God, Dad, and the Fortress of Solitude

“All of us need a private space. Autistic children need their secret places too in which they can hide and retreat to their own world. After all autism is a withinness disability and autistic children need the security of their own hideaways. I had mine, it was a place for me to think and recharge myself.” Temple Grandin

FedEx:Delivered 07/23 at 5:23 PM.
"Allen," I call into the dining room where Allen is playing a game on my computer. "I just got a text that your tent was delivered!"

"Really?" my son shouts back to me. "I thought it was going to be late!" I hear the chair scrape across the
floor and the sliding door Allen keeps shut to block out the game noises is opened. Excitedly, he rushes to the front door, eager to retrieve the package we ordered two weeks ago. I settle back into my rocking chair and pick up my knitting. A lot of preparation has gone into this event. We have put up a shed, sorted through Allen's collections of salvaged items stored for the last year under a tarp on the patio, and engaged in long conversations about the usefulness--or not--of certain things. The patio is now clear and ready for the tent--a pop-up gazebo--that will provide a space for Allen to work on his projects.
Like others who live on the autism spectrum, Allen needs his own personal space. It has not always been easy to attain in a small three-bedroom row house with siblings and a series of "lost boys" trooping in and out. A year ago, he claimed his now-married sister's abandoned room--once my office--as his project room, but I've lately been dropping hints about taking it back. Ordering the gazebo provided a space for Allen during the warmer months but also served as a prompt for him to clean off the patio. Win, win.

Or not. Allen comes in from the front yard, fists clenched together, struggling to control his breathing. "Let me see the text" he yells and grabs my phone. "Well, it says it was delivered but it was not! They are lying to me!"

I sense the beginning of a melt-down, something we struggle to avoid and have been managing well lately. I speak slowly and calmly; chances are, my son will follow my lead. "Hmmm," I say. I notice his breathing levels out. "Well, let's think about what we should do. Let's think about other things we've had delivered that didn't arrive."

Allen sits on the edge of the couch, my cell phone still in his hand. He stares at the text again. In a moment, he speaks. "We look in other places. Like neighbors' houses."

"Right!" I say, happy he is moving into problem solving. "So, let's go do that."

I abandon my knitting and my peaceful evening and we venture out into the summer night, heading in opposite directions as we check the porches and front stoops of neighbors. But, alas, the box is not to be found. I steel myself for what might happen.

But Allen remains calm. "There's that guy down the street with the dog," Allen says. "Sometimes we get packages for him and we have to drop them off. Maybe he got ours today."

"Good thought," I say so Allen grabs his car keys and takes a short drive to the mentioned house. I take the opportunity to call Fed Ex and reach a real live person, which is not an easy thing to do and may possibly cause me to have my own meltdown. I am told, politely, that the package was delivered but the driver will be contacted and someone will get back to me. I hang up knowing that no one will.

Allen returns and does a little bit of verbal stimming--grunts and groans--before he settles onto the couch again. "The thing is," he says, "I NEED the tent. It's, like, my space. My own personal space. I need it to work on my projects. I need it so you can have your office back." He eyes me. "You know, that, right?"

I assure him that I do know that and that I have called Fed -Ex. It is getting late now and there is not much more we can do tonight except wait, something Allen is not very good at.

He heaves a deep sigh. "There is one more thing we can do," he says. He gulps. "We can pray."

I am surprised to hear this as an option. It has been over a year, to my knowledge anyway, that Allen has prayed. I speak slowly, carefully. Allen is like a baby deer, sometimes, easily spooked. "Well," I say in my totally calm teacher voice, "that is a good idea. What made you think of such a good idea?"

He shrugs but I can tell he is pleased. "Well, Dad always liked my projects, right?" I nod. "But Dad is in Heaven with God now, right?" I nod again and try to keep tears from falling. "So I thought maybe Dad could talk to God about it, and let God know how much I NEED the tent. I think God will listen to Dad because, well, God's a dad, too."

I cannot argue with Allen's logic so together we bow our heads while Allen prays: "Dear God, if you have the time, could you go find my dad? He can tell you why I need the tent and how important it is to me. And if you talk to him, tell him Allen says 'hi'." My son finishes his prayer and looks up expectantly. "I'll check!" he says and goes to open the front door. "Nothing yet." He shuts the door again. "But there's a lot of people in Heaven. It might take God a while to find Dad."

I nod, not trusting my voice to speak.We watch an episode of Marvel: Agents of Shield. Allen prays again. And, after he has gone to bed, I add my own prayer. Fervently. On my knees.
The first thing Allen does the next morning is check for his package. It's also the second and the third thing he does. While he goes outside to move a few things into the shed, I make a phone call to the company that sold the tent. The woman I speak with, Jennifer, offers to send us a replacement or a refund. I tell her I will talk to Allen and let her know.

I am on my way outside, reluctant to damage Allen's fledgling faith, when I hear a thump at the front door. My heart pounding loudly, I go to the door and there, on the step, in all it's banged up and taped back together glory is a long heavy box. There is a picture of the gazebo tent on it.

"Thank you, God!" I shout as I rush through the kitchen and to the back door. "Allen!" I call across the yard. "It came! Your tent came!"

As excited as any small boy on Christmas morning, Allen rushes to the front and pulls the purloined package into the house, unpacking it and laying the pieces out carefully. "Wow," he says time and again. "Wow. God heard me. He must have talked to Dad!"

We haul the pieces to the patio and, with some effort and muscle, manage to get the gazebo upright and stable. Allen walks around happily hammering the tent stakes in place and asking which of the deck chairs he can use. Any of them, I tell him. I am probably as happy as he is that his place, his fortress of solitude, is now up and ready. But in a moment, I am even happier.

Allen, my tall son who has lived all of his life on the edge of the autism spectrum, who has struggled to adapt to a world he does not understand, who has in the last year come to a peaceful acceptance of his father's death, stands in the middle of the tent, his arms open to encompass his own territory. "Every time I am in my work space," he says, " I will remember that Dad still loves me." He lowers his voice. "And, I guess, God does, too."

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