The Rubbish Door


As I was driving somewhere the other day with my kids, I saw a fully intact door sticking out of a dumpster.

The dumpster was full of rubbish, and sticking out of the top like some kind of afterthought was this door with hinges and doorknob still attached. Something about the picture this made had me slowing down as we passed.

I thought about The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Monsters Inc. and wondered about doorways to other universes.

I wondered about doors that allow you to time jump or doors that allow you to jump from one location to another across the globe. I thought about magical doors sticking out of rubbish bins, waiting to take overwhelmed, imaginative middle-aged women off to astounding places on awesome adventures.

Why in literature and movies do only kids, monsters, and young people get to have all the fun?

I slow down and stare at this door sticking out of the dumpster and imagine. My teenaged daughter wants to know what’s going on and I tell her what I’m thinking.

My daughter, in the fashion of know-it-all teens everywhere, laughs like I’m a crazy person. A crazy OLD person.

My son – two years younger than my daughter – sits quietly in the back, staring out a window.

He has autism and intellectual disability.

He holds half of my heart in the palm of his hand and through no fault of his own is one of the big reasons I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time.

One thing in his favor, however, is that he never judges his mother’s sanity or questions her wisdom. I look back at him, wish magic was real, and whip the car around to go back to the door in the rubbish bin.

“What are you doing, Mom?” my daughter squeals as she braces herself against the dashboard with one hand and clutches the seatbelt across her chest with the other.

I don’t answer, because I don’t know what I’m doing, actually. I lurch up into the alley behind the convenience store, and come to an abrupt halt with a crunch of gravel and a flurry of dust.

I stare at the dumpster through the dirty windshield.

“Mom, seriously,” my daughter says now, with an edge of worry added to the indignation in her voice.

My son looks up. I can almost read his mind, “Store? Snack? Soda?”

Going to the store is one of his favorite things to do. He speaks, haltingly, “I. want. Coke., pwease.”

I glance at my daughter. I don’t know what she sees in my face, but her entire demeanor softens. “Mom,” she says, only now there’s pity in her voice and I don’t like it at all.

I feel my face harden into determination and think – What if all those stories we read about magical devices that take people on fantastical adventures stem from some sort of truth? What if?

There’s a small part of me that thinks I might be having a mini mental breakdown.

I grab the door handle and get out of the car. I slam the door behind me. The smell of old, moist, sun-cooked trash permeates the alley. The sporadic sound of traffic rumbles in the not far distance. And I hear the muted sound of my daughter inside our car, calling my name.

I turn and look at her, but what catches my eye is her brother.

My son has leaned forward from the backseat and is looking out at me with curiosity. His head is tilted to one side and his eyes ask me questions.

I’ve gotten good at reading the words in his eyes. I have a doctorate in interpreting his eyes and body movements into some sort of English.

The sun glints off his beautiful fire-colored hair and I feel a knot form in my throat over all the things I can’t do for him no matter how hard I’ve tried.

My daughter’s admonitions fade into the background as I climb onto the hood of my sensible minivan in order to reach the top of the dumpster.

I just want to touch the doorknob. I just want to think for one second that magic could be real.

The world comes back into focus with the slam of a car door. My daughter is standing outside the van now, yelling at me, “MOM! Get down! What are you doing, Mom?!”

I’m already hauling myself into the top of the open dumpster.

I get both legs in and attempt to stand. The thing is stuffed full, so it isn’t that difficult to find my footing. I take a tentative step toward the door.

It’s an old scuffed, wooden door with cheap silver-ish hinges and one of those antique crystal doorknobs that are supposed to be so expensive. I wonder whether it is real or not.

“Mom, please talk to me! You’re scaring me, ok! You’re worrying Bubba!” Even though we haven’t lived in the South since she was two years old, my daughter has picked up the nickname “Bubba” for her brother.

I call both my little brothers “Bubba” at times. I call my son “Bubba” sometimes as well, as in, “Watch your bubba.” “Always be on your bubba’s side. We’re all he can count on in this world.”

So, she probably picked it up from me. I look back again.

My son is still watching me with that curious expression on his face. I feel like he might understand what is happening better than my daughter.

I take another step and sink in a little. I find balance, wave some flies away from my face, and lurch forward one more time. I can now touch the door.

I feel a surge of excitement. What if? What if? What if?

I reach out a trembling hand and touch it. Nothing happens.

I stretch out and grasp the knob – the cheap, plastic, crystal-imitation knob – and turn it. It squeaks loudly. I twist it again with more violence. Nothing.

I drop my hand from the doorknob. The alley still stinks like garbage left in the sun. The traffic continues, unabated. I tilt my head back and stare at the endless blue sky. I close my eyes.

“What are you thinking, Mom,” my daughter says in a quiet voice.

I don’t know what I’m thinking, so I don’t answer her.

I carefully back up and climb out of the bin to the top of my minivan. I hop down to the ground. I get back in the vehicle.

I sit with both hands on the wheel while my daughter gets back in on the passenger side. I hear her engage her seatbelt.

I hear my son lean back and engage his seatbelt. It is a part of his routine to put his seatbelt on before a car trip, so he’s very good about doing it.

“I. want. Coke, pwease?” my son says hopefully from the back in his halting, lilting manner. His wants are simple.

I swallow, turn, and smile at him. “Ok,” I say, “we’ll go get drinks.”

My daughter is staring at me with a concerned wrinkle in the middle of her forehead. I can see her out of the corner of my eye. She doesn’t quite get what just happened.

The thought crosses my mind that youth and inexperience is a gift; you don’t yet know how hard you will have to battle to hold onto the magic in which you once so effortlessly believed.

I carefully pull away. I turn the van around.

I drive away and – nearly obscured by my brief dust cloud – I can see the rubbish door getting smaller in the rearview mirror.


Written by, Shawnta Wilson 

From the author: I have been happily married for 26 years, have two wonderful grown children, and am a former high school teacher.  My 20-year-old son was diagnosed with autism, mental retardation (now known as intellectual disability), communication disorder, and gastrointestinal issues at Mayo Clinic partly when he was three years old, and then the complete diagnosis when he was six. Besides having autism, he is also a person who has a sweet disposition and loves music and chicken and going for rides in the car. When he graduated high school, I left teaching to be home with him full-time. Being home full-time with my dependent adult son has made me reexamine a lot of things about our lives.  I’m striving for the more deliberate and simple life now and its definitely a journey. You can follow along with my mid-life crisis and my son’s adventures at @crzybookldy on Instagram, if you like.

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Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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  1. Josie on January 31, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    This is magical.