I often sit and ponder about story ideas and many of them are centered around my children. A few months ago, I was giving my son a hug and I commented to him how magical his hugs were, which in that split second gave me a wonderful idea. What if there was a story about a boy with autism who possessed magic hugs? Who overcame his own struggles with affection and found that his hugs had the power to change the world….
Joshua sat there, frustration and anger brimming in his eyes.
‘This kid picks on me every single day and I am tired of it!!’
Every day played out the same way. Everyone would behave themselves while all the adults were around but as soon as the door would whoosh closed and the screech of the tires pulling away from the curb would fade… it would start. Josh tried his calming techniques every single time. He tried to find ways that were the least obvious. It goes without saying that a calming bottle made this brute of a guy roar with laughter, as did anything that he could squish in his hands. The bully would always start by making sounds that he knew would ONLY bug Josh, rubbing his fingernail against the rough surface of his notebook, clicking his pen repeatedly, tapping the seat in front of him lightly with the steel on his boot… anything that wouldn’t be perceived as loud or obnoxious so that way when Josh had an outburst, it was always HIS fault. Even though Josh was an articulate young man, often getting his feelings from the neurons in his brain to fire and relay messages to his mouth to inform the bus driver exactly what was going on got derailed on the way to his vocal chords. Usually what emitted was a loud burst of words or yelling.
‘Shut Up!!! Shut Up!!! I Hate You!!! None of Your Business!!! Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhhhhh!!!’
Reports would go home that Josh would lash out at this poor boy who was doing nothing wrong on the bus every day. The calming bottles and texture therapy were DIY projects of his mom. She was beside herself, thinking some sort of outside stimuli or even all the noise on the big bus were causing the meltdowns. He still hadn’t figured out the right words to tell her what was really going on. He had some breathing techniques down that had helped him curb them until he could rush off the bus and head over to his friend’s house. This had upset and thwarted the bully, but not for long.
Today he had back-up. A couple of new kids with very unfriendly faces had joined the bus route and he had heard them whispering about him for a few days. He grew nervous when the bully sat in a different spot than he was used to. He grew more agitated when he saw that one of the bully’s friends took what was normally Sally’s seat. Sally got on the bus saw her seat was taken, hesitated, shrugged and then sat at the front of the bus instead. Right after that, one of the new guys sat right next to him and the fourth behind him. They were strategically placing themselves in a circle. Josh started breathing slowly, trying not to do it too audibly for them to notice he was agitated. He was starting to sweat and twitch his foot back and forth. Then, it started. One by one, they all did something different. First, one of them started chewing gum, not just chewing but smacking their lips loudly while intermittently popping their gum. The second, started tapping their pencil on their notebook, with their head bent down to look like they were working on homework. The third guy, began to drum his fingernails on a hard bound textbook from school. Lastly, the piece de résistance from the leader of the group, was the sound of his pen clicking very slowly as he stared right at Josh in the eyes. It was too much. The anxiety of what Josh knew was going on was boiling inside of him. That son of a bitch!! His breathing faltered as he tried to catch his breath. He felt it coming on and he was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to stop it this time. He just needed to make it 1.2 miles longer. He had counted the street signs and he only had 8 more to go before he was in the clear. Tears tried to spring forth but his resolve today surprised even himself. He needed to finish his bus ride without an incident or the bully won. He didn’t understand why they picked on him. Easy prey? 6 more street signs to go, 5 more, 4 more. The sounds to anyone else would never have been heard over the roars and screams of the other kids on the bus, those he had trained himself to tune out, but this? 2 more street signs and the bully knew he was almost going to get off the bus unscathed. He nodded at his friends and they increased the tempo of their sadistic little urban band. 1 street sign left. Josh put his hands up to his ears. The bully grinned from ear to ear and blew him a kiss from across the aisle. The bus had barely started to brake when Josh had his backpack in hand and was racing down the aisle to the front of the bus, both hands planted firmly over his ears. The bus driver was shocked when Josh leaped from the bus onto the sidewalk only to have four figures quickly follow and dart after him. What?? This wasn’t their stop. This isn’t normal. They still continue with that incessant noise which now is mixed with the clicking of heels on pavement, the honking of horns and the barking of that annoying little dog two doors down.
‘ Why won’t they leave me alone?!!’
They circled him now with their instruments of pain. Not saying a single word but now perfectly in time with each other as if following some devilish metronome all connected in their heads. He was there. He couldn’t stop it. It was overwhelming him, soon he would reach a point he wouldn’t be able to stop it and then the screaming, the crying. Today he would finally lash out, giving them the excuse he knew they were looking for to finally beat the crap out of him. He stood rigid as a statue as the hate started to completely fill his body and overwhelm his brain, when something else started to take over. A wave of calm washed over his body. It started at his toes and slowly crept its way up his scrawny legs, to his torso, crawling to the tips of his fingers to his neck, relaxing his jaw and cheeks, sending a tingling to his brain. In this stasis an overwhelming desire to… bear hug him filled his brain. Not bear hug him and throw him to the ground and pummel the living daylights out of him, but give him a warm, genuine, and heartfelt embrace. For anyone who knew Josh, this would have come as a shock. He was as affectionate as cat was delighted about leaping into a bath tub full of water. Yet in this moment, in this split second, the thought so consumed him that he impulsively acted on it. Rushing towards him, Josh grabbed him around the shoulders and quickly wrapped him up in his arms. Cheek to cheek, bodies squeezed together he hugged and loved on this torturer with as much love as he could muster. All four bullies stopped the instant this happened, shocked at the event that just quickly unfolded. At first, the bully now caught in Josh’s embrace tried to struggle against it thinking this was some sort of tactic to take him down. Slowly, as Josh hugged him harder the bully’s resistance slackened. A look of peace came over his face. With trepidation, the bully’s arms slowly rose from his sides and enveloped Josh as well in an embrace. Heartfelt and full of love, the two boys stood there and hugged on one another for a few minutes. A crowd had gathered during this entire ordeal and the three friends stood looking at each other glassy eyed, not knowing what to do. Josh was the first to loosen his grip on the hug. He backed away in a dazed state and looked down at himself. No cuts, scrapes or bruises. He looked back at the bully he had just backed away from. The look of disgust, and hatred was replaced by a look of love, warmth and understanding. As he took a step forward, Josh tried to take a big step backwards but the bully caught him by the forearm and pulled him closer to him face to face. Standing nose to nose with his tormentor the bully teared up, smiled and said “I’m sorry.” He pulled him forward and crushed him in his arms. He then looked to his three dazed friends, nodded and they slowly snaked their way through the crowd away from Josh. As the crowd dispersed, leaving Josh all alone he gazed down at his body and held out his arms.