Do you ever wish you could see inside other people’s marriages?
You know, like if they fight about changing the toilet paper roll or who spends more money at the grocery store or whether or not it’s time to throw away the smelly sponge sitting in the kitchen sink?
I do. I wish I knew if people bicker throughout the day, or have screaming matches every once in a while.
Do they kiss each other goodbye every morning, and goodnight before they turn over and go to sleep?
Do they agree on what kinds of movies to watch, or the right way to park in the driveway, or how often a person should hit snooze before they get out of bed?
We got married young, didn’t we? It was after we’d both graduated from college and you were in your second year of dental school. You were twenty-four and I was only twenty-three. That was eighteen years ago.
I’m not sure why, exactly, we got married. It just seemed like right thing to do at the time. We’d been dating for over two years and we were in love the way two people with no money and no kids and no mortgage and cars that barely ran could be in love; recklessly, with abandon, and little thought for anyone but ourselves.
Turns out, dating for two years and loving each other recklessly and changing the tires on your car in the middle of the street doesn’t guarantee you’ll have an easy marriage.
Things are good right now. They weren’t always good. Sometimes they were hard and complicated and frustrating and confusing and empty.
Do you remember the time when our son Jack was in third grade and every single day after school he came home and had the most awful stomach ache and then he would go into the downstairs bathroom—the one right off the kitchen—and have terrible diarrhea?
He would get so upset and he would take off all of his clothes and run through the house, screaming and hitting his head with his hands and tracking poop footprints on the stairs and down the hallway into his room where he would curl up, crying, on the floor.
This happened around 4:00, every single goddamn day. It happened no matter what I tried—if I fed him different food to help his tummy or coaxed him into the bathroom as soon as he got off the bus or sang songs while he moaned or blocked the doorway of the bathroom until he finished so I didn’t have to clean the entire house.
Jack, buddy, ssshhhhh. Calm down, stay here, let me help you please don’t run away stay here come back!
When it happened—at 4:00, without fail—I imagined myself opening the front door, walking outside, and never coming back.
And if you were so much as two minutes late—6:02 instead of 6:00—I was furious. I wouldn’t look at you when you walked in the door and I wouldn’t let you kiss me and all evening long, I fanned my brilliant hot flames of resentment.
I hated us then. I hated me.
I hated that we were a cliché—the bitter stay-at-home mom and the overworked husband and the sniping and the silence. But staying together seemed, quite frankly, easier than moving apart.
I wonder if that happens in other marriages, too. I wonder if the husband or wife has a red-hot pang of rage or a couple of days of aching loneliness, and they think to themselves, this isn’t working I should leave we should separate I can’t do this anymore.
Yet putting it all into motion—hiring lawyers and figuring out who gets the couch you bought together and trying to imagine spending every other Christmas alone because the custody arrangement would dictate shared holidays—feels way too overwhelming and exhausting.
And so we stay. I stayed, and you stayed. I’m glad.
Things are good. We laugh a lot. We bring each other mugs of coffee on Saturday mornings. We dance if there’s music playing.
At the moment, all five kids are happy, even Jack. After a long, tumultuous summer of deciding his seventh grade future and then telling him about his new school and hearing him scream and rage and tell us he hates us and he hates himself and he hates it all, he too, is settling into his new normal.
Jack Jack Jack Jack Jack JackJackJackJack
Remember when I was pregnant with him and we talked about names, and I wanted to name him Alexander if he was a boy but I only wanted to call him Alexander and not let anyone shorten it to Al or Alex? Well, I am glad you talked me out of that one. It would have been way too long.
Alexander Alexander Alexander AlexanderAlexanderAlexander
Not that we knew at the time Jack-a-boo was born that we would be saying his name nine hundred thirty-two times a day.
Jack! Stay here.
Jack, look at me.
Jack, calm your body. Calm your body, Jack.
And when we’re not saying his name out loud—reminding him to take his medicine and prompting him to use his spoon instead of eating Honeycombs with his fingers and asking him to please, for the love of all things holy, to stop playing the same verse from Oh What a Night by the Four Seasons over and over—we’re thinking it in our own heads.
I don’t know how Jack will handle that.
I wish Jack would calm down.
Right now he’s in this new phase where he keeps asking us who our favorite person is all the time, but we’re handling it like a boss, don’t you think?
Who is. Your favorite Disney character.
Uh, Buzz Lightyear?
That is not DISNEY! That’s PIXAR.
Who is your favorite. Pop star.
Hmmmm, Ariana Grande?
No. Demi Lavato is. For better.
Things are good right now, and that’s hard to admit out loud because as autism parents, we are always looking over our shoulders—waiting for the next obsession, another screaming match in a restaurant, or a spike in the slithering snake of anxiety.
We hold our breath, and we wait.
He’s talking about his new school more and more. He comes off the bus and offers a tiny detail about his day the way one might offer a breadcrumb to a bird.
Today. For we did. Some music.
He is more resilient than we think, and he has more strength than we know.
Things are good right now, very-very-very good. I’m going to savor this goodness like the last spoonful of melty ice cream at the bottom of the bowl, or the final moments of light before the sun dips below the horizon.
I guess we’ll never really know the exact reason we got married. At first, it was because it felt like the right thing to do.
Then we stayed married because it seemed like the easier thing to do.
Now, we are married because we love each other and we laugh a lot and we take turns changing the toilet paper roll and we sit in the kitchen on Saturday mornings and drink coffee and listen to five kids whirl and swirl and giggle and talk all around us.
And all at once, in the center of the din, like a bright star in the darkest night, is a familiar robotic voice.
Who is your favorite person. With autism.
You are, buddy.
You are Jack.