Who knew heaven was in South Dakota?

Leave it to Pixar to trigger anxiety. The visually stunning style and sparse dialogue of Up turns out to have had a profound impact on my visual learner – to the point that Carl and his Ellie have turned into a giant metaphor for loss and death that has Our Boy covering every calendar in sight in hopes that he can stop the march of time. He keeps trying to delete the calendar off of my iPod and insists that there must be a way for us to get back to 2001 – if asked why he chooses to go back to that specific year he will not answer. I am trying to avoid putting my own spin on that one. Any four digit number prompts the query “is that a year?” in hopes that he can somehow manipulate the calendar to suit his needs. He expresses it quite frankly: “I do not want to grow up and die and go to heaven; I do not want all of the people dead and for the dinosaurs to take over the world.” Apparently there’s a little Jurassic Park creeping in there, too.

As luck (don’t ask which kind) would have it we had a visit with a psychiatrist scheduled – not for this purpose but to help us better define the line between adolescence and autism – you’d be surprised how fuzzy that one is. Still, based on the usual performance at appointments of any kind, I did not have high hopes for this one; standard operating procedure for any doctor visit is laying down and going to sleep. This is Our Boy’s response to stress and you have to give him credit – it works. He has fallen into a dead sleep at Fenway Park and at any number of action movies. Total system shutdown.

But this time it turned out to be different. In preparation for the visit I told him that this doctor might be able to help him with what he calls his “worried heart.” The tale of Ellie and Carl had resurrected, so to speak, Our Boy’s own experiences with death, specifically the loss of both his own grandmothers and a neighborhood family that lost its grandmother two summers ago. Nana was a matriarch, a fixture at neighborhood parties with acerbic wit and a Tanqueray martini. She had a gravelly voice and a vast array of opinions; she taught her grandchildren to cook and play poker. Her late husband shared a name with Our Boy and thus she always and a soft spot for him and spoke very kindly to him, but she was memorable by any standards, particularly since his own grandmothers had lived far away and been less a part of day to day life.

Clearly, the prospect of understanding death and possible time travel made this an appointment worth staying awake for. Dr. J turned out be a lovely person with an easy way of speaking to children with communication issues – no big surprise since she is at the top of her field by any standards, but I had been disappointed by people touted as experts before. Autism is a great equalizer in that regard – people who are accustomed to impressing impressionable people who measure success by counting the degrees on their walls carry no weight with the autistic unless, maybe, they can also operate a steam engine or recite prime numbers to 23 places.

But Dr. J got Our Boy to talk about his worries about “becoming a skeleton” and going to heaven (so far we have completely avoided hell and purgatory). She got him to admit that heaven might not be a bad place, and asked him to draw a picture of it. I wish I had asked for a copy but I will try to describe it. He drew two wavy lines at the top and bottom of the page (“clouds”) and three stick figures who had heart-shaped torsos with wings sprouting from them. The circular heads had halos and smiling faces, and the center figure was slightly above the other two. “It’s Nana and the two grandmothers!” I thought.

Dr. J pointed to the center angel, “Who’s this?”

“My neighbor Nana.” She pointed to the second figure and peered over her glasses at him but said nothing.

“That’s Teddy Roosevelt” he piped up, as if there could be no other answer. I started to speak but squelched it.

She tapped the third angel “And this one?”

“Abraham Lincoln! They are all in heaven together? I will meet them all in heaven?” Many of his declarations come in the form of questions.

Turns out that to Our Boy, heaven is a lot like Mount Rushmore. Which explains why I am always finding images of that monument on my iPod.

It’s an exercise in forensic media and life exposure: this is what happens when the autistic mind mixes the following ingredients: a younger brother who is always reading books about presidents, endless viewings of Night at the Museum movies, a 2005 visit to the Museum of Natural History, National Treasure Book of Secrets, Jurassic Park, an election year (lots of shots of the Lincoln Memorial on TV), Up, and multiple experiences with death.

So, I wonder what would happen if we were to thrown in North by Northwest and Field of Dreams?

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