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Now He Lives

By Nick Kocz

Memoir

When he was eighteen months old, Stephen was captivated by a nursery rhyme.  He wanted me to read “Humpty Dumpty” to him every night.  We had three different picture-books of the nursery rhyme and often he had all of them spread open on his bedroom floor.  Hearing and seeing “Humpty Dumpty” was not enough—he needed to absorb it into his body.  As I read, he ran his fingers over the pictures of the brick walls Humpty precariously perched upon.  He touched the king’s men who gathered to unsuccessfully rehabilitate the broken egg.  And then he would stand back and flap his hands, stiffly and with utter concentration.  I would no sooner finish one “Humpty Dumpty” reading when he’d demand another.

Word count: 94,794

Page count: 352

Cover price, in USD: 13.99

In Canadian dollars: 15.99

Scientists are baffled by the recent discovery of a disturbing and potentially fatal childhood disorder known as “Suicidal Tikes Under-Utilizing Protective Indicators Dysfunction”, or S.T.U.U.P.I.D.

Diagnosis of S.T.U.U.P.I.D. children is on the rise no one can figure out why. Some experts say it is the result of environmental toxins. Others argue it has been around for years.

Karen Lahey’s daughter was diagnosed as STUUPID last December. “It all happened so fast. At first we noticed she liked to climb up on the kitchen counters then we caught her hanging out the second story window waving at the neighbor’s kitty. She could have killed herself! It was devastating.

” What makes a child STUUPID? We asked Dr. Emily Nolan a prominent pediatrician from Beverly Hills to explain. “Children’s brains work like a game of marbles. Each marble has the ability to tell another marble where to go. What to do. Each marble reacts naturally to another. When a child is STUUPID, they don’t make connections. They don’t see the indicators of danger all around them and their brains don’t trigger the crucial instinct to protect themselves. Essentially, for STUUPID children, some marbles are missing.“

How can you tell if your child is STUUPID? Despite the fact that their parents tell them “no”, STUUPID children feel the need to hurl their bodies through space, across slippery floors and into wall units containing crystal, limoge and other breakable objects. They’re unable to control their impulses and are oblivious to potential risk.

“My grandson, Kyle, could see a wall right in front of him and just keep running. It’s heartbreaking really.” Said a grandmother of a STUUPID child who asked not to be identified.

We interviewed one child who was born STUUPID and asked him “What is it that compels you to jump off the sofa over a glass coffee table and onto a slick hardwood floor right in front of a lit fireplace. The child simply answered, “I want to.” Apparently, total disregard for safety is the most common theme among children who are STUUPID.

“There is still so little we know about this disorder and we’re learning more every day. There doesn’t seem to be any correlation between race or religion and children who are STUUPID. In fact, studies show that children of all races are susceptible to being STUUPID.

As of now, there is no known cure. Experts recommend that if you see signs your child is STUUPID, the best way to proceed is find a STUUPID support group in your area, hide sharp objects, and put your local fire department on speed dial.

“As the mother of a child with autism…”

I don’t have anything else to add to that, but I got your attention didn’t I?  Don’t feel like a sucker.  You’re not the only one.

It has come to my attention that whenever I say, “As the mother of a child with autism…” people instantly pay attention.  They presume I’m wise and sagely, and they’ll take virtually anything I say as gospel.  It’s quite fabulous really.

The statement could be followed with something as simple as “…I like kids chewable vitamins” and people will take this into serious consideration.  “Hmmmm…maybe chewables ARE better for kids than gummies.  I mean, she would know; her child has autism.”

I didn’t ask for this.  I didn’t plan on having a child with autism.  I didn’t want to have a child with autism, but “lo and behold” I do.  And it sucks.  But when you have a child with special needs and you’ve put in the hours and years of dedication to the process of helping that child as I have, shouldn’t I enjoy a few of the perks?

Well, people thinking I am really smart is one of them.

When I say ,”As the mother of a child with autism, I buy mostly organic fruit,” it is met with a collective, “Oooooooooooooo.”

When I say, “As the mother of a child with autism, I have my kids ride their bikes at least twice a week,” I hear a united, “Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Believe me, I don’t actually think I’m saying anything interesting or even noteworthy.  I’m usually not.  And God knows, whatever I’m yapping about is almost always unsubstantiated.  I’m a busy woman.  Sure my kid has autism, but that doesn’t mean I know any more than the average bear.

But people can’t help but think I have something valuable to say.  It appears to be a natural gut reaction to think, “Oh, she’s the mother of a child with autism.  She must know a lot about child development.”   Or, “Wow, her kid has autism.  That sucks.  Even if I don’t agree with her, I feel sorry for her and I’m going to give her whatever she wants.”

I’d love to say I’m above it, but I’m not.

It’s wonderful.  If I’m at school and I want my daughter to have a better seat in class, I just say, “As the mother of an autistic child, I think my girl should sit in front.”  If I’m out with friends at a movie, I can say with accepted authority, “As the mother of an autistic child, I think the characters in that movie were well-drawn.”  Or, let’s say we’re driving to the valley and I just don’t want to be stuck on side streets.  I’ll say, “As the mother of an autistic child, I think we should take the highway.”

I suppose I shouldn’t expose myself to the world and tell people I’ve figured this out, and I certainly shouldn’t use my own family’s misfortune to take advantage of others when I can get away with it.

But I did, and I do.

And tonight, I’m going to go out to dinner with some friends.  I’d like to have a couple of cocktails, so I’m thinking I’ll casually ask, “Who wants to be the designated driver?”  We’ll all look at each other and then I’ll point to one of them and say, “As the mother of an autistic child, I really think you should be the one driving.”

And it will work.

At long last, I’ve found my silver lining.


In photos from his youth he looked like a porcelain doll, a severely myopic puppet. When I knew him, he was in constant motion, a coiled spring: knee bouncing, fingers grasping and lighting cigarettes, eyes darting, lips moving and always talking sports. I couldn’t keep up with him though I knew I was smarter.

He was my mother’s only sibling, born when my grandmother was in her 40s, eventually becoming too much for her to care for. Back then my Uncle Billy had a sweeping range of unspecified mental issues (widely ignored by all around him), yet he possessed an eidetic memory for sports trivia. (Asperger’s Syndrome wouldn’t be recognized until 1944 and only officially named for Hans Asperger in 1981, a year after the good doctor’s death.) He was hyperactive, displayed attention deficit tendencies, was susceptible to stimulants and depressants alike. We merely called him Silly Billy, but not to his face. Billy was simply complicated.