In these parts, there are a dozen or so gravel roads. They wind through canopies of trees, urging you on but not leading to anywhere in particular. The roads are dotted with horse farms and quirky little houses with yard art or big, handsome houses high on hills and everything in between—clapboard cottages with ramshackle barns out back or, my current favorite: a simple-as-pie log cabin, its unassuming porch adorned with hanging pots spilling over with old-fashioned flowers.
Sadie and I, we’re in the dog days of summer—we get sticky and hot and bored and, at times, awfully sad, so we slip on our shoes and go for a ride. The dust-covered car points to the rocky routes, where there’s no traffic and we can take our sweet time.
We’ve got nothing but time.
The car crackles along, and we count the tiny bridges over lazy creeks and watch for cows and butterflies and blackberries. Sadie can’t get enough of the blackberries and doesn’t mind the juice running down her chin, onto her shirt. I’m on the lookout for Queen Anne’s lace ripe for the cutting—I keep a pair of clippers in the glove box. Sometimes we find a driveway that begs to be trespassed—what’s down there?—but there’s a gate or a BEWARE OF DOG sign, so we don’t.
There are always more questions than answers on gravel roads. Sadie and I could use some answers. There are voids to fill, but we don’t say so out loud. How will we occupy ourselves the rest of the evening? The warm, humid weeks ahead? The years to come?
Autism presents one riddle after another.
Like the rutted roads, our micro-adventures are uneven, varied—I squeal with delight when we discover the dollhouse-cabin with the deep purple petunias; another afternoon I grip the wheel and cry hot tears and stare ahead at the isolation and exhaustion of caretaking. I’m mad at everyone: friends who are at the pool or the movies with their kids; my husband sitting at his desk in his office; all the people everywhere doing normal.
But we’re okay, right this minute, because Sadie is quiet and still, sitting ladylike with her legs crossed. I belly-breathe and think long thoughts while Sadie looks contentedly out the window.
I know my friends and family see it, maybe even whisper about it—how wrapped up my happiness is in hers. I’m cruising on quicksand. I know better, but I keep going. Is it not proof of my devotion?
It would be wiser to enjoy the journey—Sadie’s therapy and the prayers and the play, because we do get to play—or at least remember I’m only a passenger on the S-Train.We’re on an excursion, and I don’t get to pick the destination.
But I like maps, and better yet, my phone’s navigation system’s ability to predict arrival times. I love that.
But this is what the S-Train teaches: to stand in the middle and surf your way through the twists and turns, not holding onto the poles and trying to take child-like delight in the game of not falling on your rear, or, worse yet, flat on your face. My muscles and sense of balance have grown strong. Public transportation isn’t most folks’ first choice—it’s not glamorous and it smells like pee—but it has its perks.
The benefits of climbing aboard (or driving aimlessly on back roads), however, can only be had if one has learned to acquire a taste for moments. I’m a recovering fast forwarder—I always skipped the parts I didn’t like. I’ve worked long and hard to keep my finger off the controls and listen to the whole darn album. You could say I’ve become a connoisseur of moments, even B-side moments.
Moments are all I have. They’re all any of us have. But you’ve probably got to spend a lot of time with your life on the rocks to figure that out. And even when you’ve figured it out, you forget and reach for FF. Some of us need speed bumps, or gravel roads, to slow us down.