25 November, 2009

The coolest/saddest thing ever

this morning I was talking to my friend Ralph when I left to get a soda. When I returned to my computer Ralph had gone to bed (he lives in California). Before signing off, he'd written:

so two asperger things
8:54 AM 1. a guy in my program has it and everytime I talk to him I remember that and go "FUCK! I WANT TO HANG OUT WITH AMANDA"
2. DId you hear about the kid who ran away from home and spent a week living on the subway in NYC?

I had not heard! But I have now. The kid is named Francisco Hernandez Jr. and he lives in Brooklyn. He's 13 and was diagnosed with Asperger's three years ago. When he's under pressure, Francisco (in the words of the doctor who diagnosed him) "freezes in confusion because he does not know what to do or say." On October 15, he was yelled at for not completing an assignment, and the school called his mom. When Francisco called his mom to say he was coming home, his mom told him that she wanted to have a serious talk with him. He was so anxious that he got on the subway and continued to ride the subway for 11 days, using his bag as a pillow and using the ten dollars he had on him to buy junk food at subway stations.

His parents feel that the police didn't work hard enough to find Francisco because they are immigrants and didn't "understand how to manage the situation [or] speak English very well." A detective told his mom that Francisco was probably staying with a friend--but he doesn't have any friends. Francisco says he "stopped feeling anything" while he was riding the subway. When asked what he thinks about the fact that no one noticed him or talked to him for eleven days, he said, "Nobody really cares about the world and about people.”

This story is both the saddest and the coolest thing ever. Like many ASD people, I love trains, and living on a subway train is the kind of thing I made up stories about when I was a kid, writing up elaborate plans of how I'd survive. Francisco has accomplished a feat of E. L. Konigsburg proportions. There's also something iconic about the unselfconsciously gloomy statements he made to the New York Times--"nobody really cares about the world and about people"? I'm pretty sure he could become the next Edward Scissorhands or Jeff Mangum.

But while it's nice to imagine Francisco bragging about his adventure to his friends when he's 19 or 20, the time when this will be just an awesome story is a long way away. The time when Francisco will have friends is, probably, a long way away, and I bet it seems so far away that he doesn't believe it exists. He said he was planning on staying on the subway forever; he lost all sense of time. I think people lose their sense of time when they think that things are so bad they'll never change.

The words "eighth grade" are the two most painful words in the English language, at least for me. But I still believed in a better future, sort of; not with all my heart, but enough that I didn't try to disappear from life altogether. I held on. It breaks my heart that Francisco didn't believe there was anything to hold on for, that the world was just too scary for him to stay.

I want to write him a letter. I want this period of his life to be over. I want him to go the school where his doctors want him to go, where he can be with other kids who have disabilities, instead of staying at the school that claims he's doing fine but terrified him into disappearing for two weeks. I just want him to be older, playing video games with his friends and saying, "hey, did I ever tell you about the time I ran away and lived on the subway?"

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