By Michael Myers
Hunched over an undersized desk, Lucas earns his nickname: Moose. “Give it to Moose,” his coworkers say. Massive filing jobs are regularly dumped on his desk and he completes them all without error. When the office is bustling with loud salesmen, excited for their weekends and happy-hours, Lucas quietly works away. His silence isn’t a dig at his colleagues’ shenanigans, he just never speaks, a side-affect of his autism.
Lucas works at Choice Realty, a real-estate office that is close enough to home. For Lucas it doesn’t matter though. He’s always miles away as he’s entering, sorting and summarizing sales data. But for his mother Susanne, it’s important that her son always be close by. They keep a hard routine and live a streamlined life, but she often worries about her son.
His autism never stopped him from earning a two-year college diploma in Accounting. The routine and structure of Accounting was a perfect fit for Lucas: Mondays were Payroll and tuna for lunch, Fridays were “Pizza Fridays” and Accounts Receivable entries. Lucas never took to speaking, especially at work where is mother wasn’t there to be his voice. Still, he could show you on an Excel spreadsheet just what you needed to see.
At 5 p.m. sharp everyday, Susanne picks her son up from work. Lucas then spends every night playing his favourite online war game, Counterstrike. She isn’t crazy about Lucas’ ritual, and at age 22, Susanne thinks he ought to have his own routine, whether or not he approves. But along with Lucas’ gaming comes the loud pounding she hears coming from his room every night. One night, it gets really loud. Forced to investigate for the sake of her son, and her home, Susanne barges in mid-smash.
“Lucas, you are going to break that desk!”
Lucas swivels his chair to face his mom, and then turns back to his monitor and pushes it over with ease.
“Talk to me, Lucas!” she screams.
He holds his stare and kicks the monitor, which is now on the ground. This is when Susanne decides it’s time for a new routine.
The next day, she sets out to find something that will be better for her son. Fishing would be perfect, she thinks. It’s outdoors, it’s peaceful and best of all, it’ll keep him off of Counterstrike for a few hours.
Susanne makes her way into a sporting goods store and purchases two rods and a tackle box, and fills it with what she thinks are over-priced lures. It’s for my son, she says to herself as the clerk swipes her card.
Leaving the store, Susanne notices a blue flyer sticking out from under her windshield wiper. On it, a man in a Karate gi is smiling while throwing a straight high-kick. “Master Nick’s Impact Kyokutan Karate,” it says. Yeah, that is just what he needs: more violence. She pulls the flyer down and drops it on the passenger seat.
Susanne arrives to pick up Lucas from work at 5:04. He’s already waiting outside with a not-so subtle scowl.
“I got something for you,” she says.
He looks down and through the car’s rolled-down window, and he sees the Karate flyer and grins.
“No, not that. Look in the back seat. I got us fishing rods!” Susanne says, waiting for Lucas to return her a smile.
Instead, his grin drops.
“I just thought I would try something new, Lucas. I mean, don’t you want to do something other than play that game?”
Lucas picks up the flyer, looks it over and tunes out his mom.
“What? You want to do that? Fine. I’ll drive you there right now!” Susanne says, reversing the car in a fury.
They pull into the parking lot of what looks to be an abandoned office building. Susanne waits for Lucas to call her bluff, but it never comes. When they enter the dojo, they’re met with the smell of feet and the sound of shins colliding with pads: Bang, bang, BANG.
“Jeez kid, you’re as big as a bear,” says a voice. It’s the guy from the flyer, Nick.
“Funny you should say that,” Susanne chimes in. “I hear his coworkers have likened him to a moose.”
“Ha! Okay, Moose… Is that what I should call you?” Nick asks.
Lucas gives no reply.
Nick smiles. “Okay, Moose, we’d be happy to have you. Class starts in ten minutes.”
“Oh no! We are just here for some information. He’s not ready to try it now,” Susanne explains.
“Moose, you wanna try this out now?” Nick persists.
Lucas nods yes.
“Great! We have a loner gi you can wear for this class. Don’t worry, its clean.”
Lucas signals to his mother to wait outside.
“No, Lucas. If you really want to try this out, I’m staying right here.”
* * *
“Okay, guys. Let’s all give a warm welcome to Lucas, who’s starting his first class today.”
The class applauds and Lucas applauds with them nervously.
There is a wall in the dojo with a slogan adorning it that seems to catch Lucas’ eye. It reads: “If you know the way broadly, you will see it in everything.”
“That’s Miyamoto Musashi, Moose. Do you know who that is?”
Lucas shakes his head.
“He was the greatest Japanese swordsman ever. You could learn a lot from him. When you go home tonight, look him up.”
Susanne waits in the lobby. Everywhere there are trophies, metals and pictures of Nick fighting in competitions. In one, Nick’s opponent appears to be lying on the mat unconscious. While he seems to be a nice guy, she hopes this will be their last trip to Nick’s studio.
But, week after week, she drives him to his classes. Lucas’ laundry doubles from the sweat-soaked gis, but Susanne is hard-pressed to complain. The pounding on the desk has stopped, and Counterstrike is replaced with Bruce Lee clips on YouTube and Musashi’s book, The Book of Five Rings.
Three months pass and Lucas is promoted to the rank of orange belt. The night of his promotion, Nick takes Lucas aside.
“Learning through repetition and hard training, Moose. That’s why I gave you your orange belt tonight…. You’re qualified to compete now,” Nick says as he tugs on his new orange belt. “You’re our only heavyweight.”
Lucas glanced at his mother, who was watching them both suspiciously.
“Moms worry, Moose,” says Nick. “That’s what they do. If I listened to my mom, I would have never found my own way.” Nick stretches out his arms to show off his trophies and his studio.
“What do you want to do, Moose?” Nick asks as he hands Lucas a flyer for a local competition.
Susanne sees the flyer and ambushes the conversation.
“This isn’t for him, Nick.”
“Is this for you, Moose?” Nick asks.
Lucas slowly nods.
“I’ve allowed Lucas to train here. That’s enough for him.”
“I’m going to go,” Lucas says suddenly. Both his mother and his teacher stand there, speechless.
While Nick has only known Lucas for a few months, he’s never heard him say a word, and for Susanne she can’t remember the last time she heard her son’s voice. Lucas learned to speak early on, but as he got older, fewer and fewer words were said until there were almost none. Lucas was diagnosed with High-Function Autism (HFA). A nonverbal HFA is extremely rare, and this made Susanne wonder if his silence was a choice.
The weekend of the competition soon approaches. This time, Lucas’ mom doesn’t drive him, and she doesn’t wait for him in the lobby. Nick meets him out front and quotes Musashi, but Lucas is too nervous to pay any notice.
When his name is finally called, he’s wobbly. His competitor is shorter, but wider than he is, and confidently bouncing on his toes around the mat.
The match begins. Lucas absorbs the first strike; it lands hard on his rib cage. Lucas returns a series of left-right jabs as he charges forward, but he can’t tell if any have landed. Lucas suffers another kick to his already throbbing rib and the exchanges continue with Lucas getting the worst of it. The three-minute match ends and Lucas’ hand is not raised. He loses the match, 5-1.
“Great heart, Moose. We’ll go over it on Monday,” Nick says while he gives him a reassuring pat on the back.
When he gets outside, he finds his mom waiting for him in the parking lot. When she notices Lucas’ slumped-over posture while holding his rib cage, she rushes over. He pushes her away, letting her know that he’s OK. Instead, he hands her a flyer for another competition.
Susanne steps away from her son and asks, “Is this really what you want to do?”
Lucas smiles and nods.
“Okay, Lucas. Have it your own way.”