Bert is an imaginary manifestation of my four-year old nephew Alex. I'd say that bert is a friend, but Alex insists he isn't. I was awed and amused when my sister informed me of bert. She explained to me over the phone that bert hid Alex's toys, sat on his blanket and pushed him down. Little kids have imaginary friends, but an imaginary enemy? My nephew is a unique and challenging individual who beats to his own drum but this was intriguing, not only because he believed in bert, but because my sister did too.
Alex was tugging on his blanket when he said,
"bert, get off my BLAN-KET!"
I laughed as he tugged on the ragged cloth, struggling to free it from atop his bed. The tension built until he finally freed it, reeling, stomping backwards until he gained his balance.
"Thank-you bert". He said, half bowing as he left the room with blanket in tow.
The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I felt what I thought a hand on the small of my back until it dissipated into the night.
I had been staying with my sister for a few days to accommodate a busy schedule. Time with my nephew and niece is well spent and their genealogical antics are precious to me. Alex was born in May of 2000, seven months before my father died. He has had some slight delays in speech and uses repetitious acts. He refers to himself in the third person and portrays classic autistic traits. He isn't autistic. The kid can communicate and spell, but he spaces out sometimes to la-la land. Teachers have a hard time with him because he is headstrong, and he has occasional meltdowns where he'll pound his head tantrum style into the floor.
Alex will talk to the air when he is quietly playing in the living room. He'll ask bert where something is and then methodically "find" it. If you ask Alex if bert needs to go to timeout or if he wants to accompany you when you leave, he'll look at you like yer crazy. He'll open his eyes wide and look around and explain that,
"bert stays here".
Sometimes, Alex will hold his belly and laugh like jolly ol' Santa.
"bert told a joke". He'll say.
"Something about that bert". I'll say.
My Pops always said he'd haunt us. Any possible means to communicate, he'd use. I didn't think much about it until my phone started to ring me in morse code. Every night, at random times, my phone rings six different variables;
- two long
- one long, three short
- one long, two short
- three short
- one long
- four short
. I've kept track. Far as I can figure out it says, B-O-B L-I-V-E.
My name is Robert C. and my pops was Robert A. We both go by Bob. My dad was a jolly guy that worked with developmentally disabled adults for the greater part of his career. He got the gig after having "philosophical differences with his ass-hole manager" in the food service industry. After being out of work for a few months and us eating staples of the pantry, he finally got a job doing occupational therapy for folks with extra chromosomes. He dug the job and excelled. My sister and I felt a few flushed encounters of embarrassment when one of his "clients" rushed up to us in the mall or a restaurant and shook my Pop's hand furiously, smiling big.
My dad was never embarrassed of his profession or his friends, he just shook the hand and introduced us. He trained folks to get out of institutions and live independently, wiping down tables at fast food joints and living with others under an overnight caregiver. He worked hard so that people with less than didn't have to live like it. At the time, I was about eight years old and when yer at the pool or park and retards know yer name, the angst of being teased outweighs. I'm sorry for that now.
It's more than a shame that my dad can't connect with Alex and give my sister the go-in of his file cabinet of resources dealing with children. My dad loved kids and knew how to suppress the anxiety often associated with people who exhibit abnormal cognitive interaction. I don't think Alex falls into this demographic, but I think help from my dad would be invaluable. What is more important is that the suffix of my dad's name is bert and that he is from a long line of mad witches. His love weighs heavy in our blood and I think my four-year old nephew has tapped into it.
When I was a kid, I used to chase the moon down the street. The moon moved with me and I couldn't understand the sky and stars. I remember now. One night, watching the fireflies blink in the heady, humid summer night running down the block and looking up to the moon which wasn't there. I ran around the block straining my neck to peer over the old elms. Running and crying because I couldn't find the moon and because each step took me farther from home. I eventually sat down next to the trunk of an old burly elm. I wiped my tears in the deep ridges of bark, holding it close. I was only a few blocks from home, but far enough so I couldn't find my way. My tears felt like hiccups as I cradled my base. I wanted to go on and find home and I knew I could, but I didn't have the courage. My dad finally found me. He hugged me and told me we were going home. He pulled out a Marlboro and realized he didn't have a light. He pretended to smoke the cigarette and I laughed. I told him I was looking for the moon. He told me it was a new moon where the Earth hid the moon from the sun. He told me how sometimes the Earth blocks things out.
That weekend I spent at my sister's, I was full of anger. I was fighting my urge to escape and not be a part of all the traditional celebrations because they weren't my own. I didn't want to give presents or be a happy go lucky camper. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and self but circumstances intervened so I was making the most of it. It was a new moon.
I went outside in the wee hours to soak up the spring air. I heard the sliding door to the deck creak open and a three foot tall shadow flashed with the motion light.
"Un-CLE Bob." Alex said, looking at me.
"Alex, whadaryou doing up?" I asked pulling him into my arms.
"Where is the moon?", he asked.
I held him close, feeling his locks in my face and held him harder, picking him up and walking inside. I closed the sliding glass door and held him away from me,
"bert hid it." I said.
"Alex hid it." He said. Hugging me close.