“What’s wrong?” I asked, trying to comfort him. Isaac had been in and out of the house all night after he had returned home from the rec center with his brothers and Chris. It was starting to drive me crazy.
“Wheels,” he said, as he looked across the street. At least, that’s what I thought he said.
“Oh, the wheels on the neighbors’ garbage can?”
“Yes,” Isaac screamed, sounding relieved someone understood his unintelligible speech.
“The helpers have already been called,” I said confidently. “Someone is coming tomorrow to fix it. The wheel will be fixed Tuesday. Don’t worry.”
I became impatient and went into the house. Isaac followed. I assumed he’d take off his shoes and stay inside for the rest of the evening, but instead he kept his shoes on and walked down the hallway and into his bedroom.
A few minutes later I heard Isaac’s voice in the front yard. I opened the door and saw him holding something big and white.
“He’s back outside again,” I said to Chris. “What’s he doing out there?” I sighed.
I was concerned because a vocal concert at the nearby high school had ended, families were walking to their cars, and my son with autism was outside screaming about garbage cans. I didn’t want anyone to be alarmed when they saw him in the dark on the sidewalk, and I didn’t want Isaac to be outside, unable to explain himself and his actions.
I stepped outside and found Isaac holding an old white AT&T phone, one we purchased at Goodwill earlier in the year. Isaac desperately wanted to buy it. At three dollars, the price was right. It’s a phone that can only be used with a landline, but Isaac doesn’t mind. It doesn’t work. He held the receiver up to his ear and said a bunch of stuff I couldn’t understand. I recognized only one word loud and clear: Wheel.
In his mind, I guess, he called the city and asked them to fix the broken wheel. It sounded like he was giving them a piece of his mind.
A few weeks ago, Chris explained the anxiety-filled garbage situation to the young twenty-something guys across the street, and they happily agreed to let Isaac be in charge of pushing their garbage container to the curb Monday nights and moving it Tuesday after garbage pickup. Isaac struggled Monday night to drag their heavy garbage container to the curb with the broken wheel, but he did it.
Now the neighbors’ wheel was Isaac’s problem.
* * *
All day Tuesday I kept my eye on the empty garbage container across the street. Before I headed to Henry’s school to pick him up for an eye appointment, I realized I had to take action. The wheel hadn’t been repaired, and the clock was ticking. Kind of like a time bomb.
I had to call.
“My garbage can wheel is broken. I called last week and was told it would be fixed today,” I said into the phone -- the real one, not Isaac’s old white AT&T Goodwill purchase. Then I added, “I’m feeling a little desperate about this wheel, so I thought I’d follow up.”
I knew I sounded crazy, but I made no apologies. If this wheel weren’t fixed when Isaac got off the bus, he’d be climbing the walls and swinging from the chandeliers.
The woman said she’d check into it. A work order is needed, after all, she explained, and I assured her I had called the week prior. I asked her to make sure it was handled. When she asked for my address, I squinted at the house across the street and recited the house number. There’s no charge to get the wheel fixed, I justified. If I waited for the guys who rent the house across the street to call, hell would have frozen over. Isaac’s anxiety couldn’t handle the wait, and neither could mine.
Tuesday afternoon was a mess. Nothing went as planned. A marathon-long eye appointment meant Chris had to leave work early to get Isaac off the bus, Noah unexpectedly stayed at school later than planned to record music, the grandparents told us that morning they were coming for Henry’s concert later that night, and the van wasn’t in the garage. All of these things put Isaac over the edge.
When I got home and took Isaac to the grocery store – our weekly Tuesday ritual – I asked him if the wheel had been fixed on the garbage container.
“Yes,” he said. I didn’t know whether or not to believe him because he answers “yes” to many questions. Chris confirmed he saw the neighbor guy effortlessly hauling the garbage can away from the curb. Both of the wheels worked.
I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders. It’s likely this new wheel will last for several months – maybe even years, who knows?
Now that everything is in place and repaired, I’m hoping for peace to creep back into the Monday evening routine.
It should be fine until it isn’t.
I began to think about my generally happy life, mixed with autism and parenting and love and anxiety and routine. How did I get here? When did I become hypervigilant about garbage and wheels? When did it seem acceptable and commonplace to call the city about a neighbor’s garbage can?
There’s so much we can’t change. There’s so much out of our control. Usually Isaac just deals with it, however difficult it may be. But sometimes a dire situation can be changed easily, so we change it. We ask the guys across the street to give up some of their control. We follow up about the broken wheel so we don’t become broken ourselves.
When it’s possible and realistic, we try to smooth over the rough edges so our family doesn’t have to live with autism’s anxiety-ridden reality.
If someone had told me twenty years ago that I’d be standing outside by the light of the moon while my 14-year-old son attempted to make a call on a non-working phone to get the neighbors’ garbage container wheel fixed, I never would have believed it.
But here I am.
The wheel is fixed.
And I’m relieved and grateful.
I think I’ll pick up Isaac’s white phone, call the city, and thank them for taking care of it.