On the morning of the brutal shootings that targeted Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana as well as others on a baseball field in Virginia, my special-needs millennial son woke me up in a state of high anxiety and distress that — given his multiple disabilities — literally put his life at risk.
His challenges include PTSD, OCD, Asperger’s syndrome and severe allergies that can bring on a deadly asthma attack. We call it “the perfect storm” for disaster because, despite all the appropriate medications at the ready (including a double-pack Epi-Pen), there have been occasions when nothing works and there’s been no time to get him to the hospital from where we live in rural Arizona.
Make no mistake. This conservative young man, who is pro-President Donald J. Trump and Roman Catholic, is no snowflake. He's rock-solid tough. He's been through the ringer in his short lifetime.
My son has taken brutal situations and prevailed time and again, no matter the odds. He was bullied and beaten up in college because his mere presence as "differently abled" offered non-disabled kids the opportunity to abuse him just for "fun." But he's a big guy and fought them off while remaining at the top of his class academically. Still, it's not being attacked personally that puts him at risk for life or death; it's a unique conflux that I've encountered with many multi-disabled kids.
For my own son, it all began with 9/11, when America was attacked in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. At the time, we were visiting my parents in Tenafly, New Jersey, from our home in the Southwest. Watching the footage on TV, my son almost died from an asthma attack. It was not brought on as usual by a bee sting, pesticide spray, or other allergen, but by something darkly interior about which I knew nothing before.
I brought him to every specialist I could to find out how to deal with the problem, but alas got nowhere. So as many moms do with disabled kids, I knew I needed to solve the mystery of my own child; we often know them better than anyone else.
It took time to put the pieces together; and eventually I realized the trigger that set off what we called "the trauma monster." It was when something he loved or greatly admired was destroyed by an evil act inconsistent with his Roman Catholic faith.
His forever all-time favorite place for fun in 1996 and 1997 was the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, including his favorite restaurant, Windows on the World. My then-young son appreciated its artistic grandeur, its height, scope and breadth that conveyed to a struggling multi-disabled child at 10 years old strength, toughness and freedom — just like those solid, architecturally superb buildings.
Just a few short years after that, disaster not only struck America with 9/11. It also had a devastating impact on my son, as he'd been up close and felt personally attached to what he loved so much (architecture) and the World Trade Center in particular. So he almost died from an asthma attack when he saw on the news the footage of the attacks on America. And this was the beginning of my need as a single working mom to learn how to connect the dots of his interior world with a protocol that would break the disaster-trauma cycle by all means necessary.
It took time, but I developed my own just-in-case scenario that works to this day to get him up and over "the trauma monster" that has stalked him since that horrific day in 2001.
So when it reared its ugly head after the shooting incident in Arlington, Virginia, in which Rep. Steve Scalise was struck — I followed it to the letter. (click on page 2 for the rest of the story)
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First, I grabbed hold of him — a hard hold, with my arms around him. This was not a loving embrace from a mother, but a purposeful, healing move to center him in a tactile way. It was meant (despite my own internal fears and worry) to convey complete calm, strength, and confidence in him.
Second, when I felt his body relax to the slightest degree, he became open enough to move out of this hold — and leave the room to take a hot shower. This coping mechanism has brought him (and still brings him) back to "what's normal," in terms of a daily morning routine of showering and getting on with his work, errands, and friends. It also provides another bit of distance between the internal distress he's feeling to a physical realm of calm.
Third, after he showered came the hard part. He has always wanted to go back to the news — TV or online — to get the latest updates. But then we'd be back in the bog again. So it takes a bribe: I hand him some money and ask (not demand; he's a millennial, after all) if he wants it to take out a few friends for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and maybe a movie that day. Again, this moves the interior tumult into another physically and therapeutically soothing realm.
On the day of the Virginia shootings, however, the answer from him was "no."
At this point I needed to check him for any sounds or indications of an allergic or other physical reaction. With that done and ticked off as fine — now I went for broke.
I have a montage of videos at the ready that I had his uncle (a software developer) put together years ago. It depicts some of the worst 20th-century disasters of inclement weather — tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis — and the wreckage left in their wake, along with historical events, including documentary footage of World Wars I and II.
Nine out of ten times, my son watches this; kids with with OCD and Asperger's thrive on repetition. The purpose of my approach was to put the shooting disaster into historical perspective with a worst-case scenario in order to bring him into a conversation that required focus and logic — like the cold, hard math formulas he loves with absolutely no emotional load attached.
I said, "This shooting was a tragedy and people were hurt. And so far it looks bad, but right now the only one dead is the gunman. Right?"
He nodded in agreement.
"We also know this evil could have been far worse — it might have been a massacre of all those innocent and good men you respect as part of the Republican Party. But that didn't happen because there were heroes to save the day — the Capitol Police were assigned to Congressman Scalise for protection, which ended up protecting everyone from certain death."
His eyes opened wider and I could almost hear his impeccable logic at work, rolling it to the end of the tape in his mind.
And so it ended here — with the following discussion requiring his input.
I asked him, "As a Roman Catholic, who do you believe pulled off this apparent 'lucky coincidence'?"
He smiled because it's a set-up question, and of course — he knew the drill.
He replied, "Come on, Mom. This was evil, and Our Lord made sure He wouldn't let evil win. He knows what's coming — always. He's the boss."
"Right," I replied. "And now let's pray the Holy Rosary."
And so we, mother and son, did exactly that.
The author, a retired attorney, is a published poet, writer, and columnist based in Arizona.