Excerpt from Writing, Warren #4

This piece is a little different, it’s written in third person and centers around Warren when he’s five years old, on Christmas Eve 1989. In case you’re wondering, I wrote Warren Cowell’s character from the beginning of the project to have certain behaviors consistent with Autism Spectrum Disorder (i.e. probably Asperger’s Syndrome.) I didn’t officially diagnose him because I didn’t think that should be the focus. For stories about Warren as an adult, click HERE, HERE, and HERE.–

It was Christmas Eve and Warren couldn’t sleep. Even if he could have slept he wouldn’t have because he was trying to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus. Warren’s mother made him take a bubble bath before bed, and helped him change into his dinosaur pajamas, which were only for special occasions like holidays and Saturdays, which were Warren’s favorite day of the week because there was no school or church. The dinosaur pajamas were too special for any old boring day of the week. Warren had a lot of rules like that, they contributed a sense of order to his life and made him feel safe, even though nobody else got them.


Warren put a lot of work into his Christmas list this year, he didn’t want to forget anything. He wrote it three months in advance, and he tried to print out the letters very clearly so his mother could read them. Warren initially put exactly thirty things on his list, but then he stripped it down to the bare essentials.-
1. A box of crayons
2. A toy Tonka Truck
3. A stuffed rabbit like the one Mindy from school’s got
4. A train set
5. Sea Monkeys
6. Light-up sneakers
7. Legos
8. A globe
9. An Ant Farm
10. A baby doll
Warren knew he wasn’t getting the baby doll, it was a toy for girls. But Warren’s classmate Mindy had been bringing a baby doll that made sounds when you pulled a string on it’s back to school for the past few weeks and Warren absolutely coveted it, he pretended to be horribly irritated by the sounds it made to safely hide the fact that he probably loved the thing more than she did. When Mindy got to school Mrs. Clark made her put the doll in her cubby so it wouldn’t distract her during class, and Warren was always looking for an opportunity to steal the baby doll so he could play with it for a few minutes.

Mindy wouldn’t let Warren play with the doll, she called him a sissy and a baby and pushed him in a distinctly non-feminine fashion when he came near her. He begged her to let him play with the doll, and when the kids played house Warren begged equally piteously to be the daddy, but Mindy always chose Bryce O’Connor to be the daddy, even though Bryce had no fathering skills whatsoever, he basically just threw the baby around. Warren figured if he got a baby doll that looked like Mindy’s the baby dolls could be twins and then maybe Mindy would play with him. Sometimes Warren thought Mindy was stupid but she did have the coolest stuff, and Warren didn’t really have any friends.

He had his sister Hannah but she didn’t really count, she was his sister. They hung out together at home but they were at different classes at school. Hannah taught him anything that was worth knowing, and she taught him secret things like how two people make a baby together. Warren was repulsed and fascinated. Who on earth would want to do such an gross, irrational thing? Warren and Hannah shared a room together and they even took baths together. They fought over bath toys and had contests over who could hold their breath underwater the longest, which Hannah always won, so Warren always accused her of cheating.

Hannah liked a lot of the same TV shows as Warren; Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Star Trek, Doctor Who. She protected him when kids in the neighborhood made fun of him and asked if he was retarded because he didn’t talk much. Warren didn’t talk much around new people; it wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in them, he was very interested. He just preferred to observe. Like the new kid in class, Ethan Freedman. Warren thought that Ethan could be his new best friend, but Ethan wasn’t interested in Warren. Warren liked Ethan’s hair, it was dark and curly and sprang out all over the place like a mad scientist’s. He liked how Ethan always got all the questions right and always colored perfectly in the lines. Maybe he should have been jealous, but he wasn’t. It just made him like Ethan more.

Once during naptime Mrs. Clark fell asleep too, her head propped on her desk and a soft snore signifying that she wasn’t faking. Warren got up quietly and lay down on Ethan’s rest mat. He put his arm around Ethan and tried to cuddle with him the way he did with his mother on days when his father was at the bar, Hannah said he was out getting soused. Ethan woke up and mumbled “What are you doing?” Warren jumped up and tried to run to his rest mat, but it was too late. Mrs. Clark was awake now too.
“What’s going on?”
Ethan’s face screwed up. He looked like he was going to have a full-blown tantrum. “I woke up and Warren was touching me!”
“I was just trying to give him a hug!” Warren said indignantly. He stomped his foot and began to cry hot tears of embarrassment, his five-year-old ego sorely wounded.
“Warren, we do not get up during nap time and give sleeping children hugs. Now, apologize to Ethan.”
“No!” Warren shouted.
Mrs. Clark got a fierce look on her face. “Warren, apologize to Ethan right now or you’re going to the principal’s office.”
All the kids were awake and watching, wide-eyed. It was the Warren show, and they loved it.
“I’m sorry,” Warren mumbled heatedly.
“Now apologize to everybody else for waking them up.”
“I’m sorry everybody.” Warren droned. He didn’t know why he was expected to apologize for waking his classmates up when they didn’t want to sleep in the first place.
“Now, get back on your rest mat at once and close your eyes.” Warren obeyed dutifully, if grudgingly.

Sometimes when Warren fell asleep he dreamed he was on an empty train. The train was going around and around in circles like the little one in the park and Warren felt safe. The train was easy-going and predictable, unlike most of the things in real life, which were messy and chaotic. Warren wanted his train to come back when he closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep but it didn’t. He wanted Ethan to be in the train this time, and in the train Ethan liked him and wouldn’t mind sharing his gummy snacks and hugging Warren a little. In general Warren didn’t like people touching him much, except his mother and his sister when she was in a really good mood and wasn’t going to be mean, but Warren wanted any opportunity to hug Ethan and touch his crazy mad-scientist hair. Warren didn’t know why, Ethan wasn’t particularly nice to him.

In fact, he had taken to calling him ‘weirdo’ just like everybody else. Warren wasn’t a weirdo, he was different, and his mother said being different was a good thing. How boring it would be if everyone was like everyone else! But sometimes Warren didn’t like being different at all, nor did he think it was a good thing. He wanted to be like the other children so they would accept him and like him, like most of the kids in his class were accepted. The kids in the special ed class were different and that clearly wasn’t a good thing because some of them made disturbing guttural sounds and couldn’t even tie their shoes (admittedly, Warren had a lot of trouble tying his shoes sometimes too, but he wasn’t like the special ed kids, his mom said he might actually be a genius, he was just challenged in certain areas.) Other kids were an enigma to Warren, he liked adults because they thought he was cute and smart. Warren preferred being ‘cute’ and ‘smart’, maybe even being a genius with certain challenges, to being a ‘sissy’ and a ‘weirdo.’

Sometimes Warren’s dad called him mean words too, like ‘dummy.’ Warren’s dad only called him ‘dummy’ when Warren messed up, so Warren tried his best not to mess up in front of his father. That meant not spilling drinks, not talking too loud or waking Daddy up when he was sleeping, not drinking all the milk or stealing his dad’s special double stuff Oreos which he kept out of reach but which Warren could get to if he really tried. So Warren probably wasn’t getting the doll, but if he got everything else he would get 9 out of 10, which was overall a pretty good deal. He was hiding behind the Christmas tree with a disposable camera waiting for Santa to pop through one of the windows (since the Cowells were not proud possessors of a chimney) so he could take a photo of him. He bet he would be the only kid in his class with a photo of the real Santa, not the phony one from the all who smelled like sweat and cheap beer. Suddenly Warren’s mother came in holding an armful of presents. He saw him and let out a sharp little scream of surprise.
“Warren! Oh my God, you scared me… silly Santa, he accidently put the presents in Mommy and Daddy’s room this time. Mommy had to move them to the tree.”
“Uh-huh. Santa must have had a little too much eggnog. He should have remembered.” She glanced at the closed door to her bedroom. “Speaking of eggnog, I’m going to have a little.”
“Can I have eggnog too, Mommy?” Warren jumped up and down excitedly. It was 3 in the morning but he felt full of energy.
“Oh, I don’t know, it’s so late. I guess you can stay up a little later. Just this once.”
Warren and his mother cuddled on the couch, Warren comfortingly nestled in the crook of his mother’s arm. They watched a brief snow flurry powder the ground outside like flour and when Warren’s mother finally fell asleep, Warren had no choice but to do the same thing. Warren would be up in a few hours and he and Hannah would stampede into their parents’ room, demanding presents regardless out how angry their father might get at having his sleep unceremoniously disrupted at 6AM. Warren’s mother would make coffee and blueberry pancakes and insist on taking about a million pictures as her son and daughter opening presents; and he would find out if his gifts met their expectations. For now he had fallen into a soft, dreamless sleep, content and troubled even though he never got to see Santa Claus. Maybe he’d be able to achieve his goal next year.



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