December 7, 2003

Facts About Steven

There was once a boy named Steven. Quite a few years ago, on this December day, my life was forever altered by him.

Steven was autistic but highly functional. I know that sounds bad. It sounds clinical. It sounds insensitive. But its not. He was a bright kid and a good friend.

Because of his autism, Steven had a hard time communicating with his friends and family. So he told jokes. You could have entire conversations in which you heard nothing but jokes. Most of the time, though, he’d break in with real comments when he had to. But the jokes, that was his way of talking, of letting you know who he was.

Steven had gone to a special school but had graduated with flying colors. He ended up attending the toughest prep school in Texas. They call that being “mainstreamed.” It sounds clinical. It sounds insensitive.

Steven’s father was a well-known guy in the community. His face was everywhere – literally. His mom was a special education teacher – oh the irony – and his younger brother was learning disabled.

Steven’s family had a cabin in the woods in Texas. We used to call it East Jesus. “The cabin’s in East Jesus,” we used to say. If someone were to ask where we were going we’d say “clear out where Jesus left his right sandal.” The first time we ever went out there, I was in the back of their pickup being all redneck and the younger brother said, “Trust me, we know where we’re going.” It was one of the worst half-hour rides I’ve ever been on, and while it was clear they had a definite target in mind, the music from Deliverance kept running through my brain.

Steven’s dad drove a Porsche. The fact that he was almost seven feet tall and on TV made him truly larger than life.

One December we received a phone call at our house. It was clear from the look on my mom’s face that something was wrong. She told me something was wrong at Steven’s house. We got in the car and headed over.

Steven was under a lot of pressure at school. He had hopes of attending a local university and had even gotten accepted early contingent upon the maintenance of his good grades. But mid-year, he’d had problems on a few tests and hadn’t done extremely well. We didn’t know this until later.

Steven often took long drives. He’d take his car, a beat-up 68 Chevy Nova, out but never long enough to cause anyone to worry. Sometimes he’d call his parents and let them know that he was at the cabin. He’d stay there all night and drive back the next day. He never missed school, never partied, never caused his parents to worry.

When my mom and I got to Steven’s house, we found the front door unlocked and Steven’s mom sitting on the floor just inside. Her face was ashen, tear-streaked, hair out of place. There was a silence to the house that seemed to envelop us, blocking out the sounds of the real world outside, sucking us into whatever it was that had happened. When we arrived, she stood up, looked us over and said, “I haven’t called anyone else. I don’t know what to do.”

Steven was tall, like his parents. Watching him eat breakfast was seriously entertaining. While he cracked the inevitable jokes, he’d find a salad bowl and dump the better part of a box of Cheerios into it. Whatever room was left, he’d fill with milk, then wrap his huge hand around the bowl and lift it closer to his face. Using a massive spoon, he’d usually have the whole thing consumed in a few minutes, telling jokes the whole time.

Steven’s mom repeated herself. It was as if she only knew the same few sentences. They consisted of “I haven’t called anyone else,” “I don’t know what to do,” “He’s in the bedroom,” “I just got home and found everything like this,” and “What will his father say?”

Steven told us that year that he didn’t want anything for Christmas. He said he was going to have to get rid of his Rockets tickets in early December because he wouldn’t be using them. He said he thought he might not actually get into that university.

My mom went into the bedroom and emerged looking much like Steven’s mom. She called my dad. My dad got there twenty minutes later. No one spoke until he arrived.

We called Steven’s dad who was at work, about to go on-air. “Something’s happened at home,” his wife explained. “There’s an emergency at home and I need you to come home now. Don’t drive fast in that car of yours. Its not worth you getting hurt. I’m fine. Just come home now.” Her voice was steady, steadier than I think we had the right to expect.

Steven’s dad arrived. We’d still called no one else. My parents and I stepped to the back of the living room while Steven’s mom tried to quietly explain what had happened. As soon as the first words came out of her mouth, Steven’s dad bolted into the bedroom, almost knocking his wife off her feet. Almost instantly the screams started. And they seemed to continue for a lifetime. They seemed to embody suffering, be the true expression of the most profound grief I have ever heard. They were guttural, loud, angry and remorseful screams that emanated from some part of the body I have yet to discover I possess. When the screams were over, Steven’s father emerged, his white shirt red, blood on his hands.

Steven hadn’t told anyone that his concern over his grades was profoundly depressing him. He could have told jokes from now until the apocalypse but his fear of failure would never be allayed. Steven hadn’t told us that he’d been taking those long drives to the cabin in order to pick up the shotgun they kept there, to steal as many shells as he thought he’d need. He didn’t tell us that he’d fired the gun, felt the kick, figured out exactly how he’d do it. He wouldn’t fail. And he didn’t.

There was once a boy named Steven. He was my friend. He taught me that people can defy labels like “special,” “mainstream,” “functional” or “autistic.” He helped me learn that parents should never outlive their children. He showed me how profound a father’s love is. And he always had a joke handy and always made me laugh. I miss you.

Posted by Chris at December 7, 2003 5:53 PM

I'm actually crying right now. not only is that one of the most touching stories I've ever read, but you wrote it so well...

there really isn't anything to say, except that sometimes it's the people like that that make life worth living the best you can.

Posted by: Jessica at December 7, 2003 6:41 PM

I'm terribly sorry for your loss, but what a wonderful tribute.

Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Annessa at December 7, 2003 6:41 PM

*eyes watering*

So tell us one of his jokes :)

Posted by: Mel at December 7, 2003 9:28 PM

Thank you for sharing that.

Posted by: Olive at December 8, 2003 7:57 AM

Wow! That was very moving. It actually made me cry. :( I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I agree with Mel. Tell us one of his jokes.

Posted by: Ash at December 8, 2003 10:05 AM

Wow. Hopefully this doesn't sound insensitive, but what prompted you in the last few days to think of that memory?

Posted by: Kristi at December 8, 2003 10:34 AM

aw man, i waited until today to read this because it was long ... and now i'm at work reading it. fack. that's so sad.

Posted by: tj at December 8, 2003 11:36 AM

like a few others, i too am in tears. that is a touching story, and you wrote it well. you're a great friend to keep steven's memory alive.

Posted by: tiffanie at December 8, 2003 2:04 PM

There aren't many words that you can say when you read something like this. I am truly sorry for your loss. I know what it's like to loose someone like this, I also know how hard it is to form the words to express your grief. Not a day goes by that I don't ask 'why' and 'how' and 'what if'.
I can't even begin to say how much I miss my Dad, December 27th will be four years. I don't think Christmas will ever be the same for me, hell I know my life will never be the same.

Sending you guys hugs...

Posted by: Theresa at December 9, 2003 8:58 PM

:*( I am so very sorry. He sounds like he was an amazing person.

Posted by: Ann at December 10, 2003 7:17 PM


Posted by: stteven norman at December 25, 2003 9:38 PM

Ttis is a fantastic stoy

Posted by: at January 19, 2004 12:12 PM

I'm really sorry for the loss of Steven. He sounds like he was an incredible person. One to be very admired and very loved. And this was truly a moving and beautiful tribute to him.

Posted by: groovebunny at August 11, 2004 7:53 PM