A Monster of a Difference

One of my favorite short stories is Born of Man and Woman by sci-fi giant Richard Matheson. It’s 3 1/2 pages of glorious prose, told first person by an 8-year-old creature who lives, chained to the wall, in his family’s cellar. His parents and sister (or, “little mother,” as the narrator calls her) are all normal, as pretty as the movie stars the “boy” reads about in his movie magazines.

It was always a simple tale of creepiness and horror, a quick read that I’d return to over and over again. For Week 5 of Nate’s summer English course, he (we) had to choose a short story of our own. So I turned to Matheson.

As usual, we read out loud and, as we did, I came to realize something new. This is no simple story of the macabre. It is a story of a child with a difference. OK, so his problems revolve around being squishy and green-blooded, with a penchant for eating bugs. And don’t take that I think Nate is a monster. You all know better than that. But whether it’s the similar writing styles of Nate and the “boy,” or the ending line that I’ve heard Nate say himself, Born of Man and Woman got me thinking.

See, the parents who created this poor soul can’t hack it. They’re humiliated by him, hide him away from friends and neighbors. When it gets too much to handle, they lash out, screaming and hitting the son they see as a curse. “Ohmygodmygod,” the “boy” hears his parents say.

Again, we’ve chosen to not wonder about the whys in regard to Nate’s hyperlexia. For us, that was the easy part. The harder thing is to not take things personally. What could be more personal than your own child? Like I say, it’s difficult.

What we’ve learned over the years, and what the monster child’s parents don’t get, is it’s not about them. So, after a grueling homework session with Nate, after we’ve yelled, screamed and, for me, got pinched and bit, how did I take it when he turned to me and sweetly said, “Ah, Dad, I hate you.”

It didn’t bother me at all, though I knew he meant it. Nate says things and does things that sometimes he can’t help, sometimes he can. Either way, I would advise a parent of a hyperlexic or autistic kid to put a little distance to the most unpleasant encounters. You know your children better than I do, but take it easy. There’s no reason to beat yourself up because your son or daughter is autistic or allow your child’s outbursts, verbal or physical, to wound you. The moment will pass and then it’s back to work to improve him or her to the best of their abilities, and yours.

Being the parent of an autistic child has its triumphs and tragedies, but the good times far outpace the bad. That’s no horror story. That’s life.

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About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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