Autism, maybe


The psychiatrist scoffed. First, he gasped with a bit of laughter mixed in—that scoffing sound—then he chided me. “Autism is a serious condition. A diagnosis would be life changing. I think you need to take this more seriously.” In truth, he didn’t direct that statement to me, he said it to Sonia. I wasn’t noticing before my comment, but I was for the rest of the meeting. He never looked at me again.

Our third meeting with this guy—we’re addressing Arti’s anxiety. We tried therapy several years ago, twice. The first one, a psychologist, diagnosed Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Arti wouldn’t talk to her. “Willful,” she said. Arti was still young. The four of us met together.

The next one, a therapist. Well respected and known throughout our school district. He’s an ex-disk jockey, has a ponytail. He relates to the kids. “You’re wasting our money” Arti said. “A hundred dollars to play video games together!” We stuck with that one for months.

“This isn’t working,” Ponytail said, “he hasn’t talked to me in weeks. I spend our hour together catching up on my invoicing.” At least he gave us the Anxiety diagnosis. Something Sonia and I already knew–we knew it since Arti was an infant.

We moved on to meds. Prozac. It’s clearly working. He goes to school every day now. No more panic attacks. Rarely any outbursts. He’s stopped wigging on his sister when he doesn’t get his way. Mostly. With the Prozac comes periodic appointments. Arti checks in, gets interviewed by the psychiatrist.




These are Arti’s answers. All single words. Offering any insight is unacceptable. He doesn’t talk to strangers. I find the appointments uncomfortable. In the first one, during the parent interview, the psychiatrist asked about past drug abuse—mine. Not a topic that Arti and I have previously discussed. Today, like last time, we talked about Autism. “Arti needs an evaluation.”

My comment: “Regardless of whether Arti has Autism, he needs support. Half of our answers to your Autism questionnaire are yes.” That’s what I planned to say. I didn’t get very far: “Regardless of whether Arti has Autism…” And this is where we began. This is when he scoffed.

He’s the only child psychiatrist in town. It’s clear to both of us that we dislike each other. He doesn’t like Arti either. And I can’t stand the way he handles delicate topics, topics that change our opinions of each other, of ourselves.

At thirteen, I don’t see why Arti can’t graduate to an adult psychiatrist. At thirteen, I don’t know why Arti wasn’t evaluated a decade ago.


Health Care for Us

Some of you are nodding your heads. Some are rolling your eyes. Others take secret pleasure in the knowledge that our seven-year experiment with a nontraditional lifestyle failed so miserably. There are no shortcuts. No secret recipes. We’re all in the same boat. Playing the same game. Following the same rules. Sonya gave up her career as a massage therapist; she took a full-time job. An office job!


At one point, we were rich. Not rich like a rich person thinks of as rich, but today, when I look back at that prior-me, I think “That dude was rich.” I had a spreadsheet. It showed us retiring at sixty-five. You know, rich.

I’m not counting on that retirement anymore. I’ve got kids to put through college. When I’m sixty-five, Arti will still be in school.

Baling on massage therapy… it wasn’t the wages. Massage is a good way to earn money. The hourly rate is amazing. It’s physically and mentally taxing though, so the hours are fairly limited. OK, maybe a little bit about the wages. The real problem was the health insurance.

We’re old(er). Health care premiums are only affordable for the young—those people who don’t need health care. They don’t need colonoscopies, biopsies and hemorrhoid surgery. We were spending $1,300 each month on insurance. That’s more than our mortgage. After our monthly expenses, there wasn’t anything left for extras, for emergencies. And there’s always something extra, always an emergency. Radiator repairs, back to school clothes, yet another crown, Christmas! When our roof started leaking, Sonya sent out her resume.

Her company-paid health insurance alone was like a $15,000 raise. This is where my story could take a political turn. Medicare for All! Middle class adults need to work full-time to afford insurance. The luxury of having a part-time parent at home organizing the household and tending to the kids is financially unviable. Too much scrimping, too many deferred expenses.

This isn’t about my liberal agenda. I can write another post about that. This post is about relief. Sonya started working in August; we’re finally getting caught up. No more worried looks shared when our kids need to replace their sneakers. The roofers are coming next week. Christmas didn’t freak us out.

I liked it when Sonya was home during the day. When she wasn’t massaging, she was running family errands, keeping house, helping the kids with homework. We took that step, she became a massage therapist, because we thought it would be relaxing. Her free time during the week would leave our evenings and weekends unencumbered. It turns out that financial stress is worse than being overbooked. All the extra time was just used to worry.


Actually, it is a toy.

It’s a plastic gun that shoots plastic BBs. This is what I should have said. I told Artie not to bring his new gun. I didn’t think I could stomach any more disapproval. Leaving the house to spend Christmas afternoon with his grandparents and cousins, Artie called me on it. “Why are you telling me what to do? Why can’t I just act like myself?”

He has a point. “Don’t talk about God; don’t talk about Jesus; don’t talk about church; don’t talk about drugs; don’t talk about guns; don’t talk about death. For God’s sake, don’t talk about Trump.” These subjects are tripwires, the topics I want to avoid. They spur awkward silences and sidelong looks, debate and disagreement, admonishments from Artie’s cousin. These are the topics that prove to them they are better than us.

Sonya and I are no longer Christian. This is something they don’t understand. Not going to church on Christmas Eve is viewed as laziness, maybe rebelliousness. “Why don’t you guys come along, it’s just for an hour.” We had a forty-minute conversation about homelessness, another example of laziness. Sonya’s sister: “They don’t want to work. They’d rather panhandle than get a job. Forty percent of them won’t take a day-labor job when offered. Fox News did a piece on it.”

And the cousin: They’re just greedy. Greed is a sin of the soul.” He’s fifteen.

“You could argue with them,” you say. “Explain about depression and PTSD. Talk about privilege.” Contradiction is an argument. I don’t want to ruin Christmas Eve with debate. Besides I won’t change any minds. They haven’t changed mine.

Artie is thirteen. He’s testing things out. Looking for talking points that raise people’s eyebrows, that get him attention. “I saw Crack Cocaine last week, Heroine too.” It was a school education thing with a cop. He leaves that part out. He lets his drug connection linger like he’s street. This is when they catch each other’s eye. They know about my past drug abuse. This is evidence that I passed it on to my kids.

The comments about God and Jesus, he’s being immature. Picking away at something he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand their commitment to religion. Their feelings about Christmas. Their obvious disdain about us celebrating Christmas.

The gun was a gift. I don’t know where his fascination comes from, but he’s been talking about it for months. It’s a “recreational sport gun” called an Airsoft rifle. It’s made to shoot at friends in a mock war. Friends wearing proper eye protection. I wasn’t convinced. I bent over and had him shoot me in the backside.

When he saw the gun, his grandfather shook his head. He started quizzing Artie about gun safety. Cautioning him that the BBs would break skin. I could read his disappointment in me. His exasperation with Artie. Artie’s had a BB gun since he was seven. After he first got the safety drill in scouts.

We didn’t stay for dinner. This is the year we planned on celebrating alone. Relaxing, no judgement, together, just our family.

Sonic Youth


When I listen to Sonic Youth
I think of fire. An
uncontained house fire
building intensity until
it explodes into mayhem.
A charcoal grill
bathed in lighter-fluid, a
flash, raging, and
when the fuel is spent
sinking into glowing embers.
A campfire in the rain, smoldering
on the edge of combustion
creating ash but never making
the leap into flame.


Bleeding Red Ink

Last week was hell.

We’re going out of business, my company, day by day. Falling behind, racking up debt, scraping the dregs of our vacant bank account, failing. I’ve watched this for months—since they hired me to fix the finances, to make it rain money.

I fixed a nonprofit once before. That’s what everyone says. He rescued it from the brink of collapse. The credit is squarely on my shoulders. This is BS, I ran the numbers. Someone else made the hard decisions. I just pointed out the problems.

I pointed out the problem here, too. We spend more than we earn. Far more. But no one made any hard decisions. We borrowed more money.

You’re the accountant, you say. You just watched this happen?

I needed a job.

On Thursday, twenty-four hours before our health insurance cancelled, we sent out an appeal. We’re going out of business, we’re going to close our doors. We got a flurry of contributions, we paid our insurance bill.

But not the rent. Or the guy who cuts the lawn; the company that sells us computers. They won’t get paid. They’re going to eat their losses. They’ve learned a valuable lesson. Don’t trust anyone.

Those last-minute contributions make my stomach hurt. People digging deep to keep us afloat. Still in business—for what, a month? Probably less. I plan our cash flow. We’re negative after we pay our employees next week. And then we’re gone. If not now, next time, or next. We keep skimming along. Alive, but deeper in a hole.

It won’t last. We won’t pay our staff. We’ll be evicted. The grocery store that sells us food for our shelter will cut us off. Any of these events will trigger our spiral. People will be disemployed; others will be homeless, hungry, unsafe.

Tomorrow, I’m back at work. Another week of watching red ink bleed. Shuffling funds, looking for the sweet spot that extends our closure date by weeks, or days, or hours.

I sent out a resume today. It’s a promising position. I’ve been looking for a job since March. I hope this one works out. Soon.