Dealing with sensory overload was challenging, but Billy felt like he had gotten a handle on it. Most of the time. Sometimes, venturing out into the world was a tall order. Every flicker of fluorescent light seemed to burn Billy's eyes, and every passing car on the street sounded as loud as his father's mining explosives. School was a jumble of mixed words, jumbled colors, and squeaky sneakers against the gym floors. Navigating the crowded hallways of Angel Grove High was a nightmare. Every slight tap of his shoulder felt like a hammer against his skin. Every shouted greeting across the gymnasium seemed like an brutal invasion.
And that was before he became a Power Ranger. But most days, even with the added fighting, the training, the lights of his morpher and the cheers of the grateful townspeople, Billy could still find a way to manage.
But today was not one of those days.
It was a difficult battle dealing with the last of Rita's army, even with the space witch gone, there was still much to do. Puddies were forming in the old junk yard outside Angel Grove, and it was up to the Rangers to ensure they were taken down. It was just a routine battle. Punches, kicks, the hard grit of dirt beneath Billy's feet, but something was off. Maybe it was the way the sunlight shined amongst the broken down cars. Or maybe it was sound of old tire rims scratching against Billy's ears. Or maybe it was because Zack laughed just a bit too loudly, or the sound of Jason's sword delving into living stone was too visceral for Billy to understand. But when the fight was over, and Billy thanked God for it, he rushed home, as quickly as he could allow himself.
The world was so loud. Too loud.
As fast as light spilling through open curtains, Billy ran into his home, past the empty kitchen, and flung himself down into his basement, where the world was muted. The light that hung above the the basement ceiling swung back and forth in a slow waltz. The world was gone now. The screech of the car's wheels was gone. The sounds of living rock scraping against the ground was gone. The too-smooth texture of car hoods were gone. All that was left were the grey walls of his basement. The rough floors that welcomed him home to familiarity, and the sound of his mother walking into the living room.
"Calm down," he told himself. "Everything's fine." He covered his ears out of pure habit. When he was younger he pressed his palms against his ears so tightly that he thought he'd crush his own skull. It was comforting, to feel a pressure on his skin, as if he were keeping the world at bay. Nothing and no one could intrude. He fell to his knees and closed his eyes. The world could not invade here.
"You've got your own little place Billy," those were his mother's words, distant and so far away. "Whenever things get too rough just come here and calm down. Ain't nobody gonna bother you, 'kay?"
Zack, Jason, Trini and Kimberly were always so understanding about giving him the space he needed, and so was his mother. They never pushed, and for that Billy was grateful.
How long had it been now? Four minutes? Five? Billy slowly slid his hands from his ears, the world had quieted and Billy no longer felt as though he were under attack. It was calm.
"Shh…" he began, hoping to complete a cuss for once, but he abandoned it halfway through, "...ooot." He hated days like this. Days where he had to drop everything and rush home to get a hold of himself. These episodes weren't frequent but they did happen.
His dad always knew had to handle days like these. His father.
"Hey Dad," Billy began as he looked towards the ground, "Did I mention how sorry I am for taking the van without asking? Because I really am. I'm a Power Ranger now," Billy flinched as he remembered Zordon's words, "I-I'm not really supposed to tell you that, but I think it'll be okay. Zordon's not here, right?"
Could his father even hear him? Was his father even listening?
"A-also," Billy said, "I'm sorry about what I said during the camp fire, you know, about how I don't miss you as much? I-I mean, it's true...but I still miss you. J-just not as much as when I was a kid, ya' know? Mom said that that's okay. So...is it?"
It's not that Billy wanted to forget about all those Sundays when he and his father drove the van down to the mines, Tim McGraw playing on the radio and hard helmets clunking in the backseat, he loved those times. But...Billy couldn't live inside of them. He couldn't raise them from his old memory and wear them like armor. They were just memories. And memories can only keep the world at bay for so long.
When Billy was a kid, it seemed like all he ever did was try to keep the rest of the world out. The world outside was always too loud. Too bright. Too unrelenting. The sound of a knife against burned toast made Billy's skin crawl. The feel of the handle bars at the playground were too polished and perfect. And every slight brush of someone's shoulder or elbow made Billy feel like a glass house being smashed by a wrecking ball. Even his parents' hugs made his body feel like it was cracking.
"Are we hurting you?" his mother asked one night after Billy managed to escape from her grasp.
And Billy, in his own young naivety, nodded his head. "It just feels…" he waved his arms as if to signal glass falling to the ground and shattering.
He had been diagnosed with Autism at the age of five, and his parents were always trying to find ways to make him as comfortable as possible. They did their best to listen, even when they didn't understand themselves. They didn't understand when Billy used his safety scissors to try and cut every tag and loose string from his shirts and pants. They didn't understand when Billy walked around the house in sunglasses, and pressed his hands over his ears tight enough to squeeze a coal into a diamond. But they did comply with his requests without question.
Whenever Mrs. Cranston came home with new clothes, she made sure to snip each tag and each loose thread. Mr. Cranston replaced every bulb in the house with a low wattage counterpart. They filled the house with a soft mellow glow, rather than a piercing gleam. Mr. Cranston bought earplugs. Mrs. Cranston turned their basement into a safe haven. A fortress where light and sound was muted to a low coo.
And bit by bit they all learn to adjust.
Billy always said he loved traveling with his father to the mine, but what he loved even more, were the nights he and his parents spent watching movies. It was never meant to be a tradition, of course, it just started out as a leisure thing to do when Billy's father came home from the mine, and his mother had finished her paperwork from the office.
"How about a movie, Billy?" his father asked as he wiped the coal dust from his cheeks.
"Spiderman," Billy would say, and his father would smile that broad smile that made Billy want to reach for his sunglasses.
"That sounds like a great idea," his mother agreed. A movie was what they all needed.
And his parents sat on the couch, while Billy (ever uncomfortable on the chairs) laid flat amongst the carpet; brussels of polyester rubbing against his skin. "Spiderman," Billy said as the screen came alive with a red and blue hue.
"Alright, give it to him now," Billy heard his mother say.
"Okay," Mr. Cranston responded. The rumble of bodies shifting from one couch cushion to the next reached Billy's ears, and then…
"Hey, Billy check this out," Mr. Cranston said.
And Billy turned to see a blanket flapping in his father's massive hands, spread out like a flag on the Fourth of July. It looked as textured and firm as the tile floors in the kitchen, the very same ones Billy loved to run his fingers across. The very same tiles Billy used to lay down on to feel the bumps and grooves in between each and every tile. The pattern was simple, squares were tightly stitched together, and the world thing was wrapped in a muted blue fabric.
"It's called a Weighted Blanket, Billy," Mr. Cranston explained. "We had a friend make it special." Mr. Cranston got up from the couch, the springs creaked with the loss of his weight, and Billy slammed his feets into his ears.
"Shhh," Mr. Cranston said, "I-I know, I know." And with one smooth motion, the blanket was wrapped around Billy's little shoulders. It was like tile, but soft and welcoming. Billy felt a deep pressure fall upon his back and knees and shoulders and toes. For most of Billy's life, every touch he had known felt like it was trying to flick pieces of himself to the furthest corners of the world. A tap to his shoulder was an invitation to brokenness. A small hug was a fear Billy had not yet learn to conquer. But this blanket? This blanket was comfort wrapped up in a shield. A barrier that held all of Billy's pieces together. Billy never wanted to leave.
"Do ya' like it Billy?"
And Billy loved it more than he loved his sunglasses. More than he loved laying on the kitchen floor. More than every Tim McGraw song put together.
Movie nights were the times Billy loved the most. He would wrap himself up in his blanket, shove popcorn in his mouth, listen to his parents shift their weight on the couch cushions and keep the world at bay. There were some nights where Billy could even stand to receive a hug or two from his mother and father (though, those days were few and far between). For a small moment in his little life, Billy felt comfortable.
That was a long time ago. To Billy now, that time seemed as distant as a Triceratops' song. It was a strange day for Billy when his mother came home, her face wet, and his hands trembling. At first, Billy had believed it had rained, but the sun had been out all day.
"Billy," she said in between deep breaths, "I've got some bad news."
Billy could never fully remember his mother saying the words "Your father is dead", but he does remember the feel of the carpet on his barefeet as she told him. He does remember the subtle hum of the television set behind him. He does remember how the books on the bookshelf were arranged, meticulously, from tallest to shortest.
And he remembered going into his room, dumping out all of his colored pencils onto the floor and arranging them, over and over. Red after blue after orange after yellow after black after pink after white after green after purple after maroon after violet.
There was an accident at the mine.
And then he rearranged them again. The red was taller than the orange, so it needed to be first. The white had been used to much that it was almost down to a nub, so it had to be last. The pink was the perfect size, so it fit snugly in the middle.
Your father didn't make it.
Green was Billy's least favorite so it was placed in another section all together.
I'm so sorry, Billy. I'm so so sorry.
Movie nights stopped. Mrs. Cranston did what she could, and Billy began to seek refuge in the basement. As he got older, he moved all of his stuff there. He carried boxes of colored pencils, mining maps, old computers, pictures and everything else he had. All except his blanket. That blanket was everything right in the world. It was safety. It was comfort. It was...his father, replaced with texture and fabric. What exactly was he saying? He was fine without his Dad? That his father's memory meant as little to him as a piece of cloth? No, his father deserved better than that; knowing comfort in a world without his father was a terrible kind of betrayal.
"Billy?" Mrs. Cranston called from upstairs, "Are you okay down there?"
After his father's passing, his mother did what she could to keep him calm, turning the basement into a safe haven was all her idea, and Billy was grateful for it.
"I'm fine mom," Billy called up. He sat down on the basement floor, stood back up, reached over to his desk, rearranged his color pencils and then stood. "I'll be up in a sec."
Readjusting to the world around him was always a struggle for him. In the basement, the lighting was easily controllable. Sound really didn't penetrate beyond the concrete walls and Billy was left to his own thoughts, but emerging from his basement was like walking out of a movie theater at noon. Everything was harsh and uncompromising. Standing at the top of the stairway was Mrs. Cranston, her hair was tied in a bun behind her head, and her shirt tag stuck out from behind her neck. It always amazed Billy how she could stand those tags rubbing against her neck every day. She was some kind of superwoman.
"Everything okay?" she asked.
"Yeah mom," Billy said as he walked into the kitchen. "Everything's fine." Billy ran his barefoot against the tiled grooves, his soles felt the rough welcome of concrete and he knew he was home again.
"You just came home so suddenly." Mrs. Cranston's heels clicked across the tiled floor as he made her way to the kitchen table. "You know I've always tried to give you your space, but I am your mother, and I'm am going to worry when you come home disheveled. It's just part of being a mom."
Billy reached into the fridge, pulled out a tall carton of orange juice and placed it on the table. He then proceeded to open the cabinet (the squeak of the door's hinge made him want to slam his face onto a table, why hadn't that been fixed yet?) and pulled out a clear, smooth glass.
"You don't have to worry about anything Mom," Billy said. "Things just got a little hectic at school is all." It wasn't exactly a lie. School time was a wave of uncertain sounds and mixed sensations that Billy did his best to avoid. But dealing with school, and being a Power Ranger was making it harder and harder to keep himself together.
"Sorry kid, but worrying's part of my job. Any parent who doesn't worry ain't a parent. Especially now, with all that's been going in in Angel Grove. Those monsters, the giant robot, the Power Rangers. And the town's still trying to rebuild itself and…" she paused, and tried to collect herself. "I know its got to be stressful for you Billy. It'd be stressful for anyone."
"Well…" Billy said, "It's been stressful, but I guess it hasn't been stressful. I mean with all the stuff that's happenedandeverythingbutIguessthat'swhathappenswhenyou'vegotfriendsandstuffbutmaybeI..."
And Billy talked and talked, and his mother listened. She folded her hands on the kitchen table, poured him a glass of orange juice, and listened to his ramble about how his friend Zack Taylor loved to walking along the railroad tracks, and how Kimberly Hart loved to take pictures of them, and how Trini repaired her bedroom wall after the big battle, and how Jason still liked to look at the football field when practice was over. And how Billy didn't like to be hugged, but didn't mind when Jason tapped him on the shoulder. He talked about how Trini taught him Yoga, and how Kimberly taught him how to feel people's pulses, and how Zack taught him how climb trees. And how Jason taught him how to snap a football. And how all of them were kind enough to give him space when he needed it, and defend him when he asked, and help him pick up his colored pencils when they fell. Billy had friends.
"I'm really glad you've found a great group of friends," Mrs. Cranston said. "They all seem like great people."
"Yeah," Billy replied, "They've really helped with…" he paused, "...everything." Billy drank his orange juice. "I haven't felt this secure since…" and he trailed off.
Mrs. Cranston's lips curved into a sad smile, "Since your Dad was still around, right?"
"W-well, I...it's just-"
"Billy," his mother said, "It's alright. No one's upset. And if your father were here, I'm more than certain he'd be happy that you've found a group of people who you're comfortable with." She sighed, "Look, I know things have been...hard since your father's passing. We hardly talk about it, and I've never wanted to press too much on the subject, but there's nothing wrong with trying to be happy after losing someone you loved."
"And what makes you think I feel that way?" Billy asked.
"Oh honey, a mother knows these things. It's just another part of being a mom." She poured herself a glass of orange juice. "And if your dad were here, I can tell you with certainty that he'd be proud of the man you're growing up to be. You know, when I hear you singing along to Tim McGraw, you sound just your Dad. Sometimes, when you're around, I forget he's gone."
"I still miss him mom...but not as much as I used to." Billy closed his eyes, and rubbed his foot against the concrete grooves in between the tiles.
"You know what, Billy?" his mother said, "I think your dad would be alright with that."
It was Friday night once again, and Billy had locked himself in the basement. He wanted to do a little extra research on the Zeo Crystal that resided underneath the Krispy Kreme. If other intergalactic threats would come for it, then he and the Rangers would at least need to know what it did, and how it worked. Like with all of Billy's endeavors, his work space was organized, and well kempt. Red pencils at the start of the line, marker lined up two by two at the far end, maps sprawled on his walls. Nothing could penetrate his concentration. It was an ability he was always proud of. Even Alpha 5 was impressed.
"Billy?" his mother called from upstairs, "Can you come here a sec. You've got guests."
Billy folded his maps, placed his colored pencils in the proper order, and gently stepped upstairs. One step at a time. First step. Second step. Slowly and slowly.
And to Billy's surprise, Kimberly, Jason, Zack and Trini all stood before him. Zack's black vest hugged tightly against his frame, Kimberly's hair danced in the updraft from the basement door. Jason's hands were shoved in his pockets, as if he were too afraid to touch anything, and Trini stood to the side, a small smile forming upon her lips. And behind all of them, Billy's mother stood proudly.
"Well, after everything that's been going on with the Power Rangers and Angel Grove, I figured you could use a little break. So, I invited your friends over to watch a movie." She pointed towards the kitchen table, "There's pizza if you guys get hungry, and I ordered a few doughnuts from that Krispy Kreme place Billy seems to be obsessed with."
"Uh...Mom," Billy began, "I had no idea-"
"I know, you hate surprises and stuff, but I figured you might feel a little more comfortable at home then running around at night. And," she turned to his friends, "Your friends seemed to agree."
Mrs. Cranston nodded, and Billy sighed as he tried to hold back a smile.
"Alright guys," Billy said with a shrug, "I guess we're watching a movie."
The team all sat hunched on the Cranston couch. Zack hogged the entire left arm rest, and Kimberly rested her head on Jason's shoulders. Trini sat all the way on the other end, ever the loner, but more than happy to be included. And Billy sat on the floor with a doughnut in his hands, and sunglasses perched on his brow. He listened to the sound of the couch springs ease and release as his friends shifted weight. He hadn't heard that sound in so long.
"So," Kimberly said, "What're we watching?"
"I could go for something with a little romance," Zack said.
"Naw, action all the way," Jason chimed in.
"How you kids watch The Breakfast Club?" Mrs. Cranston said as she brought an armful of blankets for each. "I think you'd all enjoy it, my friends and I did when we were your age."
"What's with the blankets mom?" Billy asked.
"Hey, it's gonna be cold tonight, I can't have ya'll bein' sick on my couch," she said as she handed Kimberly a small pink blanket that looked to be made of silk. It was smooth to the fingertips and as delicate as a spider's web.
"Thank you Mrs. Cranston," Kimberly said.
She then passed Zack a black blanket, all consuming and touch on the outside, but strong and gentle on its underside. "Thank you ma'am," Zack said.
Jason was gifted with a red blanket, well worn and reliable.
"Thanks Mrs. Cranston," Jason said as he unfolded it, and wrapped it around himself and Kimberly, "This'll be perfect."
"And for you," Mrs. Cranston said giving Trini the yellow blanket. Trini smiled, felt the wool between her fingers and gently placed it on her legs.
"Thanks Mrs. C, this is really thoughtful of you."
And then, Mrs. Cranston turned to Billy, her hands enfolded on a small, solitary blue blanket that she unfurled and presented proudly.
Billy remembered that blanket better than he remembered his father's own eyes. Every stitch, every texture, every wrapped up moment he spent beneath its protection. He hadn't seen it in so long. She had kept it all these years?
"Oh," Billy began, "Mom, I-"
"Shhh," with every ounce of gentleness she could muster, Mrs. Cranston bent down, and slowly wrapped the blanket around Billy's shoulders. "I miss him too, Billy, but he wouldn't mind. Not tonight, or any other night." She folded the blanket around Billy's neck, and chuckled warmly. "You kids enjoy your movie."
Billy sat upon the floor, his old blanket weighing him down, fusing the cracks in his body, keeping the world at bay, reminding him of the man who sung country songs off key, and smelled of coal dust when he came home from work. And when Billy wrapped himself in that old blanket, it almost felt like it was squeezing back.
"Billy?" Zack asked from behind, "You alright man?"
"Y-yeah," Billy said, "I was just thinking about...what movie we should watch."
"Well, The Breakfast Club sounds pretty good," Trini said, "I could use something light for a change. Zordon's got us running around Angel Grove, fighting puddies, it'd be nice to take a break from punching."
"Alright," Billy said, "The Breakfast Club it is!"
And for a night, Billy forgot what it meant to feel guilty. Old pain was replaced with Zack's laughter. Ignored memories were dulled with Jason's presence. Overcrowded hallways were washed away with Kimberly's smile. The sound of screeching tires were melted with Trini's sarcasm, and the memory of his father's warmth was reincarnated through the fabric of an old gift and the strength a mother's love.