The water was crystal clear and smooth as glass during our trip back from our grocery run. The sun beat down on us with force on this warm July day, but the wind from our ride kept dad and me nice and cool. It was a great day for a boat ride, which is why dad and I chose today to make our run into town to replenish the house with food. The boat ride into town was ten miles across the bay.
It was usually a nice ride, as the bay never got too rough except during really windy days. The boat’s the quickest way into town because the road in is curvy and unpaved. It isn’t taken care of very well. Why should it be? The only place it leads to is our house, which is the only thing on this side of the island. Past our family is nothing; there are no good beaches and no attractions to bring anyone out here. It doesn’t matter though, we don’t mind the boat the ride. It’s a straight shot into town. It cuts half the time off it would take to drive the truck to the store.
As our log house appeared, I could see my mom through the window. She was sitting on the couch reading one of her magazines, I couldn’t tell which one from this far. Dad eased up to the dock and I grabbed hold of it, jumping off and tying us on. The back screen door opened as dad started handing me groceries.
Mom yelled “hello” to us and gave us a wave. Before the sleepwalking started, mom would come out here and help us take in groceries. That way, it would only take one trip. However, even though it was just about a 30-yard trek from the dock to the house, it was never good for Anne to be in the house alone while sleeping. No chances are taken in this household.
It was 2:30 in the afternoon, so Anne would still be asleep. I had to be quiet as I walked the groceries into the kitchen, even though mom had just shouted us a greeting as we were riding up on the boat. I silently walked through the living room and dining room and then veered left into the kitchen. I walked straight to the counter and set the grocery bags onto it. I turned around as dad walked past me and set the groceries he was carrying next to mine. We both started walking toward the screen door to get the rest.
“How was the ride, boys?” Mom asked us, back to reading her magazine.
“It was great mom. Crystal clear water and smooth sailing for us!” I said excitingly.
I loved the boat. The weekly ride into town was always my favorite time of the week during the summers. I always wanted to go on more boat rides than our weekly trip, but money was tight for gas. Plus, my dad always said,
“If you want to be in the water more, just jump off the dock!”
Anne woke up right at 3:00 pm, as usual. She took a mid afternoon nap from 2:00 to 3:00 everyday of the week. She did a lot of things the exact same way everyday, as autistic children usually develop routines. Each morning she would wake up at 7:30 am and eat breakfast. Then she would play outside and follow dad around as he did his work, usually tending to the chickens and few cows that we had. If it was raining, she’d play inside, but she’d be very gloomy about it. She would then eat lunch at noon and then play some more after that, preferably outside, weather permitting of course. The same occurred after her nap until dinner.
After dinner, she would stay inside with rest of us and participate in any activity mom, dad, and I would do, whatever that may be. However, I never saw the joy on her face when she was indoors that she had when she was outside. Anne was an outdoors type of girl. She enjoyed the fresh air, the sun beating down on her skin, and the breeze of warm summer days or the cold of the winter. It didn’t matter the season, she just wanted out of the house.
When Anne awoke, I could hear the rattle of the chains from her bed. She had a hanging bed in her room. Every time she got out of her bed, she would give it a good push and watch it rock back and forth. She always giggled at this. It reminded her of pushing me on the swing, something she loved to do. Even though I was three years older than her and was also much bigger, she was still able to push me really well on the swings. She’s very strong for her age. A lot of people thought the hanging bed was a weird thing.
A few years back we took a trip onto the mainland to go visit grandpa and grandma on dad’s side. Grandpa and grandma were moving into a smaller house, so we went to go help them move. The furniture they had was old and had a musty smell, so a couple days before the move, we all went to a furniture store to help them pick out some new stuff. In the bed section, Anne came across a hanging bed and absolutely fell in love with it. She was persistent that we buy one right there and then for the grandparents and her. It was actually a bit of a distraction, but dad promised he would make her one when we got back, and off we went continuing to shop. She never forgot about it though, and as soon as we were back home on the island, she put dad right to work making her a hanging bed.
This bed turned out to be a blessing for the family. Around the same time she got her new bed, Anne started sleepwalking. At first she would just get out of bed and walk around the house. It was no big deal and it took us a while to figure out that she was doing it. Whoever caught her in the act would just guide her back to her bedroom and put her back in her bed, it was no big deal. However, eventually she started to go outside. It made sense, her going to the place she loved the most. That wasn’t all that bad though either. We just started locking our doors at night and the problem was solved, she couldn’t go outside because she couldn’t seem to figure out how to unlock doors in her sleepwalking. Soon after this happened I asked dad what seemed like a simple solution:
“Why don’t we just put a lock on her door dad? That way, she can never get out when she sleepwalks and we won’t have to worry about her.” I remember him giving me a senseless look.
“Well son, if we put a lock on her door, she could lock herself in there when she gets frustrated. That’s a dangerous situation right there, an autistic girl locked in a room by herself. Now of course, we could have a key to open it up. But she would feel like she’s in a prison. I don’t want her to feel like we’re locking her up someplace. Besides, we’ve made it a point to treat you guys the same. We don’t want her to feel different because she has a disability, which is how she would feel if we put a lock on her door and you didn’t have one,” he replied to me.
It was obvious he had already thought of this before.
“Well then you could put a lock on my door,” I said, sounding as helpful as I could.
“Yeah right, I’m not going to put a lock on a pre-teen's door. Once you get older you’ll lock yourself in and we’ll never see you again!” We looked at each other when he said that and chuckled.
So that solution had been pushed away, but for a while it didn’t matter. Once the doors were locked, it was just like how it was before, harmless walking around. However, soon it wasn’t harmless. One night we all woke up to a loud pounding sound coming from the kitchen. I heard mom and dad get up, so I got up too. We looked and saw Anne wasn’t in her room.
We followed the noise into the kitchen and were all surprised at what we saw. Anne was behind the counter, staring right at us. Her eyes were open wide and she had a blank stare on her face. In her right hand was a butcher knife. She was pounding it over and over again on the counter. We were absolutely shocked to see this. My body tingled and the hairs stood up on my arms. My father slowly made his way over to her. He put one hand on her shoulder and then slowly grabbed the arm that was drubbing the butcher knife. She stopped what she was doing. Dad grabbed the knife, set it on the counter, and started guiding her toward mom and me. I backed away a little bit and then quickly turned and made my way back into my room. It took me a while to fall back asleep. Even though we lived in an isolated area surrounded by woods that seemed to always make creepy sounds that got my imagination going, that night was the most scared I had ever been.
My parents had been concerned the next morning. They called the doctor and told him about the incident. He wasn’t concerned at all about it and said to just wait it out, reasoning with us that she wasn’t actually harming herself by doing this. My parents, however, did not like this. So they problem solved and actually came up with a good solution. Anne’s bed was hung by steel chains. She pushed it every time she got out of bed, and even if she didn’t, it would still move around a little when she got out of it, she wasn’t the most graceful girl. So dad hung up more steel chains, one next to each chain that was holding up the bed at the foot of it. They were each about a couple inches from the support chains. Now every time the bed was pushed, as it rocked back and forth, the chains would hit each other making a clinking sound. Anne was ecstatic. When dad showed her, she sat there pushing her bed so that the chains could hit each other. Clink clink, clink clink.
That night she didn’t sleepwalk, but the next night she did. As soon as she got out of her bed, mom and dad both heard the clinking of the chains. They caught her waking past their room and were able to guide her back. The sleepwalking problem had been solved.
Three years later and the issue was still fixed. She didn’t sleep walk as often as she used to, but when she did, she didn’t get far. I was in the living room as she came out of her room and walked in. Her brown hair went all the way down to her hips. It was messy and un-brushed, but she didn’t care.
“How was the nap Anne?” I asked, smiling at my little sister.
“Good! I wanna play outside now! Swings, swings, swings, swings!” She exclaimed. Her smile was from teeth to teeth. It was so sweet and innocent. It truly was contagious. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh every time I saw it. Her smile was hard to say no to.
“You want to push big brother on the swings?” I invited. Her smile stayed in place as she shook her head yes. We made our way outside and spent the rest of the afternoon swinging and playing on the play set.
That’s how the summer went. Boat rides into town, playing with Anne, and spending quality time with mom and dad. Things were great. Before we knew it, it was August. School would be starting soon for both Anne, dad, and me (he was the 4th grade teacher). One day, dad and I needed to make a trip to the grocery store for food and school supplies. It had been rainy and stormy all week, a rarity in August. After pushing our trip off a couple days, today it was finally decent.
It was raining on and off a little bit with a constant overcast in the sky. It was still a gloomy day, but the wind was dead, so we decided now would be the day to do it. However, Anne was in a bad mood because she was forced to be inside the past few days. When Anne was in a bad mood, she was a bit unpredictable with her behavior and a lot harder to watch over. Mom also hadn’t been feeling well all week either.
“Maybe you should stay with your mom and help her out with your sister,” my dad said to me, as we were getting ready to leave. “Your mom doesn’t seem well enough to watch over your sister by herself.”
“Oh come on dad, she’ll be fine. If Anne is going to behave for anyone, it’s mom, you know Anne loves her the most! Besides, it’s 1:30, she’s going to be napping soon,” I replied to him. I did not want to miss out on a boat ride, even if the weather wasn’t perfect.
“Well, I guess you're right bud, she is going to nap soon anyway.” He started up the boat.
I untied the dock lines and off we went! It took us no time to get across the bay and we were shopping before we knew it. We got the groceries and school supplies and started heading out on the water. Unfortunately, the wind started picking up on our ride back. We had to pull back from the throttle a bit and ride with the waves. It was a bumpy ride, but nothing we couldn’t handle.
As the dock started approaching, I glanced at my watch. It was 2:45. I looked at the window looking for mom’s familiar face. I didn’t see her though. When I tied us up on the dock, there was no greeting from the back door. She must be taking a nap, she did look awfully tired when we left. I grabbed some groceries and headed toward the back door. I slid it open and took a step in.
Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. The noise rang through my ears. “Hello?” I called out. Nothing. Dad came in behind me and heard the same thing.
“What is going on here?” He questioned.
The thud continued. We made our way through the living room and then turned into the kitchen. I dropped my groceries at the sight in front of me. Anne was standing behind the counter. She was staring right at me with her eyes as wide as mine were. In her hand was the butcher knife, going up and down, up and down continuously. Instead of a blank stare on her face though, she was smiling. Her wide grin burned an image in my head. In her sleepwalking stupor, she gave a slight chuckle to accompany her grin. She continued using the butcher knife. However, she wasn’t hitting the counter. She was stabbing the person on the counter, our lifeless mother. In her left hand, she held mom by the throat. In her right, she was stabbing her in the stomach and chest. Over…and over… and over again. Blood had splashed all over Anne. I looked at my mother’s face. A permanent stare of helplessness and confusion stared back at me.
In the background I could hear the swinging of Anne’s bed. Clink, clink, clink.
Written by Willythekid30303