By Lloyd Graff
I was watching the new Ron Howard series “Parenthood” Saturday night when my cell phone rang with a call from the 602 area code (Phoenix). One of the key threads in the show is a story about a boy diagnosed with Asperger’s, a step on the autism spectrum.
The caller was the daughter of a first cousin who went on to breathlessly recount the story of my cousin, Don, being hit by a car at 4:30 a.m. that day and being killed.
I had written an “Afterthought” awhile back about my relationship (or lack of) with Don, who ran away from a high school English class we were both taking, 48 years ago. I never saw Don again after that.
He suffered a psychotic break that day I learned, and was placed in a psychiatric ward after my Dad literally chased him down on the University of Chicago campus.
Donnie and I were not close, but we played ping pong and softball. We were kin. His family was a crumbling mess, but I didn’t know that at the time. I had no idea Don was a fragile vessel. When the vicious English teacher humiliated him in class that day and Dan bolted out of the class I was stunned by the teacher’s callousness, but I was also stunned that Don reacted by running out of the room and the building.
It was all so crazy.
It was my intro to emotional illness.
Don’s life with schizophrenia ended at 4:30 a.m. Saturday with the impact of a Honda Accord going 42 miles per hour, according to the police report. He had no wife or children. The story on the Washington Post said he was “an eccentric man” who frequented a nearby shopping center.
Don’s niece, Elizabeth, is looking for a place to bury him. She asked me if he could be buried in a plot my father had bought in the late 1960s. I didn’t know what to say to her. As close as I had been to death 18 months ago, I had no burial plans, nor did my brother or sister or our spouses. I didn’t like having to deal with Don any more in death than I did in life. For 48 years I could not get that terrible day in English class out of my head. And now I have to live with the image of Don Graff’s “eccentrism” walking into the Honda on a four lane highway at 4 a.m.