sometimes, having an autistic brother is funny.

It’s not often enough that you have to say this sentence, “Electric fences don’t work on my brother.” Not because my brother is Iron Man, but simply because he is who he is. By way of explanation, I wrote the following story, and it seemed good enough to share, so enjoy.

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My brother, about 40 years ago.

My brother, Ted, has an official diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder with autistic-like symptoms. He’s relatively high-functioning and his behavior tends to be somewhere between Rain Man and Forrest Gump, with a fair amount of Captain Jack Sparrow and Vincent Price thrown in for good measure.

When Ted was in his 20s, he had all the same daredevil urges that most guys that age do. Fortunately, he wasn’t interested in kegstands and extreme sports (although he did like to ride around on a mountain bike, until he was run off of a road by an asshole aggressive driver and broke his collarbone). He also liked to spend a lot of time walking around in the yard in costumes or his pajamas, talking to himself.

His pajamas at the time consisted of a red V-neck giant t-shirt that (thank God) came down to his knees. I got used to it. Looking back I realize that it may have seemed odd to others.  At the time, he was over six feet tall, blond, and built like your basic frat boy. but he would wander around the yard scheming about his imagined future career as a late-night horror movie host.

My father had a swimming pool built sometime around 1991 or so. We now call it Lake Mistake. Ted would spend his afternoons by the pool in his concept of a pirate costume with all of his stuffed animals and his Playmobil pirate ship set (which he acquired when he was about six or seven and in which he didn’t lose interest for another 20 years or so). His pirates would do battle and then he took a wooden plank, weighted it with bricks at one end of the pool, and made all of the stuffed animals walk the plank to meet their watery graves.

We were finding teeny tiny pirate accessories in the pool filter system for years. The stuffed animals never quite dried out.

Now that I think about it, Ted went through a period where he built a wooden raft in the barn out of whatever scrap wood he could find, and he and his teddy bear would set sail on Ridley Creek (which is about 2′ deep at the most near our house). The raft was about 3’x4′, had a mast and sail, weighed a ton and was as seaworthy as a cinderblock, but he kept dragging it down to the creek and back, along with his teddy bear, Captain Junior Foozergraph Bear, who also wore a pirate costume, and who bore many knife wounds from various steak-knife skirmishes with the other stuffed animals. Between the old rusty nails and the questionable cleanliness of Ridley Creek, the whole thing was a massive testament to hepatitis and tetanus, but somehow Ted survived. He did get really sick from playing in the creek too much, but he managed to sleep it off somehow.

as a result of the sickness he got from too much creek swimming, he tried to launch his raft in the swimming pool once. I don’t know how he got it out, but he never did it again. He and my mother managed to reach a compromise that the raft could be next to the pool and he could imagine sailing it across the ocean more enjoyably than actually trying to float it in the pool.

so, for a couple of years, we had this treacherous pallet of scrap lumber and found nails sitting next to the swimming pool, along with the chaise lounges and chairs.
“what’s that?”
“oh, that’s Ted’s pirate ship.”

I’m totally digressing away from the point.

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My brother, last month.

We had a golden retriever named Chowder (my family’s never been good with pet naming), who was completely nuts, a jumping, barking, running tornado of blond hair and love. My parents installed an invisible electric fence to keep him from running up to a particular house about a mile away where there were two golden retrievers, where, of course, he would fight with the made dog and have sex with the female dog. he was a four-legged viking (There is no such thing as a story about my family that stays on one tangent for long. It just doesn’t work). Chowder managed to figure out that if he made a beeline from the front porch to the furthest downhill corner of the yard, he could build up enough speed that he could zip across the fence with little to no ill effect. Either that, or his dog brain just said, “GO! GO! GO!” and he was going so fast that he didn’t even realize he was in the danger zone until he was out of it. The invisible fence people kept telling us to crank the signal higher and higher, and we said that the electric shock was now high enough to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, but it wasn’t stopping Chowder when he put his mind to it.

So, one day, my boyfriend Dave and I were at the house wandering around the yard, as was Ted, and of course he was in his red V-neck t-shirt, covered in food and ink stains. Thank God Dave also had an autistic brother, so he understood the behaviors pretty well.

TED: Have you tried out the electric fence yet?
ME: What do you mean, ‘tried out’?
TED: Have you walked across it while wearing the dog’s collar?
ME: No. Have you?
TED: Huhhuhhuhhuh…
ME: You did, didn’t you?
TED: Maaaybe.
ME: What does it feel like?
TED: Like Frankenstein being brought to life!

Yes, my brother took a dog’s collar with an electrical box with two metal prongs sticking out of it on his neck, lined up the prongs on his neck, and walked across an electrical fence cranked up to its highest setting. For Science. you know. as you do. I’m kind of surprised it didn’t seriously hurt him, but I’m also kind of not surprised.

Anyway. A few minutes later, the dog decided to take a run from the front porch to the far downhill corner of the yard, again, and of course he made it across the fence and off to someone else’s yard. We ran after him, and back then Ted was a really fast runner, so he managed to make it across the yard, the bridge over the creek, across the street, and into a neighboring yard, where he grabbed the dog and dragged him back. We caught up with him about ten feet away from the other side of the electric fence.

Now that the dog was moving at a normal pace, he refused to cross the invisible fence. The collar makes a warning sound, a high-pitched beep, when it gets in close proximity to the fence, so the dog has some warning before it gets zapped. The collar was beeping, so we took the collar off of Chowder and hung onto his indoor collar to see if he would let us drag him across the line that way. Nothing doing. Chowder was a big dog, and he settled his full weight down and would not budge. Finally Dave picked up the dog and carried him across the line. Dave was not a big guy, and the sight of him carrying a giant yellow dog half his size was hilarious.

It was so intoxicatingly funny that I completely forgot that I was holding the collar, by the box, with the two prongs stuck between my fingers.

The image that flashed through my mind was a giant gold and silver rattlesnake biting my hand off. I screamed a high C bloody murder and threw the collar as far as my arm would flail. I also probably levitated about four feet off the ground. Dave dropped the dog, who went back to his usual routine of jumping up and down and barking and rolling in the grass. We managed to get the collar back on the dog, and the adrenaline rush made me completely useless for about the next four hours.

So, in the great scheme of things, I will never know which is the biologically superior being, my brother or me, but I’m pretty sure it’s him.

And, SCENE.

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About manifenestration

Lindsay is a playwright, arts advocate, and a candidate in Temple University's MFA program in Playwriting. She lives and writes in Philadelphia, PA, with her husband, three cats and two dogs. Someday, she hopes to not have to vacuum.

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