“Clean Up on Aisle 7”, Brittany Fox

Clean up on Aisle 7

I always sort of figured it would come to this. I ran my hands over my jeans and pulled the seat belt across my lap. Taylor rocked back and forth against the worn leather seat. He was sitting on his large hands, squishing them with his meaty thighs, while humming the chorus to the SpongeBob Squarepants theme song. He wobbled his head around, like a bobble head, silently forming the words with his lips.

I heard a light pop as my father opened the driver side door. The steel frame creaked and shifted, adjusting beneath the additional weight as he slid behind the wheel. I caught a whiff of the thick spiciness of his aftershave as he settled into the seat, leaning back against the headrest. I could see his thick, tanned neck through the open space in the seat. His dark, salt and pepper fringe lined the edge of his favorite Red Sox baseball hat. The worn folds had faded into a dusky blue and the seams looked a bit frayed around the edges after years of devoted exhibition.

When we were younger, Taylor and I would sit on our father’s lap and watch the Red Sox play on television. We’d snuggle up under our father’s arms and take turns wearing the old baseball cap, hollering and clapping our hands whenever Pedro Martinez struck any one out.

“He’s a machine!” Our father would cheer, jiggling our little bodies around on his bouncing knees. “What an arm he’s got!”

After the game had ended, we would spend the rest of the afternoon with our father’s hat. Taylor would stand on top of the couch cushion and pull his arm and leg back, just like Martinez, and pitch the cushy, pink nerf ball. I’d swing the plastic toy bat fast and hard, usually missing Taylor’s pitches completely. I’d always shake my head in disbelief at my big brother and say, “You’re a machine!” Taylor’s cheeks would pull into a wide, toothy grin beneath the frayed brim, with the bright red Boston “B” settling low over his forehead.

Looking over at the man-child next to me, I can still see traces of the little boy wearing the Boston “B”.  That same big, toothy grin was still there, but outlined in a few fine lines framing his mouth, a constant reminder of the time that has passed since those simple days of playing baseball indoors. We are both older now, basically on the verge of adulthood. However, for Taylor it was different. While my exterior matched my state of mind, Taylor’s body was a massive contradiction. He’s like a four year old child trapped in a large man’s body. It’s like his mind or his brain is stuck, unable to progress and move forward, and fails to grow up with the rest of his body. I guess this is why it has to be this way. This is the reason forcing my parents to make this decision. If they can live with themselves, admit that they are in way over their heads, then I suppose I can too.

“Ok, good. Here comes your mother,” my father sighed as he leaned forward to turn the key in the ignition. I felt the car begin to hum, vibrating my insides. I watched my mother as she walked through the back gate, closing it with a quick bump of her hip. She was carrying a cardboard box with Taylor’s name scribbled across the front in black sharpie. I watched her walk past Taylor’s window, her lips pulling into a painful smile as he squished his face up against the glass. The car thumped as she set the box in the trunk and closed the hatch.

Her cinnamon curls were bundled on top of her head and she had to duck low beneath the doorframe as she slid into the seat next to my father.  He reached over the center console and gently squeezed her knee. I watched as my mother took his hand and laced her fingers on either side. She sighed heavily and her shoulders sank a little lower beneath her fuzzy, green cardigan.

“Alright, kiddos. Everybody strapped in?” My father asked. He twisted his head around to check for himself, pressing his cheek against the gray headrest.

I looked up from my cherry fingers and smiled weakly. “Yeah, Papa. Ready whenever you are.”  

My mother reached around the back of her seat to tug at Taylor’s buckle, making sure he had fastened the clasp all the way. Sometimes he’d pretend to buckle up, but really only push the hook in half way. He usually would just pull it out once we were on the road. He hated wearing his seatbelt, didn’t like the feeling of being constrained.

Taylor smacked and clawed at my mother’s hand as she struggled to correctly insert the clip, securing him to his seat.

“Taylor, Honey, it’s ok,” my mother pleaded. Taylor began screaming, violently lolling his head back and forth and throwing himself forward against the back of my mother’s seat. I reached over and gently started rubbing circles between his shoulder blades.

“Come on, Bud. You’re ok. There, there, now. Mom is just trying to keep you safe.” I was trying to remain calm, ease him down a bit, but my efforts only frustrated him even more. Taylor gets like this. Like any other fifteen-year-old boy, he doesn’t appreciate being told what he can and cannot do.

My father quickly climbed out of the driver seat and ran around the backside of the car. He pulled open the passenger side door and put his big hands on T’s shoulders to keep him from repeatedly pummeling the seat in front of him.

As a former lineman for the Boston College Eagles, my father is a gigantic human being. He stands around six feet and five inches tall with hands the size of dinner plates. He is a bit bulkier around the middle these days, but he still manages to run and lift every other day to keep his strength up. When Taylor hit his growth spurt, right around the end of his seventh grade, he dwarfed everyone in the house. My father is the one exception, but only in weight. Otherwise, Taylor stands just as tall.  Now, it’s nearly impossible for my mother or I to help constrain him when he has his tantrums like this.

With my father’s help, she is able to fasten the clasp and tugs the sleeves of her sweater over the green and purple blemishes scattered across her forearms. They never seem to go away. Her shoulders sag beneath the kiwi-colored fuzz as she sighs heavily. I watch her take a few deep breaths before fastening her own seatbelt across her lap. Her helplessness and exhaustion make my heart hurt.

Taylor began showing signs of Autism at an early age, beginning with his odd fascination with wheels. He would spend hours by himself in his room, turning his toy trucks and cars upside down, spinning the various plastic tires continuously. When we would go out with our parents, we’d have to keep a close watch on T. If we didn’t hold his hand, he would run off, making his way over to the closest parked car to run his hands over the craggy surface of the rubber tires. The older Taylor got, the more he seemed to withdraw, almost never speaking to any of us. If he was upset or angry, T would throw tantrums, screaming and repeatedly throwing himself into the glass sliding door of our back porch. He struggled to communicate with us and we continue to struggle with understanding him.

People have said stuff to my parents before, after they’ve seen or heard about Taylor. I’ve been there, with them when people have come up and said something, sometimes people we’d never met before. They’d touch my mother’s arm and look at her with big, wide eyes, “I could never do what you do.” Or they’d watch my father hold T in his lap, rocking him while he cries after falling down or not getting his way. They’d shake their heads sympathetically, knowingly, and say, “You’re a saint, Jeff. Truly a saint.”

Once, early one morning, I overheard my parents talking about it. As I padded down the hallway to the bathroom Taylor and I shared, I could hear their muffled voices, so I peered down the stairwell into the kitchen. They were sitting side by side at the round table, sipping coffee from a pair of matching yellow mugs. My mother sat with one leg tucked beneath the other and my father had his chair pushed back from the table, leaning forward over his knees.

“You know, I couldn’t believe it when Mrs. Preston said that to me today,” my mother whispered. “It just makes me so mad.” She had wrapped her arms around her thin frame, shaking her head and tossing her cinnamon spirals across her shoulders.

“I know Lyddie, me too. I mean, what do they expect us to do?” My father reached over to her and gently squeezed her knee. “He’s our son. If she had a son or daughter in the same position, she’d be doing the same thing.”

Once, Taylor ran open-armed through the cereal aisle in the grocery store, ripping box after box from the shelves. He tore open the containers and threw the bits of colored pieces into the air, emptying all the bags onto the floor. He then stomped on the piles, crunching the sweet breakfast flakes into rainbow dust.  He kicked the powder across the blue and white checked floor, screaming and pounding his fists against his legs.

I had been with my mother and Taylor shopping for groceries that day. He had wanted to add a second box of freeze pops to the shopping cart. When my mother told him not to, a look of utter dejection passed over his large, blue eyes. As my mother put the freeze pops back on the freezer shelf, she knocked a carton of Edy’s peach ice cream with her elbow, causing the entire shelf to come crashing down. The loud noise scared T, causing him to crap his pants.

He took off running, holding his hands over his ears. Unfortunately, we weren’t the first ones to find him in his cereal snowstorm on aisle 7.  The store manager, named “Tracy”, according to her nametag, beat us to him.

“What are you doing? Please, just stop!” she screeched. Taylor’s piercing screams rattled my insides as we rounded the corner. A cluster of customers stood at the opening of the aisle, drawn to miraculous man-child and the frenzy of frosted wheaties and chunked-up cheerios.

“Oh my goodness!” an older woman exclaimed as she pushed her half-moon glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Kids these days, sweet Jesus!”

Taylor had started kicking the empty cereal boxes at Tracy. My mother rushed forward and attempted to pin his arms to his side like Papa does when T loses it. She and I both fought with him, taking his punches, scratches, nips, and kicks.

“Taylor, come on. It’s ok,” I pleaded, doing my best to ignore the shocked murmurs coming from the customers who had stayed to watch the Taylor Briggs Show on aisle 7. I hated that. It made my skin burn.

“Excuse me, miss,” my mother panted, pushing the sweaty strands of hair from her forehead with the palm of her hand. “Would you mind if he used your restroom?” Taylor reeked from his accident and the seat of his pants looked damp, forming a wet mark across his khaki shorts.

Tracy crinkled her bird-like nose, flaring her nostrils as her small beady eyes roamed over all three of us. She jammed her hands against her bony hips and her thin mouth fell open, revealing a row of tic tac teeth. I half expected her to bob her head and cluck at us.

“We don’t have restrooms that are open for public use,” she spat, flipping her short stringy hair over her shoulder as she turned away from us. The black rubber soles of her shoes squeaked with her every step as she marched toward the front of the store, leaving us there amongst the massacred boxes of cereal. Taylor whimpered softly, running his hands over the back of his shorts. His blue eyes widened as he noticed the crowd of customers staring at him from the safety of their shopping carts. Tears dribbled down the sides of his nose, mixing with the strings of snot that oozed over his lips.  He looked down at the floor and shuffled his enormous feet, grinding leftover cereal bits into the floor.

My mother turned her back to the front of the store and the gawking customers. She pulled Taylor’s big frame into hers, wrapping her arms around his middle. He bent over, burying his face into her shoulder and I watched his back heave with every ragged breath he took in between sobs. My heart thrummed against my ribcage and I felt my throat swell up, squelching and suffocating any hope of speaking. She began rubbing his back, smoothing out the wrinkles of his cotton t-shirt, as if she were trying to wipe away the entire incident, erasing it from not only Taylor’s memory, but ours too.

After a moment, my mother pulled back and looked over at me. She raised her left eyebrow and her lips curled into a tight half smile. “You know what, fine then,” she looked up at Taylor. “Honey, let’s get you out of those shorts. Alleigh, will you get me T’s spare bottoms from my bag, please.”

So Taylor tugged his shorts to his ankles right there, in the middle of aisle 7.  A few customers gasped at the sight of his bare skin, shocked by the public nudity. He grinned at his audience, relieved to be free of his swampy undergarments and put his hands on my mother’s shoulders to balance as he stepped into the fresh pair of boxers and gym shorts. Taylor had just wanted to be comfortable.

I remember the horrified look on Tracy’s face when I skipped up to her register. “Um, excuse me,” I began, holding up T’s dirty shorts, an evil grin creeping across my face. “Can I have a plastic bag, please?”

**********

Smiling, I look over at my brother. He is flapping his hands excitedly, squealing as he watches the wheels of the passing cars roll by his window. It was strange to think how quiet and still the majority of my future car rides would be without Taylor sitting in the seat next to me.

I felt the car ease to a stop in front of a two-story brick house with green shutters. I could see two boys with sandy blonde hair digging at opposite ends of the sand box, surrounded by plastic toys inside the fenced in yard. A few bicycles leaned against the white washed porch and I could feel that everything was going to be ok.

Taylor could be happier here.

It wasn’t like we were giving up. It was more like my parents had finally come to grips with reality. It’s a hard thing to accept when you can’t take care of your own kid, the person you created. I know it hurts my parents when they can’t help Taylor. His inability to communicate causes for a lack of understanding, and this is ultimately hurtful to all of us: me, my mother, my father, and especially Taylor.  It makes me feel inadequate when I can’t help my brother, when I struggle to comprehend what different things mean to him.

Here though, it will be different. I know it will be weird living at home without Taylor on a daily basis, but it wasn’t like I was losing him. By letting him go and going along with my parent’s decision to send him to a home, I am finally able to help him and offer him support. It makes me feel relieved and good on the inside to know that people who will work to understand how to help him every day will surround Taylor. Not seeing him every second of every day is definitely a lonely feeling, but for Taylor, this is perhaps better for him. We don’t understand him, nor do we completely understand his needs. Taylor needs this and so do we.

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