Julian has a habit of teaching me lessons about myself and about life, unbeknownst to him. Even if it was beknownst, honestly, he wouldn’t give a damn. He leaves a lasting impression, though feeling no need to bestow a greater wisdom on this world – the antithesis of my over reaching attempts (self-righteously) to exit this world handing out parcels, perfectly wrapped with Ghandiesque golden wisdom nuggets.
On one of our walks through town to the 711 Julian walked with the determination of a dictator on conquest to a weaker nation with an invaluable natural resource. Only the weaker nation was 711 and the natural resources were salt and vinegar chips, Coca Cola and Ebony magazine (Ebony magazine is whole other story in itself.).
We were less than half way, when up ahead I spotted a helpless ball of fur on the sidewalk of this busy town, feet from the bustling cars. What a perfect opportunity to teach Julian about compassion and patience. This for a person who sees a pause in stride as a major monkey wrench in the progress toward the Holy Land of convenience stores.
Knowing he’d need preparation, I told him to look ahead at the cat. I pointed out the danger that would inevitably befall it if we didn’t intervene, inciting obscure references to moral obligation as we neared it. He listened, quieted momentarily and simply offered, “Kristen, leave the cat.” in that forced, over enunciated tone we all have when we’re truly emphatic. Clearly it was my duty to help him navigate the emotional context he could not fathom.
We were nearing the lost soul when it ran to meet me. Excellent. Undoubtedly, it sensed my protective nature and ran for my immediate rescue. I stopped in my tracks to give it some much needed love, stroking head to tail. This stop in our pilgrimage made Julian doubt my dedication to the chips and soda conquest.
“Leave the cat.” He said. Then repeated it immediately to punctuate his point.
I scooped the cat up and it reveled in this attention. Sammy Davis Jr., the tag read.
“Julian, this is Sammy.” Holding him out toward Julian, so he’d confront the face he was rejecting, “He’s a lost cat. He belongs to someone. They are missing him. Look over there. That is the road with cars going by quickly. This cat will get hurt. The owners will be sad. We can do a good thing and help the cat go home. It’s important to help animals and people when they need help. Then we can go to 711.”
At this point I should mention that in autism there are several stereotypes. One of which is that they all have a Temple Grandin connection with animals. As if everyone with autism has some sort of metaphysical understanding of the animal spirit. That is a myth. People with autism tend to be very good at very specific things. Sometimes that’s connecting with animals. For Julian, that was NOT his strong suit. His attitude toward the animal kingdom landed somewhere between, “Live and let live.” and Darwinism’s survival of the fittest.
“Put. The cat. Down.” clearly annoyed at this point, he strung out the words as they exited his lips. You would’ve thought the beast was made of plutonium or assembled out of various diseases.
“Look, it’s tag says ‘4 Liberty Way’. Lets go ask someone where that is. It can’t be far.”
“Put the cat down, Kristen.”
We march off together with Sammy in tow toward the 711. This movement eases Julian, but that’s offset by the unwelcome presence of this new traveler. I know his thought process was that surely, Sammy would ruin everything. Cats cannot go into 711. Or at least he’d never seen one go in. This equation didn’t add up and most of all, it wasn’t in the plan. No. It had previously been: Kristen + Julian + walk + 711 = Plan. Not, Kristen + Julian + stupid cat + walk + find home + 711 = x(?). That just didn’t make sense. There were too many factors to add up and several unknown valuables.
We made a few steps toward the light at the intersection. Julian continued to demand, “Put the cat down.”
Suddenly, we heard someone from behind call out, “Miss? Miss? Can I have my cat back?” I stop in my tracks. Outside of the store where Sammy ran to meet me stands the owner, a bit miffed with a, “This always happens.” look on his face. Chagrined, I stammer, “Oh. I thought it was lost. I’m sorry. He was on the sidewalk. His tag said another address…” I trailed off. The clerk gave me a knowing nod of the five millionth time someone’s tried to run off with his cat. “Yeah. He wanders around here, in and out, but never goes in the street.”
Julian was beside himself. Not only was there a cat, but we’d stopped again and back tracked in the opposite direction. Plus, we were talking to a stranger who clearly, in no way shape or form, was affiliated with 711 or anything equally or more interesting. In distress he cycled over our conversation like a background broken record. “Put the cat down. Put the cat down. Put the cat down.”
I heed his advice this time and placed the cat in the owner’s arms, sheepishly giving up my crusade. We moved on with a new found determination not to be swayed by anything in need of saving. I’d tried to bestow some great life lesson on Julian, but really it was me who walked away with the understanding: get over myself and my savior complex. Not everything needs to be saved. I don’t need to spend my life looking for the vulnerable, damaged, lost and making my goal to fix what ails them. I’d spent my entire adulthood trying to fix people or their broken pieces, but truth be told, nobody wants or deserves to be viewed as something that needs fixing or to be conceptualized as a project. I was just beginning to learn that balance of empathizing enough to toss in a life raft and pull the rope when someone is drowning, but not so much that you jump in with them and drown together. Julian was right. Sometimes you just put the cat down.