Living Between the Lines

When a house bleeds

Those of you who regularly read my blog, may recall that my husband and I are responsible for the welfare of our 29 year old nephew who has both Aspergers and Klinefelters Syndrome.

The ramifications of this new responsibility are many. It is not the easiest task we have ever been given but it is by far the most surprising and undoubtedly, one of the most humorous.

James often phones to request my help on one matter or other. I wrote only recently of the ‘Steam Punk Goggle’ request. I found this one very interesting and learnt a lot in the process. I have since been asked to obtain an Imperial Inquisitor´s hammer and an Imperial Sword for an event he is going to later this month.

Many of James’ texts say simply,

“Call me,” as he never has any credit on his mobile. He is blissfully unaware of how this text will be received by me, lacking in any niceties as it does.

Today, I receive another text message from James. I get the message just as we are driving into the car wash as it happens. I am not driving I hasten to add. My friend has that pleasure.

I tap the phone – the text says,

“My house is bleeding,”

Now, if the message was from a friend or other family member, I might think they were giving me the name of a song or had used the automatic spell checker on their phone and inadvertently sent a nonsensical message.

If I was in the middle of writing, I might have thought this phrase worthy of including in my work. As it is, I run through the likely explanations in my mind,

“Your house is bleeding???” I write back, “What do you mean?”

Is his nose bleeding, did the word ‘nose’ become ‘house’ during the automatic spell check?

I wait.

Seconds later, just as the car moves forward onto the drive-in track, my mobile rings. It is James.

“Hello, James, how are you?” I ask.

“I’m fine Auntie Debbie but the house is bleeding…it’s leaking water from the overflow pipe in the tank, yeah, onto the flat roof.”

I make a mental note to get a plumber in.

“We will need to phone a plumber James,” I say. There is a grunt on the other end of the line.

I wonder if I am going to be able to hear anything more as the car wash roars into action. Giant brushes begin to rotate around us.

“I might not be able to hear you in a minute, I am in a car wash,” I explain. This is ignored.

“Auntie Debbie, what I don’t understand is, why the house is falling to bits since Mum and Dad died,”

I am to be shocked afterwards at how non-shocking this statement seemed to be at the time. This is how used I have become, to the way James speaks and how his brain works.

“Houses need maintenance James, when your dad was there, I expect he spotted things before they became too bad and put them right,” I explain.

(I have reason to believe that my late brother-in-law was not that good at DIY – but that is another story, several stories actually, which I will one day divulge.)

“Well, I think I need to get an Exorcist in,”

“An Exorcist?” I splutter,

The rollers are roaring over our heads now but James speaks in such a loud and clear manner, I can still hear him – just about.

“Well, the windows all shake when the guns go off on the marshes,” James confides, “The roof is about to collapse, this house really needs help Auntie Debbie.”

(I should explain that there is an army training camp not too far from the house.)

I say some appropriate things such as,

“I will speak to Uncle Dave and we will get a plumber in,” and “You wont need to worry soon because you are moving house aren’t you?”

“Yeah, but last time this happened, Dad went into the loft and there was a dead rat in the tank! I can’t go up that ladder Auntie Debbie – it’s 29 years old. It’s as old as me!”

A dramatic pause ensues,

“This house is dying Auntie Debbie.”

At this point, the car-wash goes into overdrive and brushes, water and very possibly, the wrath of God, thunder down on the roof of the car. This is not the best place in which to hold a conversation.

“I can’t hear you , wait a minute James –oh yes, yes I can,” I say as the brushes and water recede and the squeegee rises up, breathing hot air over the windows and signaling the end of the car-wash experience.

As we drive out, James is still on the other end of the line. He is talking about a garden chair and his support workers and … it is hard to hear what he is talking about now exactly because his voice has become muffled again. Can it be the gas mask again? Surely not…

“James, I can’t hear you properly at all now, maybe my signal is going,” I suggest.

“No Auntie Debbie, it’s because I have got into the shower,” he replies.

I terminate the conversation. Speaking to one’s nephew in the car wash is one thing, speaking to him while he showers is quite another.

Meanwhile, I may well steal that line, “The house is bleeding,”

It does have a certain ring to it!

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • hilarymb

    Hi Debbie .. you sure have your hands full – being an interpreter too … it is funny – but not for you, as it’s so real. It’s a great story line though and thanks for posting .. I sincerely hope things work out for you all …

    Many thoughts – Hilary

  • Teresa

    It must be incredibly difficult for all of you, but you do seem to have a very close relationship. How good it is that James has you to rely on. I hope you can get things with the house sorted out – and I agree, you really do have to steal that line x

  • patricia

    Oh I have been there and done that and for all the humor – well there is matching stress. I loved that you had this discussion in the car wash! and shower! I have had to stop grocery shopping and leave my cart to go out to the car and cover some serious stuff….it never matters whether we have minutes or not.
    My husband and I are just finding some humor in all the inappropriate remarks – one especially when she was about 5, when she loudly requested to know where my husband put his private parts when he was out riding on a bike tour ( 50 to 70 miles a day)…..this brought the whole Farmers Market to a halt as they all wanted to know how we were going to respond. I took over as my husband was mortified. I said that it was not the correct spot for this conversation and that those parts were all in the right spots to not be a problem when riding a bike. The really hard part of this conversation was that the folks nearby applauded my answer, thus reinforcing some more inappropriate public words.

    Thank you for sharing your story, I appreciated it very much

  • Dr. Brown

    Hi Debbie,

    “The house is bleeding.”

    Like you, I’m an intense language lover, and despite the frustration you may have sometimes in communicating with your nephew, it is beautiful to capture some of these interesting phrases. There’s something sadly poignant in this conversation you had with your nephew. I’m glad you shared it with us.


  • screenscribbler

    Autism is not just a condition, it is more an alterative way of looking at the world around us. It is wonderful that you are so tuned in to James’ use of language and are able to respond to his needs. Thank you for sharing Deborah and giving us a window into the very unusual world of autism. Not enough is done to educate people about autism. It should not have to be exclusively the domain of faniilies, teachers and healthcare professionals that know about this condition.

  • Andrea

    HThe house is bleeding and dying – such poetic ways to acknowledge that things have shifted, the world is now filled with the unexpected, and there’s no protection against it, although reaching out to you is a form of reaching out for protection. I’m glad he has someone to hear him.

  • Normal is a Dryer Setting

    I love the perspective you so aptly describe. The house is bleeding; it’s dying. You have to interpret everything all the time. You do it tenderly and beautifully, and you also help me understand Jonah and the way he sees things. Thank you.

  • Nari

    Thanks for this post , Deborah. You capture these happenings so beautifully. I love hearing about your Nephew and his perspective on life. I too wonder why I don’t come here more often, as I really enjoy reading your blog.
    Nari X

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