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Free ebooks ==> Zachary 47 she was a worry to Zachary’s mother, who relied on her a great deal to help out around the house and to look after her son. “I call her Alice,” Zachary piped up. “Do you?” I asked, adding, rather stupidly, “Is that her name?” “No,” his mother interjected. “Her name isn’t Alice at all. That’s the name of the housekeeper from The Brady Bunch, another one of his favorite shows.” I was trying very hard to keep this straight. “At the same time his grandmother was ill,” Angela continued, “the movie Titanic came out.” He was not allowed to see it, but this has always been another favorite topic of Zachary’s. He has read everything he can about the sinking of the great ship. “It hit an iceberg,” Zachary said, and made the sound of the ship’s hull crashing into something. Zachary cannot listen to the movie’s popular theme song without crying, his mother added. Then he became worried about all the main characters in his favorite TV shows dying. He scoured the newspapers, especially the entertainment section and the obituaries, and watched all the newscasts, looking for death notices. He constantly asked his mother who would replace so-and-so in the show if there was a death. Curiously, he never asked his mother if she would die and who would replace her. I asked Zachary if he was afraid of dying. He has nightmares, he admitted. “I had a dream on a night about me having to go underground. What would happen to my spirit?” he asked his mother, but then answered himself with a rather grand theatrical gesture of the hands upwards: “My spirit goes up into the sky and goes in everyone’s heart.” This is an explanation his mother had given him to comfort him, but this was the first time she had heard of these nightmares. “Does everyone get sick before they die? Not always. They die in their sleep.” He continued to answer his own questions. What began as an initial concern about the health of a family member had now grown to include all Zachary’s interests and preoccupations. But his obsession with death extended only to those individuals of direct and immediate interest to him. He was not worried about the war in Serbia or the famines in Africa, and the death of Princess Diana had left him cold. “What about Louie Brown?” he asked. “He died in 1845.” “What about Louie Brown? Who is he?” I asked. “He was the man who invented Braille,” his mother informed me. Braille was another one of Zachary’s interests. He learned all about it in school many years ago, and it still carried an intense interest for him,

48 A MIND APART presumably because of the visual patterns and the texture of the dots. The death of Ferdinand Porsche, who passed away that spring, was especially troublesome to Zachary. He was the man who invented the Volkswagen, his mother again took pains to inform me. She, at least, could see I was having trouble following all this. Zachary would tell me of the deaths of various people, both famous and little known, and then his mother, serving as a kind of interpreter, supplied not a translation but a context for these statements. This was the only way I could follow what Zachary was saying to me. I asked Zachary when these worries began to bother him. “Things went crash in the last months of school,” he told me as he peered over his car, using the analogy of a car accident to explain his understanding of events. “What happened?” I asked. “I was not listening, getting suspended. . . . Will he get mad?” Zachary anxiously asked his mother, again over the top of the car. It was clear that school had been another stress for him, as some children were now teasing and bullying Zachary. He was in a regular class without any special assistance. He was quite bright and always had relatively good marks, as long as he could pay attention. But it was clear to everyone in school that Zachary was different. When he was younger, his eccentricity was easily tolerated by his schoolmates, but, as time went on, he became a target of teasing and bullying. These forms of abuse can be terrible to witness and even more terrible to endure, especially if one has ASD and cannot make sense of what all the fuss is about. Zachary had little idea he was different and that he was perceived as unusual by others, especially those wanting to make an impression on their friends. But he was very aware of the teasing. He would come home from school upset, not wanting to go back in the morning. His lack of sophistication and social understanding made him an easy target. Being eccentric can be a heavy burden when you are nine years of age. * * * After the appointment, I had an opportunity to reflect on what I had learned. It was clear that Zachary’s preoccupation with death was not a fascination; it was not an interest that gave him pleasure, as sounds did for Justin or wasps did for Stephen. Rather, the predominant mood was one of anxiety and distress. Zachary was clearly anxious about people dying, whether they were known to him personally or