Gold Bird Flight
11" x 14"
CROSSING THE STREET
Walking outside is an act of self-assertion.
I learned that when I was four. I looked at my world and saw that I had never crossed the street without an adult. I was determined to change that.
I walked out of the house one Sunday afternoon. I went to the nearest traffic light and crossed Seventy-First Street. I went down Yates, then turned at Seventy-Fourth Street until I found my nursery school.
I barely remember that place now. But I must have sensed my future self who would realize how pivotal that school would be.
My brother told me much later that the teacher was worried about me. I was quiet, too quiet. I didn’t play with the other children. I had a blank expression. And I rocked back and forth—some kind of self-soothing.
My teacher wondered if I had been exposed to trauma and told my mother that I should be tested for autism.
My mother was horrified. Her child was normal. No teacher would tell her otherwise. I just needed to grow out of it.
I remember standing in front of the school, pleased that I had walked so far. I decided to continue. I went up to Seventy-Fourth, up to Clyde Avenue. Then I made a turn that brought me back to Seventy-First Street. I walked until I found a diner. I was thirsty.
“Could I please have a Coke?” I sat at the counter. The waitress brought it to me. I remember that I didn’t finish it. I didn’t pay.
That waitress could have gone after me, but she smiled at me as I went out the door. I wondered if she celebrated my first walk outside like a regular kid.
I began to think of home as I continued. Mom would be proud of me because I had acted like a big girl, not the annoying little sister who followed everyone around. I could take care of myself.
My mother came out of the house and said: “Where were you?” She was mad.
I tried to explain that I was independent now, that I needed to cross the street so that people wouldn’t have to hold my hand. I told Mom she didn’t have to accompany me everywhere.
It was a triumph for me, but not my mother. She grabbed my hand as though to hit me, but I pulled it away.
After that day, I was sent next door any time my mother wasn’t around. She worked and went to night school. I got to know the next-door neighbor very well.
I remained painfully quiet until I turned fifteen. My dad would yell at me because I had no friends. He’d make me stand in a room with him until I would talk. I stood for a while.
I never found out if I was autistic. I still rock back and forth. Sometimes I cannot leave my house for days. I don’t know how to cry. I spend too much time on the computer.
I had my son tested at his school. It turned out he was gifted. We drove him to school until he was twelve. Then he learned to take the subway.
Susan Bertolino is an instructor in the Intellectual Heritage program at Temple University. She is originally from Chicago where she worked in the Chicago Public Schools as a bilingual elementary teacher. Susan is currently working on a memoir.
Nancy Parks, Fine & Mixed Media Artist, BFA from EUP, focuses on: printmaking, works on paper, book art. She’s exhibited in solo and group shows, and is a published poet and natural cook with published recipes. Her inspiration comes from nature, music, symbolism, written word, and life experiences.