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Finding Walker's place Add to ...

"I can't do that," I said to his father. I suddenly had a mental picture of Walker picking grapes. Maybe Walker could pick grapes.

"He's a better parallel parker that any 18-year-old with a licence," Cliff said. It took four years to teach Cliffy to drive the tractor. He started by cutting the grass with the boy in his arms.

At 10:47, Brenda roused Cliffy from the TV. "Cliffy, time to go to bed."

" Mom," he said. Nothing delayed about that tone. "Why can't I stay up? I'm a teenager." He had the routines of normal life down. Between what he felt and what he had been told to feel was the real boy, still forming. Was that the gift of the CFC child - to be always forming and never formed?

When I came down for breakfast, Cliff and Cliffy had been up since 7 a.m., making their Sunday omelettes. Cliffy was wearing his SpongeBob SquarePants pyjamas.

He shuffled over. Wan wet light was filtering through the window. "Mr. Bwown, you want mushwooms in yoh omelette?"

"Ian," I said. "Call me Ian."

"Ian." Perfunctory. Names, irrelevant. Experience was all. "You want mushwooms?"

"Are you a mushroom eater?" I asked.

"Yeah."

"Me too!"

"Yeah!" he fairly shouted. I knew that bang of glee. Walker did that. "He's a mushwoom eater!" he called to his father.

He paused. "What about pickles?"

"No," I said, "no pickles."

"Whoa!" He looked at me with new respect, the kind you accord a fellow who stands against the orthodoxies of the age.

"You a pickle man?" I asked.

"Yeah!" Again the grunt of enthusiasm. Maybe that was why Walker did it too - when he felt we were equals.

All we had needed was an interpreter, a boy who spoke both our languages.

26 Feb 06. Picked Walker up today. He seems to have not one but two girlfriends: Chantal, who is now wearing a body brace for her scoliosis, and Krista Lee, a lovely 14-year-old girl in a wheelchair whom Walker adores. Chantal is bossier and pushes herself into Walker's ambit. Krista Lee waits and so he goes to her.

Katie, one of the phalanx of men and women who work in the house, has even devised a way to stop Walker from hitting himself, without resorting to the foam helmet he hates - empty Pringles cans, reinforced with tongue depressors and electrician's tape, padded at the wrists and elbows and upholstered in bright fabric. They prevent him from bending his arms and levering his punches up to his bean. After years of misery, relief in five cents' worth of cardboard.

I am still ashamed when people ask why they don't see Walker as much any more; I can't admit he lives mostly here. Johanna's more modern: "I feel as if he belongs to others now, as well as us." He's certainly settling in. Not long ago Olga and Johanna brought him back here from a weekend at home. Walker made a dervish entry, knocked over the trash can and buried his head in the breasts of Trish, his night worker. Then he took Johanna and Olga each by a hand, and gently but firmly escorted them to the front door. He wanted them to leave. Strange bout of liberation!

He's on a new dose of risperidone and a new drug for reflux, and his moods are more even. But it's his emotional confidence that's leaping forward. Living only in our world, I'm sure he saw his limitations everywhere. In his new vacation home, as I think of it, surrounded by peers, he's as solid as anyone. I hope that is the gift we gave him by giving him up.

At our lowest point, we would try anything to feel better. I remember coming home one day to find my wife drinking wine and telling an elaborate story to her two closest friends. They had been with Walker every stumbling step.

"I was at my chiropractor, Anita's," Johanna was saying, "and at the end of the session, she said, 'I have an idea about Walker. This is pretty woo-woo' - that was Anita's phrase, woo-woo - 'but I wonder if you would take him to a shaman. A native shaman.' And I was so strung out on Walker that I said, 'Sure.' So two weeks later we set out to see the shaman."

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