It’s 3:48 pm.
The time disappears from the dashboard as I turn off the car’s engine. I flip open my cell phone, checking my call history as I get out. I phoned at 3:20 pm, so the pizza should be ready.
I pull open the steamed-over glass door and enter the oven-warmed vestibule. To the left is the entrance to the dining area. To my right is the window for take-out orders. I step up and give my name.
I’m startled by the thwunk of the door shutting. I’m just as surprised by the inordinately loud sound now as I was two weeks ago.
While the employee looks for my order, I glance at the cork board on the wall. It is a collage of business cards, flyers for events, posters of items for sale and services offered. I don’t have time to peruse them before the guy is announcing my total. I give him my credit card.
As my card is returned, the door is being opened. When I look at the arriving customer, I notice something new: a box of lollipops on the edge of the counter. It’s one of those fundraisers where you deposit money on the honor system.
Having no interest in candy, I’m about to turn my attention back to my transaction when a word on the box catches my eye: autism. It is a reflex to me now. I peer more closely and read the name of the non-profit who will benefit from these sales.
“Oh no,” I exhale to myself, shaking my head.
Autism is Curable.
My brain goes into overdrive.
Who had these put here? The owner? An employee? A customer?
Should I complain? What should I say?
My receipt is done printing. I sign the curling slip of paper and return it with the pen, receiving my plain white box in exchange.
I move past the other patron, walk to my car and get in with the pizza.
I left annoyed. How ridiculous is it to think that a few cents generated from selling some generic ball of sugar at the end of a cardboard stick is going to really make a difference?
I left angered. Why not raise money for providing services for autistics rather than stigmatizing them further by promoting the need to research for a cure?
I left afraid. What happens to the next person who sees that box? The one who doesn’t know anyone with autism? The person who reads “autism is curable” and then meets my autistic son, thinking he needs to be fixed?
I left ashamed. I lacked the courage to lodge a protest. I was unprepared to articulate my concerns. I wasn’t able to explain how those three words are so hurtful to my son.
When I start the engine, the time reappears on the dash: 3:52 pm.
It only took four minutes to fail my son as an advocate.