“Why bother?” Staring in the bathroom mirror, I asked myself.

“Why bother attempting a family vacation?”

The scratches across my forehead and neck made me question myself. Traveling with autism presents many unique challenges. I glanced at the time on my phone. It was a quarter past ten in the morning and we should have been on the road several hours ago. I then glanced at the newly framed photo on the bathroom shelf. Tapping on the glass I smiled. My friend, Leidy took my son to a very special dance. Tim Tebow’s Night to Shine Prom is an event like no other. It provides a magical prom night experience for people age 14 and older with special needs. The smile on Cade’s face evidenced the joy of the evening.

Turning back toward the mirror, my skin was gruesomely pale. My eyes still red and swollen. I dabbed antibiotic cream across my neck. Again I glanced at the time on my phone. “We should have been on the road.” I told myself. Luckily we weren’t. Our earlier attempt did not end well.

“What should we do about breakfast?” My wife, Julee queried.

“Let’s just pick up drive through along the way.” I replied. “It will save some time.”

Moments later Cade reached into the brown paper bag. Taco Bell was what he wanted and Taco Bell was what he got. “When you going to Uncle Darrin’s house?” Cade questioned himself in the third person. Cade asks this question when a migraine is on the way. I am not sure why. It’s just one of the ways that he is uniquely Cade. It’s been an unusually warm winter. Likewise, there’s been an unusually high pollen count. Unfortunately, Cade’s migraines are triggered by his allergies. Before long, he reached for the hood of my sweatshirt. With my neck pulled back I swerved on the steering wheel.

“Calm down!” I yelled as my wife gave Cade his pain medicine. Breakfast tacos and Fire Border sauce exploded in the car. Reading the packet stuck to my side window I chuckled…”I spontaneously bust out in Ninja moves.” My fortune came to me in the form of packaged picante sauce. Abruptly my head jerked to the left. Struggling to keep my eye on the road, I pulled away. A fistful of hair fell to my shoulder. Determined to get home safely, I prayed. The hood of my sweatshirt made for an easy target. Again I was dragged back. Julee did her best to keep Cade down, but with one hand on my neck and the other on my forehead, his nails dug in.

“Calm down!” Again I yelled. Julee continued holding Cade back. My mentally disabled brother-in-law, Brett became frightened.

“I’m going to jump out!” Brett cried. “I’m going to jump out!”

“Brett,” I continued, “I need you to keep calm as well.”

“But I don’t want to get in a wreck.” In anguish, he went on.

“We’re almost home, Brett.”

Once more the hood of my sweatshirt was grasped. As Cade pulled, the slider of my jacket zipper pierced the skin on my neck. The more Cade pulled, the more the zipper cut. “Calm down!”

With both hands on the steering wheel, we miraculously made it home. Cade took a warm bath and in the guest bathroom, I tended to my wounds.

“Why bother?” I kept questioning. “Maybe we should just stay home.” Putting away the tube of Neosporin, I glanced at the photo from Cade’s dance. Again I smiled. For I knew exactly why we needed a family vacation. It was a lesson I learned from a complete stranger. It was no coincidence that this stranger and I met. God places people in our lives when we need them most. Although no words were exchanged, this brief encounter changed my life forever.

Creole tunes echoed as we strolled St. Charles Avenue. The hanging moss flitted as the brisk air drifted down the road. It was winter in New Orleans. Not terribly cold, but just right for a sweater. At thirty-three years old I was a new pledge in a fraternity. Don’t ask me how that happened. It just did. Down on life after accepting that my son had a life-long disability, I returned to school. My young friend Chris became my big brother and I pledged TKE. That evening, a bar in the historic Garden District was holding a fraternity party.

“Don’t drink too much big bro.” In my usual overprotective manner, I went on. “But if you do and I am already gone, call me.”

“You bet lil bro.”

Walking toward the building a woman caught my eye. It’s not unusual for a woman to garner attention in the Big Easy. New Orleans ladies possess a beauty that is unrivaled. Many chart topping songs have been written about this phenomenon. Yet there was something uniquely different about this one. Bundled near a trash can, she sang a happy tune. With her face planted in the ground, she continued humming as we walked by.

The air may have been warmer inside the bar but the music certainly wasn’t. Unbuttoning my sweater, I ordered a round of cocktails. I don’t usually drink, but when I do I’m a vodka man. The speakers were pumping and the pussies were popping. Big booties shook as the bitches got low. My, how song lyrics have changed throughout the years. Even though 50 Cent insisted that it was my birthday, I was feeling exceptionally blue. Not even Grey Goose could chase away the blues.

A slight chill brought my attention to the doorway and there she was. The homeless lady from the street had just wandered into the bar. Removing her torn coat, the catchy hook from “In Da Club” called her to the dance floor. I pushed my glass aside and watched in amazement. There I was whining about my problems, yet this incredible woman found a reason to dance. Less then ten minutes later she was gone and my outlook on life was changed.

Amid the chaos, there is a reason to dance. A family vacation provides many great memories for years to come. Being the parent of a child with disabilities, you learn to let the good memories overshadow the bad. Pulling into port aboard the Disney Wonder, I scanned the photos on my phone. These are the memories I choose to keep. Years from now, while looking back on this trip, I will not dwell on the afternoon that my son gave me matching scratches on the back side of my neck. Nor will I occupy my mind with the evening that he threw up across the table in the fine dining room. And I will especially block out Cade eating his vomit while my wife and I try to discreetly clean it up. And what was brother-in-law Brett doing during all this? The usual. Brett was worrying about Brett. Moving his plate to the side, he finished his main course and was asking for dessert. Overall, it was an amazing trip. There were special moments from this trip that I will cherish forever.

Regardless of the madness in your life, understand how precious it is. Life is short. Find your reason to dance before the song is over.

Kelly Jude Melerine

  • “I spontaneously bust out in Ninja moves” is a quote found on packets of Border Sauce. Border Sauce is a product of Taco Bell – a subsidiary of Yum! Headquartered in Irvine, CA, Founded in 1962.