Chapter Two

I’m 46 inches tall. I weigh 44 pounds. My hair used to be blond, but it’s turning dark as my father’s hair did when he was my age.

My eyes are blue, but they’re getting darker. They’re my best quality. People are always saying, “Max has such beautiful eyes!” Especially girls and women. I’m rather attractive to the opposite sex, I admit it.

And I love girls. I can’t get enough of them. The little girls at school, with their barrettes and their braces and their messy hair, and the ribbons their mothers tied for them… Their shoes, their satchels of books. I love everything about girls.

Boys are different. Boys are loud, crude, always throwing things, hitting each other, always pissed off about something. I prefer the quiet of the girls.

There’s a girl in school, her name is Sherry Smith. She goes to a Catholic school, so she always wears her Catholic uniform when she comes in. Tartan skirt, white blouse, crucifix. She has pale skin with freckles and green eyes. I think she’s beautiful.

She can’t talk either, so we communicate by looking at each other, smiling, handing each other things. I drew a picture of her and gave it to her. A few days ago she gave me a little wind-up toy. I got a real bang out of that, even though the little figure that danced around was the Virgin Mary.

I’m not religious. Most autistic kids aren’t religious. We don’t see the point of God. In order to believe in God you have to see some sort of order, of purpose, in the world. We don’t see the world that way. We see it as a big problem, with us being part of the problem.

When we go on field trips, Sherry always sits beside me in the bus and sits with me when we have lunch. Once we held hands for a few minutes. All the teachers were talking about it, because when two autistic kids form a romance, that’s a big deal.

I would like to marry Sherry Smith when I grow up and have children with her. I would want our children to look like both of us. I would want at least one boy and one girl.

Of course, that may never happen, for all kinds of reasons. But sometimes a wish is as good as reality. Thinking about being with her, loving her, is a wonderful feeling. I can spend hours on it.

I think I would like to be either a mathematician or a physicist when I grow up. I’m good with numbers, and I have good focus when it comes to problems. Also, the world is such a mess, with all the violence everywhere, I would like my job to keep me away from the world, except when I teach my classes.

I read all about Albert Einstein online. He was a cool guy. He invented a theory that put space and time together in one equation. That makes sense to me. I’ve been looking at things all my life, toys, trees, pictures, people — and I can see that space and time mingle in these things. Every time a second passes, things are different. Different not just because they’re one second older, but different all the way through.

Except in a photograph. In a photograph you see something frozen for one second. But if you look at it closely enough, you can almost feel the second before it and the second after it. If the picture is of a flower, you can almost feel it being blown by the breeze right before and right after the picture was taken.

When I grow up I would like my hobby to be photography. My Dad gave me one of those little cameras that you throw away after you take the pictures. I took some pictures of our house and my room and Mom and Dad. Dad was so impressed he insisted I show the pictures to my teachers. He bought me a cheap little digital camera so I can erase the images I don’t want and keep only the ones I want.

The only thing is, though, I feel creepy when I delete an image. It’s like murdering part of the world. So in the end I used up the memory card without erasing anything.

Very little of my behavior is normal or “typical” behavior. Most of what I do is autistic. Most of it is ritual. My mind doesn’t work the way yours does. I process information in a completely different way. This doesn’t completely disable me, but it makes it difficult for me to behave like a normal person. By the same token, I don’t really understand how your mind processes things. I observe adult behavior, the behavior of typical kids, but I don’t really understand it.

But I do have a knack for making adults, even hab workers, think I have learned normal behavior.

For instance, I’m a whiz at taking my turn. I wait patiently until the kid in front of me is finished with whatever the class is doing.

I can also handle a toy or a game longer than most autistic kids, which makes teachers think my attention span is good.

We have a game where a boy or girl is going to the beach, and you have to pick an outfit from a selection of outfits on a screen. I’m really good at this. I just point to the beach umbrella, the towel, the swimsuit three times as fast as the other kids.

For stuff like this I get rewarded by treats I like to eat, more time on the trampoline, etc.

But I don’t show the teachers how good I am at computer games, because if they saw this they would want to send me to a public school, and frankly, I’m not ready for that. I don’t have that much control.

There’s an irony to this. When I take my turn and let another kid go first, I’m actually acting out a ritual in my own head. And when I pick out the beach outfit, I’m acting out a different ritual. I’m not really doing what the teachers think I’m doing. I’m basically doing the same thing I do when I take that walk with my father that I told you about.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” That’s pretty much what I’m doing. Just as you might stand upright and salute if you were in the army. You’re doing what they want, but it isn’t you.

Sometimes I wonder whether normal people are also doing this without realizing it. A person who inwardly hates another person will smile, shake hands, be polite. This is a social ritual. A guilty criminal will talk to a judge with a great show of shame, of regret, even shedding tears, when he has every intention of committing the same crime again.

Is any of our social behavior completely free? Am I so different from regular people? I wonder.

Still, I don’t have everybody fooled. Everyone I come into contact with sees that I can’t talk. My silence is a sort of taint. A badge, an advertisement of something being wrong with me.

Kids, on the whole, don’t give a damn. Once they see what you are, they accept you. The albino kid in the class, the kid with scoliosis, the kid with those purple spots on his face — in the end they all fit in.

I once heard a story of a class of 30 kids with one black kid. The kids were shown a class picture and asked to pick out the black kid. They couldn’t do it. This shows you how kids are. They don’t bother to pigeonhole people. They don’t have time for it.

With adults, it’s not the same. Adults seem to have so much time on their hands that they make a recreation out of judging other people. If you’re black, if you’re Hispanic, if you’re gay, they’re going to notice it, and they won’t forget it.

Women have a tough time in the workplace because men notice they are women and treat them differently. If all the workplaces in the world were run by kids instead of adults, this wouldn’t be a problem. Kids don’t care about things like that.

Come to think of it, if all the governments in the world were run by kids, there probably wouldn’t be any wars. Wars are a product of adult psychology. Men feel they have to show off for other men, to be better than other men. This competitiveness turns into hostility, so they fight a war.

Boys are not like men. They might have a fist fight on the playground, but it would never occur to them to build an army and go to war against the kids in Iran or Korea. That would seem stupid to them. A waste of time.

Kids would have trouble organizing a government, making laws, stuff like that, because they’re too young to know how. But I can’t see kids going to war.

I can tell you the batting average of every Rod Sox player since 1901, and that includes the minor leagues. For the switch-hitters like Willie Wilson and Frankie Frisch, I can tell you how they batted left and how they batted right.

There isn’t a lot I don’t know about Mozart. My parents have been playing Mozart CDs ever since I was diagnosed. Mozart is supposed to make you smart. I was already smart, but I admit Mozart made me a little smarter. He was an interesting person. He had foot cramps and migraines. But he always looked on the bright side.

When he was four years old he saw a pretty little girl wearing red shoes. Later, when the idea for Piano Concerto 23 came to him, he was lying in bed with his wife thinking about that little girl. He got up, lit a candle, and went to the piano to play the opening theme at 3 o’clock in the morning.

I enjoy thinking. Since I can’t talk, thinking is my main recreation. Sometimes I sit and look out the window and watch my thoughts float by, as though they were little birds or butterflies hovering in front of me.

Thinking is best when you don’t have any boundaries for your thoughts. When they can float up freely and drift away when they like. People call this daydreaming.

One of the problems of being autistic is that the adults don’t encourage you in this. They’re always trying to wake you up, to make you focus on one object or one task.

“Max! What color is this?”

“Max! How many fingers do you have?”

“Max! Show me how you count to five!”

They don’t want you to dream. Mozart was a dreamer. Albert Einstein, when he was a kid, was so lost in his dreams that they thought he was retarded.

When I watch my parents or my teachers, I see that their faces are never at rest. They are focused on the next task, the next worry. One advantage of being autistic is that you don’t have that knee-jerk concern with what to do next. In between tantrums you can dream.

I’m sure Mozart knew how to dream. You can hear that in his music. And Einstein and a lot of scientists and mathematicians say that their best ideas came to them in a dream.

So I dream, but I try not to let people see me do it.

Sherry knows how to dream. I know, I’ve seen her. She can sit on the grass or a bench and be very quiet and just dream. Her eyes get greener when she does this.