It used to be that the most adrenaline producing aspect of running with my son Diego, who has autism and an intellectual disability, was preventing him from getting run over.
He had no idea how to cross a street or what part of the road to stay on. It took my husband and I years, but he eventually learned to stop before crossing a street and to always run along the edge of the road. He found it both hilarious and terrifying that, if he got hit by a car, he’d end up like the flattened run-over squirrels we often saw on our runs.
Diego never got the crossing-the-street safely part. Looking both ways while monitoring approaching cars was too much for him. He keeps trying to learn and we keep trying to teach him.
But it’s not possible to just see if he can do it independently. It’s one of those high stakes learning goals where you have to achieve 100% mastery. Otherwise, you’ll probably end up dead.
For now, then, we run and cross streets together. Even though safety is no longer a paramount concern for us, any run with Diego, now 26, is still an adventure.
Today’s run started with excitement about getting to the harbor and stopping by my sister’s apartment on our way back to say hello.
Diego always wants to talk, talk, talk, talk while we run. It’s exhausting just to hear him. Luckily, once in a a while, I’m able to get him to engage in a few minutes of quiet time.
Today, we were one minute and twenty-tree seconds into quiet time when we ran past a bed of yellow flowers. Diego couldn’t help it. He exclaimed. “Hello flowers from Alice in Wonderland!” We passed a certain bank and he remarked, “Chase what matters.”
We then took a detour because Diego wanted to pray by the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of a church downtown.
Before the church, though, we encountered our first dog. Every time Diego sees a dog when running, he pretends he’s Aquaman (who summoned ocean life). Diego touches his forehead and says “I summon the dog.” Then he looks toward the owner and says “Nice dog.”
Today being a beautiful Saturday during the Coronavirus quarantine, there were lots of people out walking with their dogs. So we had to stop and summon dogs at least eight times.
Diego loves cops, so he’ll say hello to any police officer we meet on our runs. Today we passed two, plus he said hello to whoever might hear as we ran past the town’s police headquarters.
Because Diego’s biggest dream in life is, as he puts it, to “find a girl,” he can’t resist waving and saying hello to every young woman we pass. Today, there were the following greetings: “Hi,” “Hello,” “Hi, I’m Diego,” and, to a girl with a New York shirt on, “Hi. Nice New York shirt. I gave you a compliment.”
Oh, how he loves giving compliments! Today, Diego also complimented a man standing on his front lawn and a biker, both times on their shirts, his go-to compliment.
And compliments often trigger free associations and further comments. For instance, one of the shirts that caught Diego’s attention today had a picture of a bald eagle, so Diego said, “I like your bald eagle. I saw one in Florida. They’re also in Alaska where my dads’ friend Pablo went, where Brother Bear and Big Miracle were filmed.”
And it’s not just the living Diego talks to when we’re out running. Clouds never fail to remind him of those no longer with us. Twice today, he was moved to address the dead, “I see Gary, nonno and Juan in the clouds,” and “Tia Margot, you left too soon.”
People sometimes ignore Diego, but, for the most part, they smile or say something friendly to my 26-year-old son. He has an aura of purity. Plus he’s slender and sweet-looking.
As usual, our run ended with celebratory words: “I love you. Give me a hug because I did it. Let’s tell dad I did good running. I ran like a leopard and Simba and Nala.”
Of course, Diego has already scheduled our next adventure: “Let’s run again on Tuesday. It will be sunny on Tuesday.”
Originally published on Runner’s Life