Why can’t people understand me? I pointed frantically at the spilled toothpicks. "493!" I yelled for the fourth time. The people at the restaurant look at me with the same old look. They first experience confusion. Then a look of oh-look-at-that-poor-retarded-kid-over-there look, then the pity look. My father rolled his eyes and said: "No, you idiot! Mark, can’t you see that it’s written ‘500 toothpicks’ on the box?!" He pointed at the troubled waitress, holding an empty box and another waitress trying to pick up the toothpicks. He quickly pays and slips out of the restaurant. But the troubled-looking waitress holds him back. "Sir," she says quietly. "there was seven toothpicks in the box. Your son is quite a genius." "He is autistic! He’s too stupid to even understand that!" My father raises his voice. The waitress shook her head and says "I’m sorry." But she wasn’t saying that to dad. She was saying it to me. She shoos us out of the restaurant.
Yes, hi. My name is Mark Witteman, and I’m 11. Oh, I’m autistic, if you didn’t notice.
As we drove back home, my father cursed under his breath. I only caught a few words; ". . . stupid. . . fewer tips. . . waitress. . . going to pay. . ." Even from an autistic point of view, I knew my dad was furious. The waitress broke rule number one for my dad: "My son is a big mistake. He’s stupid. There’s no changing that and no one should oppose it."
The death of my mom made him bitter, and having a stupid kid isn’t helping. People say I’m smart in my own way, but dad thinks that bullcrap.
I enter my home. I come in and point at the various things in the living room. "Lamp. Canvas, Copper wires, Plastic, embroidered with blue, red and green flowers. Bought from Scandinavian designs. $76. Couch. Leather, metal, buttons, electricity. Recliner. Old couch from Mrs. Vien when she moved out 2 years ago. Chair. Polished wood, cotton, string, metal decorations. Gift from Grandma 8 years ago." My dad rolls his eyes for the 9th time today. 13th time this week. 46th time this month. 585th this year.
I walk into my room and sit on my bed. I let out one long sigh. Then I take out my Mp3 player and pick a song that I’ve never heard before. I settle on Faded, by Alan Walker. I sit there, listening. Once I’m done, I walk up to my dad who’s reading the newspaper, on page 16, with a picture of Hillary Clinton on it. I recite: "You were the shadow to my light, did you feel us, another star, you fade away. . ." He stands up and walks away from me. I continue: ". . . alive. Where are you now? Where are you now? Where are you now? Or is it all in my fantasy. . ." He walks up to his bedroom and shuts the door behind him. After a second, he locks it. I keep reciting, standing in the hallway. ". . . Atlantis, under the sea, under the sea. . ." He groans from his bedroom. I put my mouth closer to the bedroom door. "The monster is running wild inside of me. I’m faded. I’m faded. So lost. . ." I hear him ruffling a pillow on his head to muffle the noise. I keep it up. ". . . I’m letting go, a deeper dive. Eternal silence of the sea, I’m breathing. . ." I hear my father shuffling to get more things to silence the noise. ". . . under the bright, the faded lights, have set my heart on fire. . ." After a while, I finished up the song. "... .I’m faded. I’m faded. So lost. I’m faded." I walk back in my room. I recite a new song for my father each day. I recited Better Now, by Post Malone, Natural, by Imagine Dragons, On My Way, by Why Don’t We, Centuries by Fallout Boy, New Rules, by Dua Lipa. . . and a lot more.
I go to sleep after doing the first-grader homework that dad gave me. I finished it in 54 seconds.
‘Another day of pain’, I thought. Everybody thinks I’m so stupid and weird.
Well, one day, I’ll prove them wrong.
Author Notes: Hi! Thanks for reading. Feel free to place a review!