If I could tell the world just one thing…
The January air was cold, crisp, the sort of Chicago winter that seared your boogers to the insides of your nose and made your eyes water, your tears freezing as soon as they emerged from your tear ducts. I was just crossing the river, the grey of the cold January afternoon oppressively suffocating me as I noted the chunks of ice floating down the river. I wished I could fall down there with them, and wake up to a new day, a new life.
I was driving my dad’s old car, the roads wet and icy, the salt making a jaunty click-click sound against the bottom of my red Acura Integra, the one I’d inherited to replace my del Sol for something, well, with a backseat. A backseat that held one tiny infant, with a shock of black hair who squalled and cried, even as we drove. I hadn’t slept in days. To keep me awake, and to drown out the sound of my tiny sons wails, I put on one of my most favorite Christmas albums.
….it’d be that we’re all okay.
I was baffled by my new baby.
His dislikes included me, air, food, being touched, the world, gravity, the universe, and, well, life. Babies are supposed to love this shit, right? If babies are supposed to love this shit, then it’s clearly some character flaw of mine that he couldn’t even look me in the eyes.
In 2001, autism wasn’t The Thing – no one walked, or ran, for a cure – no one really knew much about it. And I certainly didn’t suspect that he had a problem.
He was just…temperamental. And he probably sensed that I was a bad mother, a piece of shit person, and could tell that he’d drawn the shitty card when he was born to me.
In the end, only kindness matters.
My heart was as heavy and oppressive, like my mood.
I’d waddled back home at twenty, pregnant with my young son, tail between my proverbial legs. My parents graciously allowed me back into their home and helped me set up a nursery for him, but, like any other kind deed, this one came with strings so long that I nearly hung myself on them. And my son’s father, angry that I’d had the audacity to get pregnant while on birth control, (while we get along now) well, he wasn’t particularly kind to me.
The last person I recalled being truly kind to me was one of the nurses in the hospital as she wheeled me out to the car with my new baby.
Five months before.
Not to worry, because worry is wasteful and useless in times like these.
Since I could recall, I’d dreamed of going to medical school and becoming a doctor. I’d never considered having children, never thought that I’d be a parent but here I was. And there he was.
I couldn’t figure out what next. If I wanted a life with my son, I’d have to give up on the only dream I’d ever known – becoming a doctor. If I didn’t want a life with my son, well, I could go to medical school, see him on weekends and in between rotations, living with my parents until I was forty, but despite his dislike of me, I was pretty fond of the little guy.
Stuck between a rock and a bigger rock, the future a black question mark of yawning uncertainty, I drove aimlessly around, trying to make the kid sleep, trying to outrun my demons, trying to figure out what next.
I won’t be made useless.
I’d never not had a plan before. It was like waking up to realize I’d lost the right half of my body. I’d dreamed of medical school since I was a toddler – the dream was over. But what to fill it with?
I didn’t have that answer. I didn’t know where to look for an answer. I didn’t know what to do next. The emptiness was overwhelming.
My hands are small I know, but they’re not yours, they are my own.
Everywhere I turned, someone else was telling me what to do. What not to do. How I was ruining my child. How I needed to do this or that. How I shouldn’t ever think of doing this again. I was twenty-one – there was no one in my corner telling me that I could do it if I just got all EYE OF THE MOTHERFUCKING TIGER about it.
I’ll gather myself around my fears.
Maybe I wasn’t the most qualified of people to raise my son; maybe my brother and sister-in-law were (my mother had asked them if they’d adopt my son should I “go off the rails on a crazy train”). Maybe he was better off without me. But he wasn’t going to get that chance. Whether he liked it or not, I was going to parent the SHIT out of him. I was gonna get him a family and we were going to make it.
For light does the darkness most fear.
The dark days outnumbered the light ones for a good long time. I had to learn to smile and nod as I was told that I was doing a bad job at parenting. Every jab, every poke, every complaint about me, I learned to smile and nod. “Yes, that’s right, I am a bad mother, you’re so right.” I ground my teeth into nubs and smiled.
Soon, my path veered dramatically. I entered nursing school, found a new plan and met the man I would marry. The man who would encourage me, after only reading emails I’d sent, to write.
I won’t be made useless.
Maybe my “plan” was gone – so what? The world was a big place – plenty of room for new plans. I would not be made useless. I would do something to make my small boy proud. I’d get him the family he needed, I’d get away from his father, and I’d give him the siblings that helped the autistic child emerge from his own world to join ours.
I did. I found my words as he found his, and together we were able to carve out a new plan – a better plan.
I won’t be idle with despair.
There have been months, years full of despair, sadness. My heart, however, has never been as empty as it was that day, crossing the mighty Fox River, me against the world. If I could tell my former self that day that, “hey, your life will be nothing like you thought it would be, but that’s okay,” I would. I’d give that girl a hug. I’d let her know that it was okay to be scared. It was okay to feel weak and powerless because, well, she was.
But not deep inside. Deep inside, there was a drive, a dream, to become more. To be better. To do something with herself.
And she has.
And I will.
I am never broken.