A sign. A street.
The sign hangs crooked, bent over with age. The green paint fades into the white letters. Nobody knows what it used to say. Three-foot-three, she drums her fingers repetitively against the steel.
Her hands slump from the sign without a word. Not that she has any words to slump with.
There are no words on this street anymore.
Her tip-toes toe what was once a hopscotch board, now a faded, dusty frame. She scratches the sores under her shirt, puckered "o's" where the electrodes were stuck.
On the left. three fat steps descend to the sidewalk. The paint on the door is faded. The sign above the door reads "A Hopeful Place." She can read the sign. Everybody thinks she can't.
Lots of places like this have moved in on the street. Some of them have classes where kids get held down until they look into a pair of eyes, or where their hands are shoved into painful things like paint and water. Where a gummy bear means a positive behavior. Where you get drilled on the same things over and over because your body does not report what you know.
Some of them are clinics where children are fed pungent solutions, some that leave them with debilitating pain. They have tubes put in their arms. Sometimes the kids come out with their faces covered in a sheet, their bodies not moving anymore. Inside A Hopeful Place, there are tables and chairs with straps on them. When she was inside this building, she was strapped to a table and burned by the electrodes that they stuck to her body to make her learn. Because the street is a place of learning.
She has made rapid progress since she walked through those doors.
She no longer talks like herself. She talks like the other kids on the street now. Crisp, clear sentences, full sentences, pronouns. Without repetition, without free-form cadence. With her mouth, not her hands. But her words don't mean anything anymore. They're just a script, a routine that she's learned to act out. This is how she survives the street.
She no longer moves like herself. She moves, like every other child, in predictable gestures, straight lines up and down her arms and legs and back. She moves with quiet hands. She moves pieces of herself as far away as she can. She locks them out. This is how she...
She no longer gazes at the trickle of a faucet. She no longer stares at the creases of her hands. At the glint of a bracelet. Now, she cements her gaze onto pairs of eyes, lets them invade her, tries to understand their speech sounds while the eyes and their emotion commotion fill her head with static. She can never remember their words, but the eyes are all that matter on the street. She doesn't remember the A's, B's, and C's that they recite while she is staring into their eyes.
She can recall the words they used to say around her. "Independent " (she will never be.) "Intelligence" (there are no signs of.) "Functioning" (she is low.) "Career" (she will never have.) "Comprehend" (she does not.) "Severe." "Finances." "Divorce." "Competence." "Behavior." "Manipulative." "Willful." "Failed." "Fault." "Suicide." "Depressed." "Give up." "Lost." "Stolen." "Missing." "Empty."
"Hope" (that she will become something they can be proud of.)
The words she hears now threaten to put her in past tense. Relegate her to an Autistic yesterday. "Recovering." "Progress." "Healing." "Improving." "Indistinguishable." "Typical." "Reduced." "Acquired." "Reclaimed."
She has walked through the faded doors. She has stepped back onto the street, subjugated, jaded into compliance. She has been trained to subdue herself. The shocks cease when she learns to suppress what comes naturally. Her song that is not good enough for anyone else to accept.
She does as she was trained to do. She does it so well. So she is released to the kindness of the street.
The kids on the street accept her now, because they look past what she struggles with. They do not look at what she struggles with. They do not look at her. They pretend that she is someone who they can accept, someone who is just like them.
It's okay to like her because she is just like us. Elmo told them so. Elmo told them that she was just like them. Big Bird told them that there was hope for her. Grover told them that she could get better if she got special help.
Special help from those sun-bleached brick buildings. Special help from A Hopeful Place.
She does not want any more special help from those faded doors and those big, blocky steps. The colorful signs that hang from the bricks, advertising hope.
With her quiet hands brushing the fabric of her skirt, she watches her feet step-by-step-by-step down the cracked sidewalk, her shoes sending tiny rocks skittering with each step. She drags her heavy legs sadly past Mr. Hooper's empty store, past a cracked and sagging doorpost that has seen too many sunny days, bone-white and splintering off in pieces.
All the color has washed out of everything on the street. A long time ago, people here used to celebrate all the different colors that make the world so wonderful. Now, the people's claims of tolerance and diversity have ceased to have meaning to the children of the street.
Now, everything is faded.
The once-sweet air blows loose and swirling dust through the store's open windows. Friendly neighbors' doors are all closed, and windows are boarded up. Fear of life's vibrant color locks the friendly neighbors captive inside. Nobody wants to meet where the color is brilliant and the doors open wide to children's minds. Instead, clouds obscure the many shades.
Clouds cast everyone in uniform gray.
Puzzle pieces adorn the street. They drain away all the colors of the children, leaving only dust and splintering boards.
This is a pretend-nice place.
A brightly colored top in a patch of grass distracts the eye from the listless uniformity of the people. Even the chalk-rainbow on the next sidewalk square has been washed away.
Ernie slouches his way down the opposite sidewalk, a watery half-smile sitting atop his chin. He lifts one hand kindly, but his shoulders droop under the heavy clouds that cannot be chased away. Cracked sidewalk rises to carry his feet through the quiet. Rust reaches out to him from broken pipes, trying to stain him with surrender.
This is the street. The street is broken. For Autistics, it will always be. Broken. Because this is what Sesame Street has said to us.
You can be fixed. You can be just like your friends. We can help you. You are welcome on our street... if you learn to be someone else.
A sign hangs crooked in the background. It once said "Sesame."
A hopscotch board, with no numbers, only labels.
This is the street.
It is broken.
Kitt McKenzie Martin