Friday, September 23, 2011

Why I Like Alphas

 “Alphas” is a new program on the Syfy channel that features five people who are “alphas” – “persons with extraordinary abilities.”  Their job is to find other alphas who use their extreme mental and physical abilities for wrongdoing (i.e. destroy the world).   So every week the” good guy” alphas fight the” bad guy” alphas – as my son, James, would say. 
One woman, the soft spoken, repressed Rachel, can shut out four of her five senses and use her remaining sense to hear heartbeats, see dust patterns, etc.  She fights alphas by day and by night battles her traditional family’s embarrassment by her abilities and, of course, her unmarried status. 

Another woman, Nina, is the token hottie (is that word still used?).  She’s a poor man’s Samantha Fox and when she’s not battling bad-guy alphas with her enhanced powers of suggestion, she wrestling with her own sexy bad girl demons.  My husband, Don lights up when she answers a post of his on her Facebook page.  I haven’t had the heart to tell him that more likely her publicist team is responding to all of the horny, drooling men who post.  But, I digress…

One man, Bill, is a family man with super strength, and another, Cameron, is a loner who has hyperkinetic abilities.  Like every man on an action show, they are both dealing with their own macho issues.

And then there is Gary.

Gary is young man who has high-functioning autism (“32 on the CARS scale” as he tells people) and who can see and read electromagnetic waves.  Gary is in his mid 20s and lives with his mother, who isn’t sure how she feels about her son’s work.
Each character brings to the team his or her own extraordinary ability.  They also bring their own baggage – some of which is already apparent and some which is slowly unfolding.  Except Gary. 

Gary’s baggage is his autism and it’s right there.  No secrets.   It’s there when he moves his arms and fingers and looks around like he’s reading something (because he is).  It’s there in his mother’s worn and worried face.  It’s there in how he speaks, in his obsessions, and in his unashamed honesty.
It’s hard for television to portray a person with autism without showcasing the characteristics that work for the plot.  Very often the character is low functioning and has some sort of breakthrough because the protagonist performed one final, larger than human, life-saving act.  Lost autistic boy is found and gives the hero his first hug ever as the parents stand by smiling and weeping at the same time. 

Gary has savant abilities and to some people in the autism community that in itself is a stereotypical portrayal.  But all of the main characters in Alphas have savant abilities so that makes Gary an equal member of the team.  And, in a sense, these characters are as different from each other as Gary is from them.  They would hardly be acquaintances if they didn’t share their alpha abilities.  So not only do they have to navigate Gary’s perspective, they have to navigate each other’s – because they all need each other.   
The show artfully sprinkles some subtle glimpses into Gary’s inner life so that we can compare how the world sees Gary versus what he sees.  When Gary is seemingly flicking his fingers, he’s reading radio waves.  Or when Gary notes that there is a roaming security camera (he can see the waves) in the building next door that can look into their office and that’s why he won’t go to the bathroom at certain times during the hour.

Ultimately – like in all action shows – they are all tortured souls who want something and are dealing with whatever it is sitting inside of them holding them back.  Gary’s wants may be more concrete – he wants friends, he wants to drive a car, he wants people to listen to him – but his autism is holding him back.  Rachel wants to speak her mind like Gary does but her upbringing holds her back.  Nina wants love but doesn’t believe she deserves it (because she’s such a hot sexy bad girl with a past).  The men…well you get the picture.   

In the end, they are all different – different from us, different from each other.  They fight bad guys and, like us, they wrestle with their issues – together and on equal footing. 

And that’s why I like Alphas.

The Other Woman

The second video clip on the camera ends and my friend anxiously finds the third.  “Here he is when the nanny comes in.  See how he looks up and hugs himself as soon as he sees her?  That’s because they play the ‘I love you’ game.  That’s a good sign right??? 

 The lighting in our diner booth is low and I squint once again into the camera, and then smile and nod, “it’s all good.” 

“So what do you think?” she asks? 

 “It’s all good,” I repeat.

 “But too soon to know for sure, right?” 

“Well, you know I’m not a doctor but, yes, it’s looking good to me.” 



And so goes the dialogue every few weeks as my friend shows me videos of her son sitting on the floor or in a chair, looking up, looking down, reaching out, playing with a toy - looking for assurance that her little guy is o.k. or “typically developing” as I put it. 

My son, now 7, has autism spectrum disorder, but my friend knows how I feel about labels.  I think of James as “an amazing kid” because it’s who he is first and foremost.  She admires me for that.

My friend and I met when James was four so she never knew me through my initial angst, my pain, my guilt, my denial, and my confusion as we circled various diagnoses starting when he was 18 months.  She didn’t watch me begin the journey, so she only knows the together woman who takes it all in her stride and doesn’t believe in labels.  I’ve never let her know that I’m not completely that woman either.  I knew she was planning a family and let her know the woman she needed to know.  The woman who had it all together – nothing phases her – not even autism.

So, sitting at our usual table watching her nervously search for the third video clip, I felt like I failed at being the other woman I wanted her to know.  After being such a shining example of togetherness, I wanted to shout, “Why do you think it would be so awful to have a son like mine!”  And, more so, “How could you have no inkling of how insulting this conversation to me?!”  But I knew the latter was my fault.  How could she know?

Of course, I didn’t say anything like that.  Thankfully, things looked fine and I was able to tell her what she had hoped to hear. 

A few weeks ago, her son was 18months old and we got together.  She had the camera and a few photos.  We looked, we talked.  According to the doctor, he passed the “markers.”  She was happy.  She made it through!  “Whew!” 

When we said good bye, she looked so relieved, even serene.  She seemed to float as she walked away.  I smiled, remembering that carefree stride from long ago.  I was happy for her but also sad for her and mad at myself. 

Mad because maybe I really didn’t do my job as a friend.  I made it look so easy and, of course, she knows she can’t be that person if it happened to her.  I wasn’t.  

And sad that she feels so safe because she escaped the “big A” and can’t imagine that anything could be worse.  Sad that her big escape doesn’t mean anything and that there are no guarantees that we get off scot free. 

I wish it didn’t scare her so much to become me.  I wish I could tell her that some day she may hurt and it will be okay. I wish I could shield her from the heartbreak that can strike at any time and change all the rules and twist all the dreams. 

I wish I could meet and have coffee with that woman I used to be.  I wish I could have prepared her for what was to come and assure her that she and her little boy will come through it changed - but amazing. 

I wish there were markers or milestones that we acknowledged every time a woman in my shoes takes a step to recapturing that woman she used to be.  I know I’ll never get her completely back.  I’ve moved on to another place and it’s like moving to a new home and feeling settled after five years.  There’s no moving back to the starter home.  I even feel proud of the woman I’ve become, proud of what she’s been able to do for her son, and blessed that he was given to me to love.

Yet, when I see the former me inside friends, cousins, sisters, and co-workers with new babies, a tiny part of me always misses her.