David and Danny

As David arrived home after a big day out and climbed off his tandem bike he realized his 20 year old son, Danny, was not on the rear seat. This was not the first time Danny had vanished off the back of the tandem, and David had since taken steps to make reuniting easier. He always made sure the two of them, for example, were wearing the same outfit as they left their house so if there were any questions as to what Danny was wearing, David could model the attire.

Black pants.  Check.

Green jacket.  Check.

“I love my brain” helmet. Check.

This didn’t make today’s disappearance any easier, or less stressful, however. Alarmed, David tried to think of when he was last certain that Danny was on the seat behind. He was definitely with him at the lights, about 10 minutes previous, at the bottom of the hill. He remembered Danny sounding his bell as a beautiful girl about his son’s age walked by. David smiled to himself as this happened, contemplating the fact that Danny was, after all, just a normal kid.

David had then been chatting away, as the light turned green, and had coached his son to pedal hard up the hill to help them get home. Used to Danny’s silence however, he hadn’t expected a response, and none came. The monologue in David’s mind, was necessary as a way of keeping himself company, but also, he hoped, it was a way to engage his son in peripheral experiences, as they pedaled along.

You see, Danny is autistic, and at 28 years of age he can parrot words, or ask for “Hep pees” (help please) if he needs it, but does not form conversational sentences. So David was left to guess, and simply imagine the reasons for Danny’s solitary adventures on that day and others.

As Danny’s sole living parent, David had started taking his son around on a tandem when he was about 12 years old. He discovered then that Danny enjoyed being outside and engaging in exercise. In fact, this seemed to be something that soothed him, and it was a way that the two of them could spend time together peacefully. The more Danny was physically engaged; using a push mower, walking hand in hand with his dad, or cycling on the tandem, the more calm and content both of them seemed to be. So they’d gotten in the habit of taking to the Calgary pathway system during the warmer months. They would spend their days out, making stops at coffee shops and thrift stores, always in search of a good latte for David, and a puzzle or muscle shirt for Danny; two things Danny still loves to this day.

Predictable. A quality David could appreciate.

Preparing for a day out, David would fill his pack with challenging puzzles in case of emergency, and a few “health cookies” to keep them going.

David recalls a time when the two of them got a flat tire on the tandem while going down a hill near the reservoir. The nearest repair shop was about 5 kilometers away, so David did the repair using their patch kit instead. All the while Danny sat happily on a nearby bench working on his puzzle. Amazingly, he even seemed content when he was told to pack it up as the repair was done.

“Time to go Danny.” David said as he finished replacing the wheel. With no vocal response, Danny, unemotionally, began packing up the pieces of his almost completed project, and climbed back into position on the two wheeler. Helmet fastened. Feet on the pedals. All set.

Upon returning home that day and realizing the passenger seat was empty, David didn’t panic, or hesitate. Instead he simply turned his bike around and retraced his tracks. He pedalled back down his street, he left his neighbourhood, and went down the hill to the set of lights where he remembered hearing the sound of his son’s bell from behind.

Predictably, Danny was standing on a pedestrian island at a traffic-heavy junction. When his dad pulled up, Danny quietly climbed onto the back seat, and the two of them, in their matching cycling gear, continued on their journey home, for David’s second time that day.

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