The House Guest – Part One

A Regular GuyIt was July 30, and the first day of relief from a record breaking heat wave in the San Francisco Bay Area. I stood anxiously by the escalator at the Oakland Airport waiting for my twenty-year-old son Matthew to arrive from Pennsylvania. Matthew is autistic and has been attending a special residential school there since he was 15.
He would be home for a five-week break. Worried that he would be lonely and adrift as in summers past, I hired a companion who worked at his school to fly Matthew home and stay with us for three weeks.
His name was Kim, a twenty-five-year old from South Korea who had joined the staff of Matthew’s school just a year earlier. I had heard good things about Kim, but was nervous because our communication through phone and email, though cheerful, had been awkward. His English was difficult to understand, and I wasn’t sure he understood the notion of “friend to hang out with” rather than “policeman”. Matthew was painfully aware of his disability and need for support, but despite his innate social ineptitude, he craved independence and friendship, and wanted to be viewed by the world as a regular twenty-year-old.
In the past when I had hired “friends” for Matthew, I’d had the benefit of meeting them first in person to see if the chemistry was right. When Kim and Matthew came into view at the top of the escalator, I saw no chemistry. My son, wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sandals, rushed ahead of his smiling companion.
“I’m not with him,” said Matthew, frowning in earnest. “I don’t need a babysitter.”
“He’s not a babysitter,” I said, shaking hands with the stranger in front of me, “Kim is our friend!” Matthew rushed ahead to the baggage claim. “Did you have a nice flight?” I asked Kim, who shrugged and smiled.
It’s gonna be a long three weeks.
The first few days of the visit Matthew avoided Kim, and my husband and I and our other two teenage sons tried manically to make Kim feel useful and at home, talking to him, struggling to understand his English, inviting him for walks and meals, and asking him to help with the dishes. By the third day, I was exhausted from smiling, talking, and suggesting activities for Matthew and Kim that fell flat.
“Do you want to go to the movies with Kim, Matthew?”
“How about a hike?”
“No hikes.”
Feeling like a prisoner in my own home, I left Matthew and Kim alone together while I took our four-month-old Labrador puppy, Cali, for a walk. When I returned, there was a police car in the driveway.
“He’s stalking me!” Matthew was telling the policewoman who had responded to his 911 call. Kim smiled nervously and paced around, and the officer looked confused. I explained the situation and apologized profusely. She said she thought she’d seen everything till today.
“Look, Matthew,” I sighed, “Kim is our friend. Will you please be nice to him?”
“Probably not,” was his response.
There was no way I could endure this kind of grief for three weeks, and I wondered if I should just pay Matthew’s friend for hire the full amount that I had promised him and put him on a plane back to Pennsylvania. But then I glanced at Kim who was stroking the puppy, and I could see he was a person who smiled even when he was hurt. Somehow I had to make his visit a successful one….

To be continued next Friday!!!


Laura Shumaker is the author of A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM


She writes each Friday for 5 MINUTES FOR SPECIAL NEEDS.

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