J goes to Glasgow

Today, J headed off for a weekend in Glasgow. He has been offered two scholarships, one at the Royal Academy and one in Glasgow at the Scottish Conservatoire. This weekend is about seeing the city and having lessons with music teachers.

As some of you know, J is autistic – Aspergers Syndrome, to be precise, although the term is being phased out in favour of autistic spectrum disorder. He is a bewilderingly brilliant musician, but can struggle with basic life skills, such as keeping a train ticket safe in a pocket or bag. His other great love apart from music is trains, and his favourite mainline railway network (words not often used in that order) is the East Coast Mainline. We used to live in Peterborough, and he could spend hours watching the trains, clasping a parent’s hand tightly and shivering at the noise of trains.

Today we live in the south west of the country, but the fascination lingers. He recorded train noise from this line for a composition for school – all train sounds are different to him. As I drive him to the station, I ask what time he will be in Glasgow. He is hesitant. Sometime late this evening, comes the answer. I calculate times in my head and a penny drops. He is attempting a journey which will go firstly across the country, up the ECML and then westwards again to Glasgow.

“J,” I say, cautiously, “You’re not planning on heading for the EastCoast Mainline and taking hours to get up there, are you?”. His brow furrows. The thing about J is, he doesn’t lie. His autistic mind won’t allow lying. But how should he respond to this negatively framed question, asking him what he is not doing. I push him. “You are, aren’t you?”. “Oh, Mu-u-um”, he squirms, and grins. He is so busted. And I know that even if I try and talk him out of it, it will be pointless.

I take him to the platform. I think of him, roaming the country, with a bassoon, contrabassoon and rucksack in tow. In the opening of the rucksack, I can see his toy panda and toy rat, which accompany him everywhere, despite being eighteen. I think of him aged four, going to York with me on his birthday, asking whether the unexplained stopping of the train was because it needed its batteries changing. I remember the terror of losing him for a few minutes in the Railway Museum, of not knowing where he was and the heart lurching panic until he came back. Now, fourteen years later, I put him on the train and leave him. I stand on the platform and watch, intending to wait until the train goes. But he isn’t even looking. He is putting on his iPod, checking his bag and looking out for other trains. I walk away and let him get on with his journey.

When I arrive home, his sausage rolls are in the kitchen, left behind by mistake. Bought by him from his favourite bakery, he will suddenly remember and be disappointed at this. Though I also made him sandwiches and packed cereal bars, I feel terribly sad and cry. L is in the kitchen and she hugs me, laughing affectionately at her stupid mother crying about forgotten sausage rolls. I dry my eyes and think that perhaps it isn’t sadness, but that sometimes when our hearts are so full of love it is just too much.

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