We had discussed getting the bicycles out for the first time, but they’re still in storage and need to be inflated, etc. But today we took our 7 month old puppy for a walk around the block; despite his nearly full-grown size, technically he’s still a puppy. It was Mike’s idea to walk him, since he wrote that we would in his daily journal for school.
We exchanged the usual pleasantries: asked how each other’s day was and what we did today (we do this every day after I get home). He told me about his music class and that they learned about guitars and ukuleles. I asked if he wanted to learn to play the guitar and he said yes. I was surprised at this, but now that I think of it, I shouldn’t be; one of his favorite things when he was much younger was listening to guitar melodies as he would go to sleep.
He brought up a recent conversation we had from last week: how I ‘hate zombies’. I explained that I don’t really hate them but they’re “freaky” because they’re all dead but are still walking and are trying to eat you. He proceeded to allay my fears by telling me there are no real zombies and that they only exist in movies and TV. Whew!
In what I thought was another re-cycled conversation, Mike asked me if I missed my father. Mike has known that my parents passed away years ago, and occasionally brings it up; asking more about me missing my father than my mother. He did know my mother; one of his favorite vacation destinations is Florida, in part because he likes Disney and Universal, but also in part because we stayed in my mother’s home the few times when we did go to Florida. Thinking back, I remember my mother, after understanding what Autism was, and understanding that Mike was on that Spectrum, in particular asking how he did in school and his progress in general. One time I remember her telling me that she always said a special prayer for Mike, and that she knew he would improve. That memory always comforted me.
Mike never knew my father; he passed away years before Mike was born. I think we have shown pictures of him, but most of those are from my wedding album, when he was already older and frail. When he asks, I never try to embellish: some days I do, but most days I don’t; I emphasize that mostly when I miss someone, it’s because I remembered something that person said or did. I emphasize that I mostly I miss him, his brothers and mommy because my mind is filled with many more memories about them, especially when I’m at work or when we’re not all together.
Mike knows, and has known, his Nana and Grandpa, my wife’s parents, all his life; in fact he and Tom hung out with them when we took Nick to a nearby college event this past weekend. He has made many of his own memories of them, and has heard many recollections told by my wife and her siblings. I don’t talk about my parents much if at all; usually only when we see one of my sisters, all of whom are scattered across the United States, as compared to my wife’s brother and sisters, who are clustered on Long Island.
Mike makes visual associations, which imprints upon his memory, and I think, is the key to his learning. I remember over this past winter, I gave Mike an old red L. L. Bean fleece robe to wear; it was the one my father gave me many years (possibly 30???) ago. I think he liked that fact. I think sometimes he asks me about my father to provoke a lasting memory for himself, and certainly to reinforce my own memories. Maybe that’s why he brings it up every now and again.
We talked some more about how those who have passed away are looking down on us, and how we keep them in our heart. I told him how his brother Thomas was named after my father, his brother Nicholas was named after his mom’s Grandpa Nick, and how he himself is named after his mom’s Uncle Mike. I told him we did this to honor some of the people we love, and that is one way we keep our loved ones in our heart.
Suddenly our walk ended. It wasn’t the distance; 4 long blocks around, probably more than a quarter-mile and less than a half-mile. We probably could have walked and talked for miles. I wouldn’t mind it at all.