Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fortune Teller

Recently I helped to set up my son's school for the Fall Festival (or, as my little Aspie puts it, "feshtible.") As I chatted up the volunteer coordinator, she mentioned the father of one of the students. He is a geneticist, working at the nearby biomedical research center. She described him as, "So smart, but lacking in social skills." That piqued my interest -- he sounded a lot like my family members. Apparently he was helping to prepare one of the game booths, so I set off to track him down.

Sure enough, I found him wobbling on top of a ladder with a thick swag of purple velvet slung over his shoulder. He was trying to hang the velvet from the ceiling tiles with a slim piece of twine. His wife was going to play a fortune teller. I offered to help when I saw that she was sitting wearily in a chair.

I introduced myself and tried to help him anchor the twine with bent paper clips. I could tell he felt no need for the usual social graces, so we simply worked together without conversation. His wife, however, was perfectly willing to chat. Her gray hair was pulled back in a ponytail and the strands that escaped formed a frizzled halo around her face. The halo waved gently in the breeze created by the busy passers-by.

The volunteer coordinator had mentioned this couple's son, whom the mother suspected of having Asperger's syndrome. So I turned the conversation to the topic of my child. We immediately bonded over the many challenges we had in common. As I listed behaviors and mannerisms, the geneticist's wife would nod in an exaggerated manner. She would widen her eyes and point repeatedly at her husband, who had his back turned to us. It was amusing and comforting at the same time.

The irony that a hard-core scientist was helping to set up a fortune-teller booth was not lost on me.

He came back down the ladder. As I worked with him, I noticed many tell-tale signs. Our interactions were brief. He couldn't maintain eye contact for very long. He would laugh at inopportune times. And I could tell that I was a little boring to him. With the briefest of adieus, he left to track down more paper clips.

I saw a pile of golden tassels waiting to be hung, so I offered to do so. The fortune teller thanked me and informed me that she was suffering from fibromyalgia. As I hung the tassels, this woman proceeded to tell me about her efforts to find her birth mother (apparently she died an alcoholic, and young,) her dismay at finding herself expecting at age 46 (with the son we were now discussing,) and her husband's reluctance to have their son evaluated for an autism spectrum disorder. We bonded. She and I were very different, yet had so much in common.

After the booth was set up, I left to help others, promising to bring my son to her booth later. My husband brought our children to meet me at the fair and we proceeded to enjoy the games and activities.

Later, I took my son by the hand and led him to the fortune-teller's booth. The golden tassels were falling off and the poor geneticist's wife looked nearly as droopy as the purple velvet swag. But she brightened as we approached. I introduced my son and he sat in the chair next to her.

She took his little pink hand in her wrinkled one and opened his palm. Then she traced one of the lines on his palm and declared, "This is called your lifeline. It is very long, which means you will live a long time!" Then she traced another, and winked at me. "This means you are very... energetic." She traced a third line and said, "This is your love line. See how deep it is?"

She paused, and locked eyes with me for a moment. The she looked back at him. "This line means that you have a lot of people who love and care for you. You are a lucky boy!" My eyes misted over for a moment and then she was done. She handed him one of those heat-sensitive red translucent fishes as a parting gift. As we walked away, I smiled back at her in gratitude. I didn't need to say anything, for that was enough.