As the bus rumbled down Interstate 77 on its approach back to Bluewater, Daniel suddenly fell silent. Opal looked at him, and saw that he appeared to be “out of touch”. She reached over, trying to pull him into a hug, but he did not respond (normally, he enjoys getting hugs from her, Caroline, or Rowena). “Rowena,” She called, getting his sister’s attention.
Rowena looked over. “Crap,” She said, “Opal, latch onto him. Do not let go, no matter what happens. He is having an Autistic Meltdown. Yes, he looks zoned out. No, he is not comprehending anything. Hold him. Restrain him if you need to.” She then called back to her father, who was a Bluewater Transit data collector sitting in the back of the bus, “Daddy! Danny is 10-91!”
Their father looked up from his Tablet and saw Opal actively restraining Daniel. Being Autistic himself, he recognized that she was simply trying to prevent him from hurting himself. “DC-8 to Dispatch,” He called over his radio.
“Dispatch. Go ahead Michael,” Was the reply. Jennifer took the call.
“Jennifer, my son is 10-91. I’m going to need to ride the Blue Line home with him. Could you call Annabel and Rachel and have them meet at our home stop? I will then ride back to the office.”
“I can do that,” Jennifer replied, “Dispatch out.”
Meanwhile, both Opal and Rowena were trying their best to snap Daniel out of the meltdown, knowing full well that they had no choice but to wait it out and the best they could do was to restrain him on the bus to keep him from hurting himself. By now, he was in a full blown Meltdown as tears started running down the side of his face. Rowena tried her best to wipe them.
Caroline looked on from her wheelchair, knowing that there was nothing she could do to help, which upset her. She knew that tonight would be a night of constant hugs, which she did not mind, as her cousin would most likely need to be comforted all night long.
Daniel started fighting Opal’s restraining arms and Rowena said, “Sit on his lap, facing him. Grip him.” Opal looked at Rowena who continued, “When he melts, he comprehends nothing. All we can do is keep him from hurting himself.” Calling forward to the operator, who realized exactly what was going on, she said, “Please be easy on the brakes.”
Rowena was grateful that the only passengers on the bus were Opal or family members, as well as another passenger who knew it was his disability, since she knew some ignorant fool would say something like “Daniel needed to stop making a scene” and was glad to see Bluewater Transit Center. The bus destination changed to “BUS GARAGE – NO PASSENGERS” as he pulled into the transit center to drop the one passenger off, then swung around to the layover bay so Michael could check on his son, who was still suffering from the meltdown.
The driver got the lift going while Michael undid the wheelchair restraints for his niece. “I’m riding Blue with you, then I have to return to the office,” He said as he undid the last of Caroline’s straps.
“There is nothing to do but wait it out. After dropping all of you off, I’m going to catch the Green Line from the Garage and will come straight home,” He said. He paused for a moment as Daniel continued to cry in Opal’s arms, then asked, “Do you know what triggered it?”
Caroline spoke up, “I noticed the first signs of it when we got onto 77, and his eyes briefly met mine before he zoned out.”
“Alright. Lets get everyone onto the Blue Line. Annabel and Rachel will be there for you,” Michael said and they clambered to the Blue Line bus, which was waiting with its wheelchair ramp deployed for Caroline.
Finally, a few minutes after boarding the Blue Line, Daniel started showing signs that he was coming back around. He gripped Opal in the tightest hug he could come up with, then burst into tears. Rowena got his phone out of his pocket and launched the Augmentative & Alternative Communication app that her Aunt wrote, so that Daniel needed to simply tap images that expressed how he felt, and the phone would not only display a larger version of the image, but it would also show a label describing the image and it would also speak the words on the label.
Rowena held the phone to Daniel, and he tapped “Feelings” then “Sad” buttons.
“Why are you upset,” Opal asked in a calming voice.
He then tapped “Feelings” followed by “Depressed” while continuing to cry – although his crying was starting to subside a bit.
Caroline had a sudden thought: “I think his mind is ‘replaying’ being dumped.”
His crying continued to subside and Caroline said to Rowena, “I think tonight, we will have to cradle him to sleep.”
Rowena replied to Caroline, as she looked into her brother’s tear-filled eyes, “I think you’re right.” Turning her attention to him, she said, “I promise: Caroline and I will not leave your side tonight for anything.”
He clutched Opal even tighter, trying to give a hint. She picked up on it as she said, “I think he wants me also.”
As Daniel started to get his feelings back, he finally realized that Opal was sitting on his lap – as she had been doing for the past several minutes. He started really liking the closeness that Opal was displaying, and wanted her to stay in this position. He also wanted Rowena to accept this.
“Daniel, what is it,” His father asked very gently.
Again, Rowena held up Daniel’s phone so he could use his AAC app to communicate. With tears still filling his eyes, he tapped “Depressed” again.
Janelle, the Blue Line operator, pulled the bus over at Sumner and Indigo to drop everyone off. As she opened the door, she announced to the two waiting passengers: “Hello Annabel and Rachel. I have everyone on board.”
“Let me unhook Caroline while you get the ramp going,” Michael said as he started undoing the restraints securing Caroline’s wheelchair.
Opal got off of Daniel as Rowena said, “We will use the back door.” Opal and Rowena helped Daniel off of the bus.
Both women helped get Daniel off of the bus and held him tightly since he was not yet fully recovered.
Upon exiting the bus, Rowena noticed that Daniel was still gripping Opal as if it was the last time he would ever get to hug her. “I want to say thank you for helping my brother. I feel like you have earned my complete trust,” Rowena said to Opal, “Please come with us to the basement apartment.”
Daniel was grateful that his sister trusted Opal as the elevator dropped them off downstairs. “What do you need,” His cousin Caroline asked gently.
His eyes briefly met Caroline’s eyes, then she noticed them glance down. Realizing exactly what he wanted, she said to Rowena, “I think he wants his special pillow.”
“Special pillow,” Opal asked, puzzled.
Rowena explained, “It’s an Autistic thing. It soothes him.”
Opal continued to look puzzled, and Caroline added, “Now please don’t be grossed out by this, but it’s calming for him to lie on my or Rowena’s breast.”
“Oh,” Opal replied, “Rowena, do you mind if he tries with me, or does it need to be you or Caroline?”
“If you don’t mind. Just allow his head to rest on either breast,” Rowena replied.
The change was almost immediate. The tension and nervousness in Daniel’s expression went away as he curled into Opal’s arms. “He’s recovering now,” Caroline said, noting the change (for the better) expression on her cousin’s face. “What’s wrong,” Opal asked as Daniel started crying.
Rowena explained, “He has his voice back. He will need a moment to compose himself.” She held his phone up to him and he tapped the “Girl”, then “Hug”, then “Thank-you” tiles on his communication app. Rowena continued, “Opal, he’s saying thank-you for letting him curl up with you.”
Daniel’s crying subsided, and he whispered nervously, “Thank you Ro.”
His sister gripped his hand comfortingly and said, “Go on.”
He looked up at Opal and weakly nodded his head as he whispered, “Please stay.”
Caroline figured it out, and said, “I think this little group of three is now a group of four. Opal, you have my full trust.”
Rowena, catching on, said, “I agree with Caroline. Opal, I feel comfortable as well. I trust you when you say you wouldn’t hurt Daniel.” She thought about it for a moment, then suggested, “Opal, how about you and Daniel, just the two of you, tomorrow?”
Caroline added, “There was that play you wanted to go see. How about you and Daniel. Rowena and I will stay home.”
Rowena looked at her brother, still holding his hand, as she said, “I think there will be no more heartbreaks.”
He reached up with his other hand, gesturing that he wanted to hug his sister, which she happily accepted.
As he was hugging Rowena, his voice finally fully came back as he whispered, “Apartment for four.”
Rowena said, “Opal, please feel free to stay down here with us for dinner.”
“Alright. What were you thinking of,” Opal asked.
“I want to make Daniel’s favorite Mac & Cheese,” Caroline said, hoping it would cheer her cousin up.
“Thank you, Caroline,” He whispered as he continued to lie on Opal’s breast.
“Do you want to watch a movie, or have the TV on or anything,” Rowena asked as Caroline started wheeling towards the kitchen.
“Not really,” Daniel mumbled as he adjusted Opal’s arm so he was snuggled up tighter.
Opal realized just how frightened Daniel was, as she adjusted him: he panicked at the slightest slackning of her grip, as if she was letting go and would repel him away. Rowena explained, “Opal, whatever you do: don’t let go of him. Not even for a split second. He is hurting that much right now. Not until his brain has rightened itself. We will know he is ready when he can hold normal conversation.”