Jay Berman started using drugs as a teenager, became a thief to support his habit in his 20s and became homeless around the time he turned 30. He almost lost his life to overdose, suicide and freezing, until a taxi driver literally picked him up off the street and helped him restart his life. He’s never understood why that stranger helped him, and today he regards the man as a guardian angel, as he wrote in his story “Saved From Myself,” published in our book on the power of positivity.
Jay was a shy kid with few friends besides his best friend Butch. They were both funny and mediocre athletes, and Jay was only happy when they were together. As teenagers they started buying marijuana, and Jay realized he had a problem when he noticed that Butch’s stash would last for weeks while Jay would go through his in days. His drug abuse progressed to include pills, cocaine and alcohol, and several years later he was caught stealing from his employer to finance his habit. He was lucky not to go to jail, even though he didn’t wind up that much better off.
Soon he was living on the street, buying cheap booze and fraternizing with other drug users. Then in the winter of 1986, when the temperature regularly dropped into the teens, Jay felt he “was dying of frostbite.” One night, that kind taxi driver pulled up to the curb where Jay was sleeping. The driver picked him up and put him in his car, then took him home, where his wife fed him and gave him coffee. Later, the couple bought him a plane ticket to Fort Lauderdale, and Jay managed to get a job. His drug addiction derailed him again, but he finally managed to get clean and began a career as a florist. At the time he wrote his story he’d been sober for 20 years, and he credits his turnaround to the mysterious man who picked him up off the street, helped him restart and then disappeared from his life.
The school bus driver waits as Benjamin pokes his head under the vehicle and examines its undercarriage. This is a daily ritual, and one the driver has come to tolerate, as Trey Brown, Benjamin’s father, wrote in his story “How Stuff Works,” published in our book on raising kids on the autism spectrum. After school, Benjamin returns home with detailed schematics, drawings of the bus’s “tires, axels, driveshaft, engine, transmission, pipes, wires,” and more, according to his dad.
This ritual began when Benjamin was 6 years old and has progressed since then.
On weekends, Trey would pop the hood of his car, and Benjamin would enthusiastically point at the various components asking, “What’s that?” He was not satisfied until his father identified everything. Then he disappeared to his room and drew it all.
Soon he added to his repertoire, and walking through a parking lot became a half-hour process. “He poked his head under every car along the way and held his hand out to stop cars that slowed to stalk our parking spot,” Trey wrote.
Eventually, drawing the visible lost its allure, so Benjamin began diagramming the internal machinery of engines, or at least what he imagined was in there. There were “spark plugs with lightning bolts, pipes with crazy-angled joints, cables wrapping around and extending out to nowhere.”
Everything changed when Benjamin received his first human anatomy book. “His mouth literally hung open when he turned the pages: body system after system revealed in full-color overlays. For Valentine’s Day, he and his kindergarten classmates drew hearts. Benjamin’s drawing “included arteries, veins, ventricles and an aortic arch.”
Trey has watched in amazement as his son’s observational skills have developed. And he writes: “As amazing as all of this continues to be, neither his art nor his understanding of how things work is savant ability. His knowledge and talents draw from intense focus.” Benjamin’s abilities shouldn’t be attributed to the fact that he’s on the autism spectrum, even if there’s a correlation between his interests and his diagnosis. He’s just an amazing kid with an impressive hobby that he’s developed through focused curiosity.
Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com