‘Tis the season where warm and fuzzy videos hit my timeline, tear at my heart-strings and cause a 30-year-old man to weep. You guys know EXACTLY the videos I’m talking about. When a terminally-ill child gets to meet John Cena or Tom Brady, they play that soft music in the background, pump up the volume on whatever beautifully worded, powerful, inspirational statement the kid has to say, and BAM! – fucking waterworks.
Or when that family loses everything in a fire – the presents, the family jewels, their handicapped daughter’s wheelchair, even the secret “party-stash” you had tucked away for New Year’s – and Red Cross comes through and replaces *almost* everything just in time for a Christmas Miracle. When those videos get heavy, and they all do, if you’re able to hold back those tears — then you are not human. NOT HUMAN. A video from nearly two years ago finally graced my eyes and it didn’t disappoint.
Nearly two years ago I took my family to Florida for vacation. We went to Sea World, Busch Gardens and Universal — it was fun. The best part was catching up with family. My older brother, Rob, has lived in the Tampa area for nearly 20 years and we were able to spend some time with him and his family. Rob has two sons, my nephews, one of whom has Asperger’s. His name is Zach and he was 11 at the time.
I’m a father of three, went to public school, coached little league sports, guest spoke in classrooms and have started at designated QB for the neighborhood kids in their pick-up football games a North Providence, RI record 2 times, but I have never been able to spend any time with anyone with any kind of autism. I was given the chance on that vacation.
What you quickly realize is that children with Asperger’s, aren’t any less “different” than other children who don’t have it. They laugh, they cry, they complain…sure, loud sounds and quick movements may cause them to become uncomfortable, but loud people suck. I hate loud people so I totally get it. They’re just kids. However, something I noticed is that Zach’s attention to detail far outweighed my own children’s’ abilities in that area.
Zach became fascinated with my tattoos, he loved my Red Sox art, touching my arm very carefully. He asked if they hurt and if they came off. Told me his Dad had a tattoo of a dragon, but he preferred lizards instead. Talking with him was like talking with anyone, no, it was better than talking to just anyone. He was so genuine in the topics he’d discuss.
Zach could recite the words from a few Sonic: The Hedgehog episodes. Not just a few lines, or the opening song, but the actual script. Word-for-word. He was SO passionate about it, too. Almost shedding tears when telling me about a particular “scary” episode where Sonic has nightmares. I was mesmerized and needed to hear more.
When we all went to dinner, I offered to have Zach, and his brother Jake, to ride with us. It was nice for my sons and my brother’s sons to get to know each other, and the more time they spent together, the closer they became. I rode passenger and sat Zach as close to me as the van would allow, I wanted to hear more about what he loves and I thought that was Sonic, but realized he had a greater passion: music. Not just music, though, Zach loves to sing! During the 20-minute car ride to where we were headed, Olive Garden maybe, he sang all the songs the radio would play for him. It was adorable. Zach swaying his head side-to-side, closing his eyes at the more emotional parts of the song and tapping his hand on his knee to the beat are images that are forever burned into my memory. I remember thinking “Rob told me to text him if Zach gets agitated or upset, but this young man is the happiest, most chill dude ever.”
It wasn’t until we arrived at the restaurant that I saw Zach get upset for the first time. My fiancé pulled into a parking spot and shut the vehicle down. Off went the lights and off went the radio. Zach was mid-lyric and when he realized the music was gone he demanded we put it back on.
“The song isn’t over, it’s not done. Put it back on. Will you put it back on? Why won’t you? I’ll say the magic word.” – he pleaded.
We tried to explain to him that we had made it to the restaurant and it was time to go inside, but he was really upset. I’m not sure he heard a word. It broke my heart — the situation stayed with me the whole night. Wish I handled it differently, but I was so used to dealing with my 3 kids — constantly swatting their advances for more TV time, extra dessert, etc — that I denied Zach out of habit. That was a lousy thing to do.
“It just started and I didn’t hear my favorite part. I just want to hear it. Please, can I hear it again?”
Zach became really frustrated when I guided him out of the side door, telling me “Don’t touch me” as I stuck my hand out to help him out of the van. It sucked. I was the cause of his frustration and I honestly thought I may have ruined dinner before even stepping into the eatery. In hindsight, I probably should have just turned the radio back on.
Watching this video though reminds me of Zach. It reminds me of how excited he was when I pulled out my phone after dinner and let him go to town on YouTube. He searched for music videos and sung his brilliant heart out. It might’ve been the happiest I had ever seen a child.
Although the video cuts out at the end, I’m sure Daniel was just as happy. Kudos to the sanitation engineer, Manuel Sanchez, who recognized Daniel’s love for something and delivered him a gift I’m sure he’ll love forever. It really shows the good people can do, the joy they can bring and the lives they can touch — you just need to pay attention and do what’s in your heart. It’s something we should all strive to do more of, not just during the holidays, but always.
Photo Credit: Facebook/Robin Newberger