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Quirky Ben

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Quirky Ben

August 1987. Carrollton, Texas

“Do you think the hospital would take him back?” I asked Sue in mock exasperation.

“We could leave him on the steps,” she kidded. We both laughed and welcomed the comic relief. After two days of Ben at home we were exhausted. He screamed. Before feeding, after feeding, while his diaper was changed, bedtime to witching hour, Ben screeched like a madman howling through a megaphone. Twenty minutes of sleep, more screeching, another short nap if we were lucky, then back to the megaphone. Our other two kids hadn’t been like this.

But Ben wasn’t like our other kids; no, not from hour zero. First, his head was gigantic, above the 98th percentile, off the charts, sticking out of his mom’s birth canal then out of the papoose wrapper like a preposterous Tootsie Roll Pop. I held my newborn son while the doctor sewed up Sue. Big head, I thought, good. With all that space for brains, he’ll be a genius. But as the medics wheeled him down the hall, he screeched woefully, painfully.

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Cold War

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Cold War

Joining forces for Ben, Sue and I looked for a place to settle in

together. During the spring of 1997, I drew circles and lines on the map—school, Bachman Recreation Center, routes to work. All pointers intersected at a block of older apartments just a short hike from

Gooch Elementary, Ben’s school. The once-proud apartments, gone to seed and drug dealers, were being gutted and renovated, like me.

Southern-mansion style, low-rise, verandas, hanging gardens, oversized rooms, lavish space; real plaster on the foot-thick walls, steel and brick superstructure built to last a century. Bay windows looking out on the oak-shaded lawn. Playground and a swimming pool just around the corner. Foliage at the bottom of the stairs where Sue could plant a garden.

We rented a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor: master for Sue, study/bedroom for me, cubby for Ben. My Mom and

Dad bought us a new washer and dryer set, blessing our reunion.

The dining room table doubled as Ben’s therapy desk, where trainers could sit. Searching the Salvation Army for treasures, I selected a Queen Anne sofa and matching chair recovered in green fleur-delis. I paid from my savings and offered it as a gift to Sue, an open hope chest. She branded the living room with a red fleur-de-lis mismatched chair. Her mark.

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Photos

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF
Medium 9781574412697

Aftershocks

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Aftershocks

Within a few months, Sue’s apartment deteriorated, the second

one she’d trashed. Roaches erupted and multiplied as if by spontaneous generation, hatched from festering food. The apartment smelled like a cat box. Judy refused to do therapy at Sue’s. She brought Ben over to my apartment. “Sue said something about my mother that was so repulsive and hurtful that I can’t repeat it.”

“Oh, that wasn’t really Sue,” I explained, “That was the White

Bitch.”

“I’m not going back there.”

Sue didn’t see her apartment as a rattrap; she saw it as a treasure box. She’d dubbed herself the Salvage Queen of Dallas. When an old

Highland Park mansion was scheduled for demolition, she’d sneak into the site looking for collectibles, pull up in her red Ford Escort, branded with yellow-and-green sunflowers the size of basketballs painted on the car. Camouflage, she thought, but it stood out like a circus clown car. She packratted chandeliers, fancy light switches, window boxes, exotic plants, carpets, drapes, and once even ten pounds of wild rice, found in the upper reaches of an abandoned pantry. She made art, kinetic sculptures, wind chimes, hanging mobiles, vases, and planters out of these recovered treasures, and she populated her living quarters with them.

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The Benjamin Project

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

The Benjamin Project

If no one would help me, I would have to recover Ben myself. I

rented a suite in the back wing of Rainbow Apartments, an outof-the-way, sunny third-floor location where Ben’s tantrums would be shielded, I hoped, from the prying eyes of neighbors and Child

Protective Services.

Catherine Maurice described the staffing procedure, and it sounded straightforward enough. I was going to need six therapists working in shifts for a total of forty hours a week. Recruit college psychology students. Pay double minimum wage. Train them myself.

I set myself a goal. By noon, I would write six letters to the psychology departments of local universities, asking them to post a help-wanted notice on their bulletin boards.

I wrote out a task list:

1. Look up the universities.

2. Make the mailing list.

3. Address the envelopes.

4. Call the departments.

I froze. This can’t possibly work, I thought. The secretary who’d answer the phone would not understand what I was talking about.

Your son is what? Autistic? And you want to recover him? Ah-ha-haha-ha-ha-ha. Autistic children don’t recover. No, you may not speak

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