To my 13-year-old Alex I give the command typically heard on a school morning: “Put on pants, socks and shoes.”
There’s this thing about the socks. Most people wear a pair that resemble each other. Alex doesn’t.
I take inventory of his sock drawer. Balled up: the green and dark-blue “Sunday 7” socks that my wife Jill bought at H&M. Separate: A pale green and a pale blue, each with white stripes. The black and orange I would wear if they were big enough. The “Monday 7.” The blue and black “Wednesday” (how come no number?). The “Tuesday 2,” the brown one with the white stripes. Why is there always this yellow and black “Saturday” without a partner?
I collect a pile on my knee of those 10 socks whose partners have been plucked, alone and ragged out, by an autistic young man.
Jesus, the other blue and black “Wednesday” in the bottom of the drawer. I ball them up. I find the dark blue ones with the light-blue stripes in the dark confusion of the opposite ends of the drawer, Lovers lost in a way to shatter a heart. I ball them up feeling a little like God. And there’s the light blue one with white stripes! I ball it up with its partner – not that Alex will keep it that way on the school morning of school mornings.
I’ve given up trying to match them when doing laundry. I drape the socks over the bars of the laundry cart one by one, each seeming to hope for their old partner or, as we all do in our hearts, hoping for a partner new and thrilling. Why is two of a kind beyond Alex?
He’s had clothing obsessions. Once upon a time it was black T shirts. His current one is khaki pants. Next? Some of the garments bear the fading STIMPSON of summer camps over the past few years.
How does Alex look to the world in mismatched socks and the old, short Kmart khakis, the only ones he’ll wear until they rag out? Does the world understand that? Does the world understand how he looks, and what do they think of me as I begin to rag out myself?