Home Alone

Tears on her cheeks, the child looked up at me and asked for help.

There are moments in each of our lives that are burned into our brains. Memories that are treasured or despised—there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. These events shape us. We vow to never let it happen again or we wish to live in that moment for short bursts of eternity.

A few days ago I was about to walk out my backdoor when the doorbell rang. I almost ignored it. I was running later than I preferred in order to make it to the class that I teach, on time, and I didn’t need another door-to-door salesman that can’t read my door mate that clearly states ‘NO SOLICITORS’ wasting my precious time. Yet, something inside me strongly urged me to answer. And boy, am I glad I did.

It was my neighbor’s daughter. She was crying. Apparently, she had just arrived home, after playing with some friends, to find herself all alone. She wanted help. She appeared scared and visibly shaken. She asked if I could take her to a local hair salon. What?

I was understandably confused. At first, I thought that maybe she had an appointment and required transportation because nobody was home (children can fixate on the darndest things). No. After she calmed down enough, I understood that her dad was at work and mom had the brothers at the aforementioned hair salon getting their haircuts. Ahhh… 

I invited her in, tried to contact her mom (the call went to voicemail—it’s noisy in the salon), contacted her dad, let him know what was going on, and left the little girl with my daughter. I had to get to work. My daughter is 17 and very responsible. Within a few minutes, the mother was able to get a hold of me and I explained what had occurred. We both felt pretty good about the fact that their daughter felt safe with us and knew she could get help from the neighbor.

As the scenario ruminated about the background of my mind, while I taught my class, it brought up memories that are still very clear in my memory, yet not at the forefront of thought. I kept thinking about that little girl and how scared she was at first because she was all alone. Then, how calm and alright she became when she knew there were people that cared for her and would look out for her. Usually, when I buy a ticket and board a train of thought, the route it takes is all over the place. This time, however, it was pretty much a straight shot of all related stops. So, go ahead, step through the turnstile, and have a seat. On this trip, the only weirdo sitting next to you is me. And, I’m not even there.

I was about six to eight years old (I know that’s not real specific, but it was a different time back in the ‘80s and I don’t need anybody getting all bent out of shape for parents leaving a child at home alone. I was competent and responsible). My family was headed out for something (that I do not recall) and my parents knew I needed a babysitter. I was able to convince them otherwise because I was competent and responsible. Plus, they were only going to be gone for a short time. In addition to that, there had to eventually be a point where I could be left alone anyway. So… Trial run.

This was a time before cellular phones. We had LAN lines and telephones that were mounted to the wall. The wall! Rotary dials. You had to use your finger to turn the dial and wait for the dial to return to the start position and then turn it again, at the correct digit. If you screwed up, you had to start all over again. Again! Calling people took forever. “Why is this important?” you may ask. Go ahead. Ask.

Thank you, for asking.

Well, my parents left the phone number of the place they were going to be at—in case of emergency. Good plan. I knew the fire department’s number and police (you had to memorize numbers back then. had to). I was going to be fine. I was also super excited to get to stay up late (until my parents came home), watch television until they did (and probably fall asleep on the sofa doing it), and eat my dinner in the family room while watching said television. Heaven!

It didn’t take long for this to spiral out of control. It felt like an eternity before anyone came home. Within an hour I was already nervous about being home alone. Within the two hours that I was told everyone would be back by, they were not. I had tried earlier to contact my family via the telephone. It only rang and rang and rang and rang… (voicemail was not a thing and not everyone had an answering machine) Pretty soon I was stumbling about my house crying and screaming for my mom and dad to come home (as if they could hear my pleas). It was bad. I was terrified. When my neighbor’s daughter was standing on my doorstep bawling about being home alone. I knew that feeling on a very deep, personal level.

The good news is that eventually, my family returned to see me drenched in my own tears and snot, huddled on the front room sofa, not ever wanting to be left home alone again. And. speaking of Home Alone

When that 1990’s blockbuster hit the screens my mother kept telling me (over and over again) that the main character, Kevin, reminded her of me. She would say things like, “I can totally see you doing that.” “You are just like him.” “You would build traps all over just like Kevin.” Okay. Thanks, mom—I think. She was more correct than she knew. After that first traumatic home-alone experience, it never happened again. I actually began to plan and process ideas so that if anything like being left alone happened again, I would be ready.

On a side note: I have been told I look like Macaulay Culkin. Personally, I don’t see it. Never have. I have also been told that I resemble Brendan Fraser. I don’t see that either. Regardless, This is one of those slightly out-of-the-way stops on this train ride. Sorry.

This first bad memory reminded me of another similar left-alone-and-in-need-of-help-from-others that occurred about two years later. You know, if looked at this in the wrong context, all of this makes my parents seem like terrible people. They’re not. I had to work hard to convince them that I was competent and responsible and could be left alone. This second time, I had years of good examples that verified this. It was all good.

It wasn’t all good.

My grandson is autistic. When the diagnosis of this came about, it wasn’t much of a surprise. My wife and I both work with individuals that have special needs. We spotted trends, and his mother is super sharp and also spotted the possibility of it. “Why is this important?” you may ask. Again, go ahead and ask.

Again, thank you for asking. It’s important because, as my oldest was talking to me about the diagnosis, there came a point in the discussion where I thought she may be talking to me, or about me. I was confused. When I asked if we talking about her son or me, she looked me dead in the eye and said, “Yes.” My family has since done a lot of research and has come to the conclusion that I probably am higher on the spectrum than I ever thought possible. I have not been officially diagnosed, but, there are so many things explained by this possibility. SO many things. so many…

Anyway, one of those things would be in this next story.

At one of my mother’s many ballet rehearsals, it was getting late in the Saturday, and I was getting uncomfortably hungry. I was also getting told that we were breaking for lunch in ‘just a minute’. Well, after three hours (no exaggeration) of ‘just a minute’ I was able to convince my dad that I could handle walking the two blocks to the Wendy’s we were going to anyway, getting my food, and returning (because the adults finally realized that nobody was going anywhere soon). Thank you!

I had been shown the way. I had been there before. It was a straight shot out the door of the high school we were rehearsing in, one and a half blocks later, cross the street, walk into the Wendy’s, order my food, pay for it (I had been given the cash—yes, cash. paper-like monies people used to use all the time), then return back to the high school to eat my kid’s meal (and frosty!). Done. The problem was what I planted in my head as a marker when I passed it by: An empty parking lot. Emphasis on empty.

After I successfully navigated my way to the Wendy’s, made the purchase, and received my kid’s meal (and the magnificent frosty), I began the short trek back. To be certain I did not get lost in the very linear travel, I crossed the street at the exact same location I had to reach the Wendy’s because, I knew after that, it was a straight line to the door of the building that I had left. Seriously. The door of the high school opened up to a small patch of campus, then an open gate, then a corner of sidewalk, a crosswalk, then the other side of the street. The side I was now on.

As I meandered my way back to safety, I recounted my landmarks. A trick I learned from Sesame Street (back when it was educational and entertaining too). The problem came in when I got to the parking lot, there were a few cars. It was no longer empty. This is where it gets weird for me. I know how a parking lot works. I know what they are used for. I knew that then, also. But, for some reason or another (I now believe it would be very much attributed to an autistic thought trait), because there were three cars in the previously empty lot, I was certain I was lost. Even when I reached the corner, one crosswalk away, able to see the very door I had walked out of eight minutes before, I did not recognize it. My mind fell apart. I didn’t know what to do.

Retrace my steps.

I went back to the Wendy’s and tried again. When I got to the parking lot, it was still the same as before: three parked cars. Yup. It didn’t change. I was lost. There is something about the autistic mind that regular, rational thought does not relate to. And, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense why I did what I did and why I did it. Still, I was lost, now alone, and had no way to reach my parents. Again. (still, no cell phones)

After trying three different times to make the linear path magically align with the correct path, I did the only thing I could think of. Just return to the Wendy’s and wait for my parents. The only problem now was that there was a line out the door—literally half a block long. The place was packed. I could not sit down, even if I wanted to. I was in the worst despair I had ever been. So, I sat my tiny child butt upon the street curb and cried. My frosty was melting (now I was in Hell), my food was getting cold, I was lost, and given how long it had been before my parents had realized they were not leaving to eat, I had no idea how long they would be before leaving to come to this Wendy’s to eat. Then, on either side of me sat a man and a woman.

“What’s the matter?” They looked like modern (‘80s modern) hippies. I’m not judging, just stating. With tears blurring my eyes, and fear melting away—due to my desperation of finding my mom and dad—I told all that I have provided you with, sans the autism part (that wasn’t even a thing back then). Fortunately for me, they offered to drive me back to where I thought I should be. The two problems were these: First, I didn’t know what the building was (at the time). It was just a building that had a theater in it. Second, I only knew the landmarks from walking. I couldn’t navigate by car. I also thought that if we traveled by car, we would go so fast that I would miss all the landmarks (car. they go fast, that’s why we use them). I wasn’t stupid. And, if they were trying to kidnap me, if I was on foot, I could scream and run away. Safety.

Then, the deepest, darkest, final circle of Hell happened to open up. During my efforts to explain all this to them, I accidentally dropped my frosty. Right into the gutter. Top-side down. I lost it. I began to bawl like nobody’s business. I curled into the arms of the nice lady and just sobbed. This was the lowest I had ever been in my eight-year-old (maybe seven) life. The man picked it up and dusted it off. “Don’t cry. See, it’s just fine.” Because, back then, the child’s frosty always had a lid. Less frosty, sure. But, no spilling either. Only a little bit of the melted stuff dripped out. He was my hero.

Those kind people walked me back the way I came. When we got to the parking lot with the three cars, I explained why I was so lost. They probably thought I was a kid with a mental disorder. And, as it turns out, they were probably right. They offered to walk me into the building to be sure all was well. Turns out, it was. Those three cars just messed me up like nothing else ever had—or has.

Once inside, I found a quiet place to sit and eat. I had no sooner unwrapped my cheeseburger when my father told me to pack up and come with them to the Wendy’s to eat. Everyone was leaving for ‘lunch’ (too late for that, it was closer to dinner). I had to go with—my father kindly reminded me of how things had gone the last time I had been left alone (see above). I tried to let them know how full the place was. Nobody listened. Life story. By the time everyone else had ordered, and we found a place to sit, my food was cold, and the thick and delicious frosty was just a chocolate-flavored liquid. Sad.

“So, what’s your point?” …You people are so kind to interact with me like this. My point is this: In a world where there is so much crazy and stupid-bad things happening, I have always been grateful to that couple that helped me. That there are good people out there that just want to help other people. People that are willing to help complete strangers. And now, as an adult, I am grateful that I can be that person for some other child that found themselves all alone. Home, or otherwise.

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