Last week, Jari and I took the bus. We had a 20 minute layover before making our connection. It was cold and snowing so we huddled in the busstop with 4 other travellers. Everything was pretty normal. There were 2 high school girls there dressed in trendy clothes with cell phones and earphones hanging around their necks, one late 20's guy with a camo backpack and long ponytail, and another high school aged student, maybe 18ish, cleancut and looking just like any other typical teen.
I am a people watcher. And an eavesdropper. I find it so interesting to pick up bits of information about other people's lives and devise fantasy lives for them. So, I was listening to the girls discussing their math class, and one pulled out her book where she showed her friend her test. I could tell she was proud of the results, and though I wanted a closer look to see what she was studying and her grade, I held myself back and just listened.
Suddenly, the young man came to life. His voice boomed out through the enclosed bus house and shocked me with his loudness. As he spoke, his sentences were jumbled, his tone too high. He was extremely overexcited. He started telling the girl that his math was harder than hers and he is the best in math and....and and and. I didn't know it, but the girls knew the guy, probably from sharing busses or a class with him previously, and reacted as if there was nothing strange going on.
The 20-something guy had a little smirk on his face, and I think he was also a people watcher/eavesdropper. Jari looked up at me with his huge eyes, a slight smile on his lip. Quietly he asked when the bus was coming. The guy continued to shout about school and the cold and his bus schedule, all in what he considered a normal voice. At one point as he cursed about school, one of the girls asked him to watch his language and pointed at Jari. The guy answered Öh yeah"" and though he was still animated, I didn't hear him curse again.
The girls eventually put in their earphones trying to escape his energy. I was never involved in the conversation, but found it so interesting. His mannerisms, his voice, his obsession with bus times, his trying to fit in in a world where it doesn't come naturally. His bus was late, and he was cold and unhappy. He tried to make his point by discussing the politics of the bus company, yet he didn't really know what he was talking about, or if he did, he was having difficulty expressing it. As the girls tuned him out listening to music, he decided to copy their behavior and got out his own music player....but he had no headphones to silence the music for others. He turned on his jump music extra loud, holding his music player out so we could all see it, looking at all our faces to make sure we noticed he had one too. He started dancing to the music, quietly nodding his head at first and then his arms and eventually his legs dancing to the rhythm. The girls giggled, asking him what group it was. He didn't respond til his dance was done. As he realized their earphones were put away, he lowered the volume on his and started talking (shouting) again, this time about music. When a bus came through and stopped at another stop, he took off to ask the driver why his bus was so late.
The girls then watched him, like a hawk. They discussed his weirdness, his misunderstanding of how people are supposed to act, and their interest in whether he was just going to take another bus or catch the correct one when it arrived. The guy came sauntering back over when a disruption across the street captured all our attention. Some teen had knocked over an elderly lady's bike, and she was angry. The guy from our bus stop screamed over across the street: HEY, YOU TRYING TO BREAK THE OLD LADY'S BIKE? with a laugh. The old lady walked away gesturing her hands, the teens righted the bike laughing nervously, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. The girls then noticed another friend and they came over, all talking, as the guy forced his way into the conversataion in close proximity with the girls, though it was obvious he didn't know these new people.
The bus arrived. I was relieved. I don't know why I was relieved. Jari, whose hand was nestled safely in mine the past 10 minutes released my hold, and he spoke to me in a normal quiet tone, rather than the quiet whisper when the others were present. He was also relieved. All I could do was consider the guy...the kid who so wanted to be just another kid, who wanted to fit in, who wanted to have friends to talk about school with, who wanted to be cool...but who wasn't. He so reminded me of my own son, and I was so confused about how to feel.
On one hand, the kid was attending school, taking the bus on his own, and obviously managing it all okay. He was making small talk, even if not in the most accepted way, and he even asked for help when he was concerned about his own late bus. On the other hand, it was obvious he had some infliction, something just not quite right, something that set him apart and made him react in inappropriate ways. Was it autism? I don't know, but it most certainly COULD have been. He reminded me a LOT of Kaeden.
It was an eye-opening experience. I was pleased with the girls for treating him respectfully to his face, as well as teaching him social skills by asking him to tone down his language. Yet, when he left the bus stop, they laughed at him behind his back...a sure sign he was different.
When my own bus came, I stepped on, wondering about the guy, where he would go, what he'd tell his mom about his day. And I said a little prayer for him and my own son.