Last time I visited California was a long while ago. I was young, very young, going to college at the time and trying to find a place to stay during the holidays break.
I stayed with a couple that my family knew in Orange County. They were a couple that immigrated from Vietnam about 15 years ago with their 3 children. They were such happy and nice people. They took me in for weeks asking nothing in return. She was working at a nail salon and he was working at a factory. The 3 kids were 2 older boys and a little girl: Sam, John and Sarah.
Sarah was an adorable little girl. She was wicked smart. She played sports, and got good grade. She was completely immersed into the American culture. She had no problem blending and rising to the top. The little girl was his parents’ American pride. She was the one that would always take care of herself and not worry her parents.
Sam didn’t talk much. Actually, he barely said anything to me besides hello the whole few weeks I was there. He seemed like a studious kid. He read most of the time. His mom sometimes suggested he wrote a few book reviews for the ones he read. He said no.
Unlike Sam, John talked a lot. He talked about everything but he couldn’t really hold a conversation for long. John talked like he was 5 years old. I always find John adorable. He could only focus on one thing at once, but he went full on for that one thing. He had so much energy and he drew so well. He talked like a little kid, but who care, that was in exchange for his imagination. His creativity showed up clearly in all his little doodling.
Years later, I was told Sam and John had autism. And everything made sense in my head. That was why they were so absorbed in their own things. I met John again years later, after knowing about his autism. John was then a huge guy, 6 foot tall and weighted 200 pounds. He still talked like a little kid. He was adorable. I remembered looking at him and feeling bad for him while loving him more. He welcomed me to his home again, as cheerful as the first time I visited. He still doodled, but he was so much better now. He drew whole big pictures with shading and coloring and everything. They all looked amazing. And all that was him self-teaching himself.
He finished high school with all the special ed classes. He graduated. And everyone was so happy for him. But that was it for his education. His parents didn’t want to put him through college and it didn’t look like he would want to do that either. His mother, in his sophomore year of high school, had gone to mat for him and Sam at all of the social service offices. She wanted benefits for them so they could be taken care of when they wouldn’t be around anymore. John and Sam should be fine.
Now, I lived thousands of miles away from the family. I didn’t visit them much anymore. But once in a while, when I saw someone sketching on the subway, I always thought of John, his naïve smile, creative talent and kindred spirit. I wondered how he was doing, and I wished the best for him, always.