Our Hospitality: Day One and Day Two
To start with, I had to board a train at Union Station, which is the busiest transportation hub in Canada.
I had only boarded a train once before, and that was with my grandmother when I was thirteen. I remember next to nothing about this experience.
I was already worried about everything that could or might happen during this adventure, and learning how to negotiate the fucking railway system didn’t help matters.
My father dropped me off at Union way too early in the morning, I stumbled around for awhile trying to figure out what the hell was going on and where I was supposed to be, found the correct line without having to ask for help (thank God, because I hate talking to people), and boarded the train.
I didn’t fully calm down until the train left the station heading in the right direction. As we rode through the outskirts of Toronto, I felt like I’d gotten away with something, and texted both my parents and Hannah. They’d all been concerned about me, though for different reasons. My parents had, I thought, not enough faith in me. They were worried I wouldn’t make the train, or that I might board the wrong one. The parents of autistic people can be overprotective.
Hannah, I thought, had too much faith in me. She was absolutely certain I would make the right train, but was worried about how much stress I was putting myself through.
I didn’t completely relax while on the train. I kept thinking about all that was ahead of me, and all the things I couldn’t anticipate.
Eventually I arrived at my station, which was quite small, and so it didn’t take long for Mr Hannah to find me. Hannah had stayed in the car.
Mr Hannah is a warm, jovial, and chatty person, all positive traits which feel slightly alien to me. I wanted badly to make a good impression- and to reinforce the good impression I’d already made- but it was difficult to get a handle on him. On the way back to the Hannah household he talked a lot, and I used my Active Listening Skills.
When we got to her house, Hannah showed me around and we had time to catch up. I finally decompressed, which is an important thing to do. I often forget to decompress when I’m traveling; I get caught up with whatever it is I’m doing, or I assume I’m doing fine, or my usual coping strategies aren’t feasible for whatever reason. This often leads to an increase of stress, which makes it more challenging to decompress, which leads to more stress.
That evening, after Mrs Hannah had returned from wherever it is she’d been, Hannah’s brother, her sister-in-law, and their spawn arrived.
More introductions, more socializing, more busyness.
Fortunately the Brother and the Sister-in-Law were friendly and talkative, and I was able to sit and listen for the most part, responding only when necessary. I think I made a good impression.
I have next to no experience with children, and in the past I’ve found them inscrutable and overly loud. Fortunately, the spawn of the Brother and Sister-in-Law were quiet and owlish, and spent the evening in their own little world.
The next morning I had to take a shower. This is always a huge goddamn headache when you’re visiting somebody’s house.
I spent about a minute assessing the shower handles in the guest bathroom trying to figure out which was hot and which was cold. After realizing that no answers would be provided, I spent another five minutes moving the handles to and fro, sampling the arbitrarily changing temperature with my bare arm.
I got into the shower and realized there was no soap. There was a fine selection of shampoos, conditioners, and something called body wash, whatever the hell that is, but no soap.
I washed my hair and left- but wasn’t sure where to put my dirty clothes and the towel. I didn’t want to be One of Those Guests who leaves a pile of used shit on the bathroom counter and expects their host to clean up. But I didn’t have access to Hannah’s room, where I was staying, because it could only be entered through her bathroom. And she was in the shower.
With her in the shower, and with no access to her room, I knew I’d have to go downstairs and make small talk for an indeterminate amount of time. And possibly eat strange food.
My stomach had been feeling off since I’d gotten up, and I felt it get worse. I put my used shit on the bathroom counter, figuring I’d come back to get it when Hannah was done, and went downstairs.
Her parents- God bless them- gave me raisin bread and left me to my own devices. When Hannah was finished, I went upstairs to see her.
“Oh, by the way- my dad put your stuff on the bed,” she said.
We went out to lunch together and were gone three hours. It felt good to be outside, away from the slightly different but simultaneous pressures of Being a Good Guest and Not Being One of Those Guests.
When we returned, Hannah’s Sister and Brother-in-Law and their spawn had arrived.
The two adults were just as friendly as her Brother and Sister-in-Law had been, and I seemed to make a good impression. Their two spawn were temperamentally quite different from the other kids, all noise and chaos and unrestrained Id.
At one point the younger spawn was horsing around on a treadmill, swinging from the hand rail, and fell and cracked her head. Mr Hannah consoled her and made sure she was all right and the moment passed.
Five minutes later the younger spawn was on the treadmill again, swinging from the hand rail.
This is my kind of kid, I thought.
For dinner we had pizza, and I made sure not to eat too much. That’s a strategy I use: establish yourself as a person who doesn’t eat a lot, because it gives you leverage. If at some point you get served some sort of food you don’t like you can say something like, “Oh, I’m still full from earlier. You know me, I eat like a bird.” or some equivalent bullshit.
The only downside is that I hardly get anything to eat, which decreases my energy level, and decreases my ability to handle stress. There are a lot of factors to consider when being a guest; far too many variables. I never manage to manage them all to my satisfaction.
The Hannahs and I sat around talking for awhile. I mostly listened. We watched a few movies downstairs, which was great because I didn’t have to focus on anything at all except moving shapes on a screen.
Later on, after midnight, Hannah and I and the Sister and the Brother-in-Law went out to the hot tub. It turned out to be a major operation, because Hannah’s in a wheelchair and steering her chair through the snow out to the hot tub wasn’t an option. We discussed different possible solutions, weighing the pros and cons of each of them. It was decided that we would slide a sheet under Hannah, pick her up, and carry her very quickly out to the hot tub. Hannah was apprehensive about the idea of being carried anywhere, especially on something as flimsy as a sheet.
We managed to do it. Mr Hannah and the Brother-in-Law held the sheet while I supported her head and we rushed out into the freezing cold.
It was -30 below and I didn’t have a coat on, because it was a quick jog to the hot tub, but I still felt it.
It was comforting to be reminded of the fact that I wasn’t the only one who had to deal with hastily conceived solutions and an uncomfortable number of variables. My disability is totally different from Hannah’s, but we both have to cope with a world which wasn’t designed with us in mind.
She and I stayed in the hot tub long after her Sister and Brother-in-Law had gone to bed.
It started to snow.
“There’s no soap in the guest bathroom,” I said.
“Oh, my parents use body wash,” she said.