Charlie was sick with a cough and a low-grade fever and we had to go to Queens on an errand of importance so, after everyone sleeping in (in true symbiotic fashion, Jim and I have the same cold as Charlie) and a trip to the post office, we got into the black car and headed for the George Washington Bridge.
Ever since he was a toddler, Charlie has had a thing for bridges. When we lived in St. Paul, there was a bridge over the railroad tracks not far from our second-floor duplex, and we often turned down Selby Avenue just to take a quick ride----it had lovely wrought iron railings. In the year (1999-2000) that Jim, being on sabbatical, was at home while Charlie was in an intensive home ABA program, they often went for walks, and often over the bridge, and always stopping at the center where Jim read the sign and pointed out the letters C-I-T-Y.
"It says 'ci-ty-of-St.-Paul!"
Charlie was not talking then (he was around 2 1/2 years old) and we speculated: Was it the grillwork of the railings that he liked to cast his gaze through? The feeling of being up, high, elevated?
Today was blue sky and sunny and crisp and Charlie, sniffles and all, sat up straighter and craned his neck to look back through the GW Bridge's cables to the palisades on the Jersey side and the bright water of the Hudson down below, and the long Manhattan skyline unfurling to the right and left before us. "Bwidgge."
It was a five-borough day. We went up the Henry Hudson Parkway (Manhattan), to Jim's old office on the campus of Fordham University in the Bronx, and then to Queens, where Jim's friend Jim G. lives. Jim has received tapes of the October 27th autism and advocacy conference and Jim G., who is a filmmaker, among other things, had offered to help getting the footage ready to put on a website. Going from the Bronx to Queens we passed a stately, if graffitied, highway of the Robert Moses era and then got onto the Jackie Robinson Highway. There were highway bridges and fast curves to navigate through and Charlie sat with his feet curled under him and took it all in. He and I waited in the car beside some commercial establishments (the sign of one announced that it specialized in solutions for various check-and-cash operations) while Jim went to meet with Jim G.
Jim, in his best "I used to drive a cab in New York" mode, made his way down Pennsylvania Avenue in Brooklyn to the Belt Parkway where we had a splendid view of the water and the barges before going up over the Verrazano Bridge, and through Staten Island to the narrow lanes of the Goethals Bridge. By that time, the coughing and what I surmise may have been a stuffy head had gotten to Charlie, who was very quiet and curled up tightly in the back seat. When we got home, he headed straight for the couch and napped for an hour with his arms tucked behind his head, just like he always used to do when he was a baby----when we used to drive over the Jefferon Barracks Bridge from Illinois into Missouri and the Robert Street Bridge further up the Mississippi in St. Paul.
Bridges are a common metaphor in autism-speak; we speak often (as this program does) of needing to "bridge the gap" between what a child cannot yet do and what she or he needs to learn; about needing to "build a bridge" between ourselves and a child who struggles to talk and just to communicate. What appeals to Charlie about bridges is that (as far as I can tell) he is on the bridge, thrust out in the air and nearer the sky, out in space and above water, rows of old woodframe houses, scrap metal piles, train tracks, rows of parked subway cars. And he is, for some moments, away from the earth, and how he can see.
Charlie indeed has bridges in his blood---my grandfather (my mother's father) was a bridge inspector for the state of California starting in the 1930s. Grandpa used to walk atop the Golden Gate: I can barely imagine the view down over the fog and the bay and how it would feel when the bridge would sway. Something, though, tells me Charlie would be in his element up so high, amid the wind, above the water.
Charlie asked for grapes after donning his pajamas and soon fell asleep with the ziploc beside his head----and I wonder, if he might be dreaming of all the vistas we passed through today on this Saturday.