How Far We’ve Come.
It’s been a long road, I’m still travelling it. Along the way, there have been many ups and many downs. I’ve crossed many hurdles and I am sure there are even more to come, but sometimes it is nice to just celebrate the highs. That’s the purpose of this post.
July 4th. I sat and watched my son graduate from his class in culinary school. He has special needs. If someone had asked me when he was little, the little boy that wouldn’t even talk, I would have not thought it was possible for him.
He made me proud.
This is a short story I had written not so long ago based on a memory of mine, though I am sure he doesn’t really recall the first time he spoke. I am sure I will remember it forever.
* * *
The snow is falling outside. It started just a little while ago. I see it out of the window as I stare into the darkness and watch it coat the ground, leaving a blanket of untouched whiteness. It’s falling fast, thick and heavy. We don’t get to see snow so often; if we do it doesn’t tend to stay. The sea air sees to that. I press my face against the glass and look out along our street. It’s quiet and peaceful; everyone is sleeping. Everyone but me.
My breath fogs up the cool glass and I wipe it away. Will has never seen snow. Not real snow like this. I wonder if it would be wrong to wake him. Perhaps it would be wrong to chance him missing this. All children should see snow at least once in their lives. It’s like magic.
I find my boots and coat and put them on. I grab Will’s too. He isn’t sleeping either when I poke my head around his open door.
“Do you want to come and see some snow?” I ask him.
He doesn’t answer me. I show him his coat and boots as I kneel down beside his bed.
“It’s falling real fast,” I say. “Do you want to come and see it?”
He doesn’t say a word to me, but he takes my offered hand and lets me pull him into sitting position. I put his boots on his feet and tuck his Spiderman pyjamas inside. No need to get dressed. I put his coat on and zip it all the way up to his chin. I add a hat and pull it down over his ears. I smile at him, but his mouth doesn’t even twitch.
His small hand rests in mine. He lets me lead him down the stairs to the door of our apartment. We go out of our door, across the hall and outside into the cold night. The air is fresh. For a moment I stop and take it in. The snow is soft under my boots as I step out. Will takes one step and then he stops.
“Its real snow Will,” I say. “Do you like it?”
I hope he does. All four year olds like snow.
Will doesn’t say. He doesn’t speak. Not even a murmur. I know he’s in there somewhere as I watch him for any reaction. Maybe the snow would make him utter his first word.
“Snow,” I say in hope, but no.
He says nothing again.
I bend and scoop some off the ground. I offer it out to him. Will looks at it. His mouth doesn’t move, not even his expression changes. I keep my sigh inside so that he doesn’t see it.
I reach for his hand and turn it over. Placing the snow in the palm of his hand, I push his small pudgy fingers closed around it. I watch his face as he touches the snow for the first time. I hold my breath a little, waiting for just a spark. A little one. One to say that he feels it.
“Its snow Will, you like snow?”
He stares up at me with innocent blue eyes. Eyes that match mine in colour only. My innocence was never there, but I’m trying. Trying to ensure that Will keeps it and my tainted life doesn’t ruin his.
“I wish you would talk,” I say to him as my hand closes over his. “Do you want to make a snowman?” I ask. “Like in your story book? We can give him a hat and a scarf and then he won’t be cold.”
I’ve never made a snowman myself, but I have seen it done. I put my hand on the snow and push it down to leave a trace that we were there. Will doesn’t make a move. His hand is still out holding the snow that I gave him. His hand has gone red from the cold and guilt bites at me.
What was I thinking? I open his fingers and push the snow away. His hand is so cold. I hold it between mine and try to rub it to give him some warmth again.
“I’m sorry,” I say as I breathe onto his icy fingers. “Let’s go back inside and get warm. “
I glance back at the snow. My chest feels heavy. I hoped it might work. Something new. Something he had never seen before. Perhaps it would break him from his shell and bring out the little boy I knew was in there.
I take Will’s hand and go to lead him back into the building, but he doesn’t move. He stands still; his feet firm. He isn’t going to come.
“Come on, it’s cold,” I say, but he doesn’t respond.
He lets go of my hand and walks toward the road. It’s clear, but I jump down anyway and try and get in front of him without startling him. If I startle him, he will scream. We were one notice away from eviction. I glance at the window of the woman that lives below us and pray that she is sleeping.
“Will,” I say. “Come on mate.”
He stops at the kerb and turns to look at me. He takes off his hat and holds it out to me.
“Talk to me,” I say to him. “I don’t understand what you want. You don’t want to wear your hat?”
He pushes it at me, against my chest. The only sound coming from his mouth is the usual frustrated murmur as I try and decipher what he wants. I don’t know what it is.
He goes silent and lets go of his hat. He bends down to the snow and scoops up a handful. He gives it to me.
“You want to make a snowman?” I ask him, I don’t really know.
I’m guessing in desperation so I don’t set him off. All I have is what I feel. Maybe I will get it wrong or maybe I will get it right. I don’t know.
I take the snow and squeeze it together into a ball. I roll it on the ground. Will doesn’t move nor does he help as he watches. The ball gets bigger as I roll it. I make it big enough for a snowman’s belly.
I do the same again with another to make the head. Just a little smaller. I lift it onto the snowman belly. I glance at Will. He is just watching me.
“Do you want to make his face?” I ask. “Shall we give him stones for eyes?”
I dig in the yard of the neighbours. I know they have gravel and stones for decorations. They won’t miss a few. Not while we have the snow. I make the snowman’s face and give him a smile.
“Do you want me to give him your hat?”
I wait a second for a reaction before placing it on the bald snowman’s head. Will looks up at him. I pause.
A smile? Please. I wish.
Will turns and walks away; his face blank.
He walks into the building and up the flight of stairs. I stay where I am and watch where he just vacated. I don’t know what to do. Did I upset him? Did I fail as his father once more? I look at the snowman. He smiles at me in the dark.
“I tried,” I say to him and then I shrug, defeated.
I go inside after Will.
Will has gone to his room and taken off his coat. His boots are lined up perfect. His coat is neat and straight. His bed covers look like no one has moved except for the small form of a child. He is lying still; his eyes are open and he stares at the ceiling.
I clutch the door frame and watch him in the dark. Holding onto my failure. He doesn’t even know I am there.
“I’m sorry,” I say to him. “I wish it could be better for you. You deserve it.” I sigh. “You don’t deserve me.”
The night becomes day and I wake. I’m sitting on the floor at his doorway. Will is awake too. He gets out of bed and steps over me to go to the bathroom. I hear him use the toilet and then the sink. Three pumps on the soap like he was taught. He washes his hands. Two exact minutes as he brushes his teeth. He leaves the bathroom and walks over me once more into his room and gets dressed in the right order. Socks, underpants, t-shirt, pants and sweater.
“Do you want some breakfast?” I ask him from where I still sit.
He doesn’t answer me.
He passes me again and goes into the kitchen. The fridge opens and I hear him scream; so loud, it pulls my heart through my chest. I am on my feet running to him without thinking about it.
He is stood with milk around his feet. The carton is on the floor.
“It’s okay,” I say to him as I try to clean it up, but he keeps screaming.
“Please don’t,” I beg him.
Soon she will bang on the door like we committed a great offence. Then she will complain. Just one more is needed. We don’t have room for any more strikes against us.
I pick him up and wrap my arms around him. I don’t bother to get his coat from his room. I just need to get us out of the apartment. I grab mine. It’s big enough for both of us and I race down the stairs. He calms down a little, but not much. The store is just around the corner. It isn’t far.
The snow is deep. It seeps into my jeans over my boots as soon as I step out, but it’s okay. We’re just going for milk. He wraps his legs around my waist and his arms around my neck.
“Hat,” Will says, as we reach the snowman at the kerb.
I stop. I’m frozen in time.
His voice resonates around my head. I try and catch up with what he said.
I’m not sure I heard him.
“Hat?” I ask him, but he says nothing.
“It’s okay,” I say as I wrap my arms around him as tight as I can.
He said hat.
JD Stockholm 2012©
It is a wonderful story. It takes lots of courage and patience for everyday care for an autistic child.
And a good supply of glass bottles the throw against a wall in frustration 😉
I love that you posted this here. It’s a beautiful tribute to your son 🙂 big hugs for you and him.
Highs like that, make the lows a little more tolerable; don’t they? Where there is love, there is always hope. Always. 🙂
Oh, beautiful. HAT! Talk about a first word you will never forget. And I’ll never see hats the same.