17 Chapters
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Over the Rainbow

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Over the Rainbow

In August of 2001, the summer that Ben turned fourteen, I bought

a condominium in Oak Lawn, a leafy, gentrified Dallas enclave near the city center. Sue would pick Ben up from school, feed him her home-cooked gluten-free dinners, and bring him to me for the night. We alternated weekends for a while, but Ben slept better at my place. He stayed. Ben and I became a family unit. Letters arrived in my mailbox addressed to “Dan and Ben.”

I poured myself into my work and taught an overload: as many as seventeen sections of communications courses, mostly online. In the evenings, Ben watched TV or read Dr. Seuss books while I e-mailed my students and graded papers, listening to WRR, the Dallas classical station. Tchaikovsky piano concertos, Mozart, or Bach played in the background. About nine thirty, I’d wind up the evening.

“Ben, do you want to go to Lucky’s?”

He’d nod yes, and we were off for bedtime snacks, steamed broccoli, or red beans and rice, at the corner café, floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over pedestrian traffic and the upscale urban landscape.

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Diagnosis

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

24 

saving ben: a father's story of autism

“We tried that but he cried.”

And he kept the other kids awake, I thought.

Sue was having no more of this discussion. She hurried us toward the door.

“I’ll bring some Gas-X tomorrow. Dan, let’s go.”

The next day, Ben was in a corner by himself, rocking in his rowboat, staring in the mirror.

“He fusses when we try to make him sit with the other children,” the teacher said, glancing at Ben. “When he’s crabby like that he crawls to the corner and we just leave him alone.”

I didn’t blame her. Do Not Disturb a Quiet Baby.

“Did he take a nap?” I asked.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Mr. Burns. No, he did not. Do you have a number where you or your wife can be reached during the day?”

On Friday, at naptime, the teacher phoned me. Ben was screeching like an ambulance siren and the other kids were going off like car alarms.

“He’s a lovely little boy,” the teacher said. “I’m afraid we can’t keep Ben.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I couldn’t keep him either.

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Sunset

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Sunset

But even as Ben rallied, the stress on the family was taking a toll.

July of 1991, Sue and I entered family counseling, trying to save our twenty-four-year marriage. As summer blended into fall, our relationship continued to unravel.

July 23, 1991. Sue and I met with Russ Dunckley, Ph.D., a family

therapist, to discuss some issues in our relationship. Sue and I had struggled repeatedly with my sexual orientation, beginning before we were married. She knew I was gay—my affair with Joel was no secret— but marriage was supposed to keep me on the straight and narrow.

An unlikely expectation, from a twenty-first century perspective, but one that we held on to in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

By late summer of 1991, I was losing control. Beneath the fortress of our marriage, tectonic plates were shifting. I dreamed about a small city in Iowa, like Iowa City, where Sue and I had lived during our first three years together. In my dream, a building collapsed, burying hundreds. Then the top half of a glass-and-steel tower imploded.

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Going Home

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Going Home

In September, Ben and I marched in the 2008 Alan Ross Texas

Freedom Gay Pride Parade with our church, Cathedral of Hope.

Marchers wore red, blue, green, or yellow shirts, rainbow colors, and the church’s theme, A Rainbow People, reminded me of The

Wizard of Oz.

As Ben and I waited for the parade to start, standing in the shade of a huge old cottonwood tree and sharing a blue snow cone, I thought about how far we had come, and not come. Two decades earlier we began our journey. Me, the Cowardly Lion, kicking holes in the wall and fearful that I was not up to the task of raising a disabled child. Sue, our Tin Man, rusty with grief. Ben, our Scarecrow with a head full of straw. The Yellow Brick Road is an image of the changes taking place in our lives, our journey, the gifts we have received.

Ben is a work in progress. The full force and fury of the autism storm have passed. Like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, damage is extensive and repair work is underway.

Standing there in the shade, sipping my melting blue snow cone,

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Wished upon a Star

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Wished upon a Star

July 1990. Carrollton, Texas

The Carrollton Public Library didn’t smell like an office; it smelled

of cedar pencil shavings and Windex, an elementary school classroom. The tables were populated by schoolchildren writing their book reports. I was dressed for success: suit, tie, and briefcase. I didn’t belong here. Likely a pedophile, the librarian no doubt thought, playing hooky from work.

I should be in an office building downtown, handing speech drafts to a secretary, or on an American Airlines flight to New York to interview the CEO of IBM, or giving a presentation in the Dell boardroom.

The librarian, black-frocked Miss Colfin, hair done up in a Pentecostal bun, pretended to ignore me but I felt she was watching out of the corner of her eye. Would she think I was going to stash books in my briefcase and sneak out? Would she think it was full of drugs?

Trying to look professional, I found the card catalogue and pulled out the musty “AU” drawer.

“No, Blunderbuss,” a voice in my head said, addressing me.

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