During my drive to Pittsburgh, I stopped by Minneapolis to visit Dirt and Kiki for a couple days. I hadn't seen their daughter, Ava, since they left Metamuville two years ago. Then seven, this autistic child only spoke the words "iPad," "no," "Nemo," and "blueberries." I often described her as Helen-Keller-kind-of-feral.

When Ava was born, Dirt and Kiki started calling me "Uncle John." As time passed, I became the boogey man. "You don't want to make Uncle John angry," Dirt would say when I wasn't even there. Eventually, I lost that title. Dirt renamed me after the sergeant in Stripes.

When I arrived last month, Ava walked past me on the front porch. "Uncle Hulka," she said blankly. She walked to my car and pointed. "Those are Washington license plates."

Who are you? I thought, amazed at the transformation. Nice to finally meet you.

Then a memory popped into her brain. "iPad?"

There's my girl.

She's far from normal, but she's also far from feral. Civilization and its attendant special education system have been very good for her. Ava still refuses to engage much of the time, but she can opt to engage now, and that's been life-transforming. We actually bicker now. Oh sure, it's not like how Katrina's kid and I can bicker for 127 hours without drawing a breath. Ava doesn't have that sort of focus. This goes for 5 minutes, tops. It's infinitely preferable.

The school has taught her to express her anger instead of biting people, or at least how to go through those motions. And express her anger she does. Any time she doesn't get her way, she screams "AVA IS FEELING ANGRY!!!" louder and louder. The only way to stop the escalations is to capitulate. We were in the back seat of the car when Uncle Hulka thought he would try another tactic.

"Ava is feeling....angry," she said.

"John doesn't care," I replied.



And so it went for about a dozen louder and louder iterations, until she grabbed my hand and chomped. I let her.


"What is that?" I cooed sweetly, tears rolling down my cheek. "Did a butterfly just land on my hand? Because it kind of tickles."

I sent the photo to Katrina's kid, who asked what I'd done to deserve being bit. I replied that I'd told Ava to shut up.

"Yep. That'll do it."