One of my favorite characters in the TRAVELER series is Jessa’s older brother, Danny, a person with autism. As an autism parent, it was hugely important to me that he be given a voice, and as authentic a portrayal as was possible.
This particular scene was lifted directly from a dream I once had about my own son. In my dream, I was with him at school, experiencing his day with him through his eyes. It was fascinating. Its been years and I still remember every detail of that dream.
In this scene from DREAMER, Jessa has been pulled into her brother Danny’s dream by her dream guide, Mario so that they can look for clues as to the whereabouts of their villain. Jessa finds herself dreaming with Danny at his volunteer job at the local public library.
“This is cool,” I say, looking around.
“Reality is defined by the dreamer in the dreamscape,” Mario says. “In this case, Danny. This is how Danny perceives the world around him. We’re looking through his filter, so to speak.”
My eyes widen as the sound of the tractor cuts off. I can now hear the rumble of the heating system, the shuffle of books and papers, the clack of fingers on computer keyboards, and I’m drawn into the rhythm of it.
“So what are you hoping to find?” I ask.
“I don’t know exactly what we’re looking for,” Mario says. “Danny tends to focus on details that go right by the rest of us. You never know what you’ll find. So I suggest we both just go with it.”
“Go with it?”
Mario gives me an encouraging smile and waves me off, toward the children’s section. I walk around from behind the counter, trying hard to keep from tripping as the edges of the floor tiles are standing out, dark and intersecting in fascinating ways in front of me. I finally find Danny in the corner of the children’s section, seated on a mat with a group of kids. One of the library aides is reading a story, but the words are muted—I’m too absorbed in other things.
I sit down on the mat next to Danny, fixated on the way the light hits the window through a tree outside. I can see it in prisms, the ebb and flow of the scattered patterns as the wind lifts the branches. It’s like a moving kaleidoscope on the floor mat, and my fingers reach out to trace it, just as Danny does beside me. Sometimes the light hits my fingers, and I can see every line of my knuckle—some are straight, some are curvy. I wonder why that is? I count them, one by one, then I count them again.
I listen for the wind and hear the hum of the heater panel nearby. I can feel its vibration in the floor. I put my hand down to feel it just as Danny does, and the story drones on in the background, a wall of words that have melody but not a lot of meaning at the moment, not with everything else that’s going on.
It’s amazing to me that there’s a whole bright, vibrating world around us that they all seem to be ignoring. I wonder how much of the world has gone by me that I’ve never really noticed before. We all assume that Danny’s in this little bubble sometimes, and the truth is, he’s seeing more of the world than any of us.
“I’m glad you’re here, Jessa,” Danny whispers.
I look at him, and I feel like I’m really seeing him. “I’m glad, too,” I say.