Claire’s nerves were positively shot. The past ten or so hours had been hell for her poor daughter, and, subsequently, for her as well. The first incident had arisen from the fact that four-year-old Faith had never been in such a crowded setting before. Immediately upon stepping through the doors of the airport and seeing the bustling hoards of people, she had begun yanking on her mother’s hand, digging her stubborn heels into the tile, and screaming her head off. Claire had come prepared; she had her noise-canceling headphones for the flight, but she hadn’t anticipated needing them for the airport itself. In actuality, it wasn’t really that loud, and so this tantrum had her absolutely dreading the upcoming flight.
Claire was used to the stares, the disapproval, the tuts of sympathy. She’d even heard her fair share of blatant, verbal criticism of her parenting. So, she let that roll off her back. What she wasn’t used to was Airport Police coming up to her and questioning what her intentions were with her own child. She’d had to stammer to them while her face and neck flushed red, tears of embarrassment stinging her eyes.
“Yes, I am her mother—You don’t understand; she has autism. She’s never been somewhere so crowded before. She’s just overwhelmed.”
Have you never bloody seen a child throw a tantrum before?
Well, perhaps they had, but they certainly hadn’t been privy to a Faith tantrum.
Panic began clenching her gut, remembering the time she’d been asked to leave a grocery store because Faith had wet herself, then proceeded to roll around on the floor, inconsolable. That had been the worst one to date.
This one was quickly rivaling it, however.
They asked her to provide proof that Faith was her child; proof that she was not kidnapping her .
“I can’t let go of her hand—please, she’ll run outside and right into traffic.”
“I’ll hold onto her, ma’am.”
“ No —”
It was too late. The man put a hand on Faith’s shoulder, and all hell broke loose. Claire had to tighten her grip on her hand to the point of her knuckles whitening. If Faith was screaming before, now she was howling . The Airport Police were in a frenzy; they had no idea what to do.
“Faith! Darling, please, it’s alright.”
Claire let their suitcases go, dropped her purse and fell to her knees to wrap her arms around Faith’s middle from behind. It wasn’t long before a little fist collided with her lip. At some point in the proceedings, Claire had managed to say: “Look for our passports your fucking self if you really must have proof that she’s mine.”
“Faith! Faith Julia Randall, if you don’t stop this right now, there will be no dessert tonight.”
Another loud wail.
“Do you hear me? I’m going to count to ten, Faith. By ten, if you are not quiet, no dessert .”
Claire tasted blood in her mouth. Seemed that her daughter had given her another fat lip.
By some bloody miracle, her thrashing was finally starting to calm.
The screaming stopped.
Faith’s full bodyweight collapsed into Claire, and Claire let out a sigh of relief. “Okay. There you go. Good girl…good girl.”
She rocked her gently, kissed her head. “Good girl, Faith. It’s alright now.”
The Airport Police were still standing there, stunned into silence.
“Uh…ma’am…your lip is bleeding.”
“I’m aware, thank you,” Claire snapped before returning her attention to Faith. “Shh…it’s alright…”
“I’m, uh…sorry for making it worse, ma’am,” the other officer said softly. “Would, uh…this help?”
He held something down to her, pointedly reaching for Claire and not Faith. Claire looked up to see him holding out a set of little plastic wings, clearly some “junior assistant pilot” badge they occasionally gave out to children.
“It might. Thank you.”
“I’m Officer Hansen, ma’am. Is there anything else we can do for you?”
“Just…just watch my bags until I’ve gotten her calm. Thank you.”
“Hey…Faithie…” Claire crooned, stroking her tear soaked cheek. “Look what Mummy has.” She held the little wings in her palm in front of Faith’s eyes. “Do you want to be a pilot, Faith? What about that?”
Hiccuping and coughing through her tears, she reached out for the wings and held them in her hands, examining them closely.
“Do you like it?”
Faith nodded ever-so-slightly.
“Shall we put it on?” She gently turned Faith around and took the pin in her hand, fastening it to a belt loop. Faith did not wear pins or wristbands in a conventional manner. The feeling of something poking her skin through her shirt or something rubbing her wrist caused her sensory overload, so the belt loop is where such things ended up.
Claire took her hand and made to stand up, but Faith uttered an indignant noise that froze her in her spot. She sighed in surrender.
“I’m afraid she’s going to make me carry her, or else we’ll all be privy to another tantrum…” Claire said, scooping her up and settling her on her hip. “Could you…would it be terribly inconvenient if you were to help with our luggage?”
“We’re police, ma’am, not busboys — ”
“I’d be happy to help, ma’am.” Officer Hansen cut the other officer off.
“Thank you, thank you so much.” Claire practically burst into tears, overwhelmed with gratefulness.
She’d underestimated how difficult it would be to travel with a child as special as Faith alone.
Claire shook her head. She didn’t want to think about Frank right now.
Keeping Faith calm by making criss-cross patterns on her back with her fingertips and making a rushing “shh” noise in her ear for white noise, Claire and the officer made their way to the check-in counter. He handled her purse,credit card, and ID as well, and Claire could have gotten on her knees and kissed his feet. She could tell he was genuinely sorry for what had happened as a result of his and his partner’s ignorance, and he was determined to see that they got on their flight in one piece.
He also got them through pre-check, using his privileges to escort them through the faster line. Once they were through, he handed her back her purse and Faith’s carry-on Frozen backpack.
“I’ve put the boarding passes at the top so you can get to them easier. In case you never get to put her down.” He smiled apologetically. “I really am sorry — ”
“Please, it’s alright,” Claire said. “I really, really appreciate all you’ve done for us. You have no idea how hard it is to do this…”
“Alone,” he finished for her.
“Yeah.” Claire nodded.
“If there’s anything else you need, you can ask anybody with a walkie-talkie to page Officer Hansen. Alright?”
She smiled warmly. “Thank you. Truly.”
He nodded curtly and then went off.
The second incident had arisen when they’d come across a kiosk selling mini cereal boxes, and Faith’s eye had been caught by a box of Fruit-Loops that had Elsa on it. Claire had been loath to buy more cereal, being that she already had plain cheerios in Faith’s carry-on that had been much cheaper than the robbery for which the Fruit Loops were selling. She tried to resist, but fearing prompting another tantrum, she yielded. She bought the box and stealthily managed to switch the bag of Fruit Loops inside the box with the bag of Cheerios, knowing full well that the sugar content of the Fruit Loops would make the upcoming flight unbearable.
So there they sat, waiting at the terminal, Faith kicking her legs and bouncing while clutching her tablet, watching Frozen with her noise-cancelling headphones on with Claire occasionally popping a Cheerio into her open mouth.
The third incident had arisen when it was time to board and Claire tried to put Faith’s pink sequined sleep-mask over her eyes to prevent her from seeing how close-quarters the aircraft was. She’d immediately moaned in protest, unwilling to tear her eyes away from the movie. Claire knew she was taking a leap of faith (and she laughed to herself at the pun), but with bated breath she allowed Faith to simply walk onto the boarding bridge with her nose stuck in her tablet.
Before long, she was seated and buckled, tablet in her lap, her eyes never having left the screen.
It bloody worked.
Claire could have cried with relief.
Claire had to plead with the stewardess to convince her that Faith’s tablet was not a “large electronic device,” and the stewardess had conceded; as long as it stayed in her lap and the tray remained in the upright position, Faith could keep watching her movie.
The fourth incident, of course, occurred when the plane started to take off. Even with noise-cancelling headphones, the rushing mechanical noise and the feeling of the vibration everywhere was too much for her. She clamped her hands over her headphones, and she immediately began squirming, trying to unbuckle her seatbelt. Then, of course, the sensation of the take-off itself did not help at all. Claire had given herself a pep-talk every morning leading up to this flight for weeks: “It’s not your fault. The people judging you have no idea what you deal with every day. You can’t help her sensory overload. Ignore them.”
But she still couldn’t help the rush of embarrassed heat on her neck as the familiar side-eyes and conspicuous whispers began.
After literally clamping her hands down on Faith’s shoulders to keep her seated for about an hour, Faith finally became engrossed in the movie again. Claire had also prepared in that she knew getting Faith to use the bathroom on the aircraft would be a disaster. Since being potty-trained was still relatively new--even though she was four, potty-training an autistic child was a whole different animal--Claire had put a fresh pull-up on her right before they boarded to prevent as many trips as possible.
Finally, ten or so hours since the initial meltdown, Claire was standing at baggage claim, holding her sleeping daughter. She’d fallen asleep with about two hours left in the flight and slept straight through the descent and the landing, thank God. Claire had never been particularly religious, but she’d had the urge to cross herself upon realizing she’d be avoiding a fifth incident.
When the blaring alarm sounded, signaling that the baggage claim carousel was beginning, Faith jolted awake in her arms.
She began wailing again, clamping her hands over the headphones.
Do those bloody things cancel any noise?
Admittedly, it could have been worse. It seemed that she was just alarmed to be woken so suddenly, because, after about twenty seconds, she was calm again. Claire had to put her down to collect their baggage, and she struggled greatly to get the suitcase off the moving carousel with one hand. Letting go of Faith’s hand was simply not an option.
She was eternally grateful, then, to the stranger who helped her with both bags.
Bloody ironic that you’ve met two strange men today that have done more for you and your daughter than her own father.
Pushing that dark thought aside once more, Claire made her way to the taxi pick up area and strapped Faith into the rental car seat. Their 11:20 departure from Heathrow International had landed them at MacArthur Airport at 2:07 on the dot. After a seven hour and forty-five minute flight, there was only a twenty-two minute taxi drive and then they’d finally be in their new home: an apartment complex only a few miles away from Stony Brook University Hospital, where Claire would be doing her residency.
She’d never particularly imagined herself living in (or on , as they say here) Long Island of all places. After her unconventional and rather rugged upbringing, thinking of herself living in suburbia, only about an hour from those Hamptons she’d heard so much about, was enough to make her chuckle to herself. Gillian had assured her that the entire island wasn’t like the stereotype she’d imagined, which had slightly put her mind at ease. That wasn’t what had drawn her there, of course.
She’d been drawn to the area by a great many things. She wanted to be away from the cluttered, cramped feeling of Europe; away from Frank, quite honestly, as far as possible. She didn’t want to be in a city; she knew the noise would be far too much for Faith. The quiet suburbs of Long Island seemed to fit, and she’d heard excellent things about Stony Brook. Lastly, and most importantly were the amazing things she’d heard about equine therapy for special needs children. There were such places in England, but none had as many glowing reviews as the one that was only an eighteen minute drive from their new home: Harmony Stables.
Faith had always had an affinity for animals, and Claire felt guilty that she couldn’t commit to taking care of a dog so that she could have a service dog. It wasn’t the finances, per se, just the thought of having two lives to look after on her own was an overwhelming thought. Perhaps someday when they were settled. Faith’s psychiatrist in Oxfordshire had suggested some sort of animal therapy, and she spoke of the wonders equine therapy had done for a previous patient. At this point, Claire would try anything. Anything to calm the horrible anxiety that she knew plagued her daughter every second of any given day. The Risperdal was not doing much on its own. As much as the meltdowns fried Claire’s nerves and caused her much embarrassment, she was certain they fried Faith’s nerves about ten times as much. If learning to ride and forming a connection with a horse could take away even a fraction of that crippling anxiety, Claire would pay any amount of money to make that happen.
She’d also, of course, done research regarding her education. She was aware of the specific needs of her non-verbal autistic daughter; knew she needed to learn to communicate, either find someone to coax words out of her or learn sign language, knew she needed to learn how to read and how to behave in a public setting. She’d already made arrangements for a private tutor to come to the house like she’d done in Oxfordshire. She’d been in contact with a Mrs. Lickett, a lovely woman. Together, they would decide if Faith would be ready for a special needs kindergarten class come next fall, or if they should wait another year. Mrs. Lickett had assured her that it was common for children like Faith to continue with private instruction and wait to start real school until six or seven.
Claire’s reverie was broken when she felt the taxi stop and she looked up with wide eyes at the building before her. The buildings in the complex were only two stories high, the grass was neatly trimmed, and the doors were all stark white with shimmering gold numbers.
Well, it’s not a cul-de-sac housing development, but it sure still feels like suburbia.
Number eleven was theirs, on the second floor. The cab driver helped with the luggage as Claire tugged Faith up the stairs, eyes still glued to her tablet, which was now playing Sesame Street. Claire’s fingers shook as she pushed the key into the lock, and she exhaled sharply when she took in the sight of the living room. She’d had most of the things she didn’t want to replace sent over about a week and a half ago, along with ordering new essentials like furniture and mattresses. But the movers and delivery men hadn’t bothered to keep anything separated by room like she’d requested, except for the furniture itself. Sighing deeply, she sat Faith on the couch beside a stack of boxes and paid the taxi driver, thanking him profusely.
God…where do I even begin?
Claire supposed she should start with finding and unpacking bedroom items, preferring to have both of their beds made before they crashed tonight. Kitchen stuff could wait; they’d most definitely be getting takeout tonight…and probably every night for the foreseeable future.
She started to rifle through boxes and then she smiled and turned to Faith, intending to let her know how very exciting it was to be in their new home, but she bit her tongue. It would perhaps be better to leave her, for now, completely engrossed in the tablet. If Claire interrupted her now, who knows when she’d be able to get anything done? Sadness tugged at her heart briefly as she watched her daughter, a vague, absent smile on her face. She wondered if she had any idea at all what was going on, if she’d be anxious in a new environment, if it wouldn’t phase her at all, if she was excited. She had no way of communicating her thoughts and emotions, even to her own mother, and it was times like this where that thought pained Claire the most.
She wanted nothing more than to blast her Disney playlist and christen the new living room with their dancing, to revel in this new beginning with her daughter. But for the sake of productivity, that would have to wait.
With a heavy sigh, Claire returned to her boxes, intent on finding bedsheets and blankets. She wanted to turn on music, knowing that she worked better that way, but she didn’t want anything to distract Faith from her, well, distraction. She settled on humming “Let it Go,” of all things, to herself while she worked to find what they’d need to carry out the rest of the day with some semblance of normalcy.