I saw it in his eyes. He wanted to bolt. If he found a crack in the crowd, he’d force his way through like a flower through a concrete slab. At 5’5” and 155 pounds, clad with big blue noise-cancelling headphones, people would step back startled and stare, walk around and give him space, rather than stop him.
And that’s what scared me. Where would he go? When Wil is overwhelmed in a store he bolts straight to the parking lot. He knows exactly where our car is parked. If it’s locked he’ll stand right by it. But in that state, he may not watch for passing cars.
He escaped the eyes of about 20 mothers at Crisler Arena. “But he was just right here!” a startled mother said. “That’s how he does it!” I replied as we all split up to find him. A Crisler Arena employee, once I alerted her Wil was lost, spied him on the security camera. He had located the exact doors we entered, and was just about to exit the building. He was in hot pursuit of our parked car.
Today, though, we weren’t at a store. We weren’t at Crisler Arena. In fact, losing Wil at Crisler was child’s play compared to this venue. We stood upon hundreds of acres of farm field amongst 20,000 concert goers. Our only land markers were identical lamp posts installed for the concert with identical colored square boards tacked to the top of each lamp post. The colored square boards differed only by the number printed upon them, but it was highly unlikely Wil paid any attention to that. The gentle rise and fall of elevation erased any purposeful sense of direction I tried to hold onto. By the time we neared the ticket-taker, I knew only that our car was at least a mile away in the general vicinity of stage left.
I talked to Wil softly, reminding him how badly he wanted to see Luke Bryan. How special it was that his sister Elizabeth and friend CJ, and CJ’s mom, Cheri, were there too. That Riley Green was opening and he’d get to sing with Riley to, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.” That we just had to get through the ticket-taker, and there would be loads of room to spread out and find the perfect spot. I knew Wil wanted to believe me, that he wanted more than anything to be with the country artist he listens to every day; is a fan club member of, has 2 pillows of and multiple t-shirts of, knows what town he lives in, the names and ages of his wife and children, including his adopted nephew and nieces, and every lyric of every song. I tease Wil that if there was a category on Jeopardy titled “Luke Bryan,” that he would take down the entire column against Luke Bryan himself.
Cheri and her son, CJ who is 2 years older than Wil and also has Down syndrome, were being pushed further ahead of us as Wil held his ground looking for an escape route. Elizabeth did her best to block any means of escape for Wil. Elizabeth and Cheri know how this goes; when our boys have their minds made up, there is little to stop them. I kept my eye on Cheri’s pink shirt and my body only inches from Wil’s. There was no cell phone reception.
“Can I help?” I turned around. He had a very light shade of red hair. I noticed his female partner had the same shade of hair color.
“Yes, please! I so appreciate you asking. It helps to break the spell when it’s anyone but mom.”
The blond-red haired man leaned forward to get Wil’s attention. His partner smiled kindly. They drew Wil in with questions. I don’t remember the questions they asked Wil, but I do remember the gentle, calming kindness with which they asked them. I could both see and feel the grip of overwhelm loosen within Wil. Not fully, but it was enough.
The crowd pushed forward and we started to separate from the couple. I knew Wil would quickly revert. But just as I was having that thought, a man directly to my left, that must have been there for some time but I was so absorbed in Wil that I didn’t notice said, “We will get you guys through tickets. I’m Paul. This is my wife Erica, and my twin boys Mark and Mitchell.” Then Paul, in a sideways comment to me said, “Hey, my cousin is missing a chromosome!” We shared a chuckle.
“Hey Wil,” Paul asked, “how old are you? These are my boys. They are fifteen.”
“Wil, they are the same age as you, how cool!” I said trying to keep Wil’s attention on anything but escape. “And Wil’s sisters are twins! This is one of Wil’s twin sisters, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth, Paul and his wife, Erin, then struck up a conversation. I was thankful that the focus could now be on Elizabeth for a change.
Paul kept to his word and stayed with us. Wil never fully relaxed, which meant nor did I, but again it was enough to keep us moving forward. We made it through the ticket-taker (halleluiah!) and the security guard actually gave me a hard time for the bag I had (it was a big open bag with no pockets or compartments). I politely pointed to Wil and said it simply wouldn’t be safe for me to carry two lawn chairs, two jackets and keep tabs on him (most people, I’ve found, aren’t trying to be difficult, they simply don’t know). The security guard called his manager over — a huge, imposing man — who upon seeing us, gave us the hugest, heartiest smile and waved us on.
“Sorry, just doing my job,” the security guard said.
We broke way into the concert area and the crowds dispersed like a dense flock of birds exploding from a tree into the sky. Wil visibly relaxed in the open space and recognition soaked in.
Wil and I attended Luke Bryan’s very first Farm Tour in Fowlerville last year. We arrived later in the day, so didn’t have the experience of the crowd. However, we were backed up in traffic for over two hours which led to it’s own set of challenges. Armed with last year’s knowledge, and companioned with Elizabeth, Cheri and CJ, we were in a much better situation. Even so, there are some hurdles that must be crossed to get where you want to go.
Paul said that his family was meeting a large group of friends and we were welcome to plant our lawn chairs with them. He said that way I could relax as there would be many “eyeballs” as Paul put it, on Wil. I smiled, thanked him, and chose not to share the Crisler Arena incident.
We did in fact plant our lawn chairs with Paul’s friends and I felt more of a sense of ease. Every single person in the group was friendly, welcoming and clearly there for a good time, but Cheri and I always had one eye on CJ and Wil. CJ made a few attempts to make his way, on his own, up to the stage. He was unconvinced as to why he couldn’t go up there. He holds his own weather report on YouTube every day, and plays baritone with his high school marching band. He lives on the stage. In one forward attempt, he walked up to a pretty girl dancing and asked her to dance with him. She jumped at the chance, and even her boyfriend, who’d been standing still as a statue, broke a smile and busted a move.
Paul leaned over and said to me, “It’s a beautiful life, but I know you have challenges. Please know that you sharing Wil and CJ with us is a gift.”
Love our village t-21 momma