Last week, a reader wrote and shared her story with me, about a husband and a father and a boy and autism.
This family lived inside my head for days.
For M. and B. You are not alone.
To my Dad,
It is a hot dry August now. We’ve had some thunderstorms but the air still does not move at all.
We were supposed to go camping this weekend. Do you remember this? But first you went fishing with your friends in Vermont.
We looked at the map and you said see Cameron. Vermont is only two hundred and seventy-five miles from our house in New York. That’s not too far and I will be home soon.
You said this because of my autism. You remembered that I like to know how many miles places are apart from each other.
It turns out Vermont was very far. It was even more than two hundred and seventy miles, because you never came back home again. You are never coming home again. This is because you died. On your trip you died.
You are gone forever. You are forever gone.
They said you had a sudden heart attack. On your fishing trip. When people tell me this, I picture a giant heart running after you with a bow and arrow.
You were attacked. Your heart was attacked. And then you died.
Now my heart is attacked too. People say maybe it is broken.
But it’s not my heart that hurts. It is all of me. My whole entire person.
I hear the front door open and I look at it because I think maybe you might walk through it like you did every day after work.
My hands twitch and I feel your itchy scratchy beard in my fingers.
My tongue is thirsty and I remember all the times you bought me bright blue cold ice cream cones.
People think because I have autism I don’t understand. But I do. I understand your heart was attacked and then you died and I will not see you in forever.
I don’t know how long forever is.
We had a funeral for you. This is where we went to church and listened to talking. I had to wear a suit.
I did not cry. All around me people were crying, but my brain felt like it was not ready. I could not make the tears come out of my eyes. This was too big for crying.
After we said good-bye to you in the church the men carried out the long shiny box with their arms held up high. Mom said the box is called a casket, and you were inside it.
I could not believe you were tucked inside the casket because it looked like it would not fit you. It would not fit your loud laughter or your special recipe for hamburgers or your tickly beard.
When the men passed me, I reached out and ran my finger along the side of the box to try and feel you. Uncle Ralph was standing next to me and he pulled my hand away. He rubbed his fingers with mine and told me not to touch.
I guess touching a casket when your father is inside is against the rules. I did not know this.
There are so many rules. How will I learn them now that you have died?
If I had to tell people how you taught me all the rules, I would say the world was like an orange that you held gentle in the palm of your hand. You showed me how to peel it. You showed me how to take the different sections out, and smell it, and taste it, and see it. Then, very slowly, we put it back together again and it all made sense.
When I was with you, everything made sense.
And on the days when I still couldn’t figure out the rules and I got mad like the sun shining and I screamed and flapped my hands and hit my fists, it was you every time. It was you who wrapped your big arms around my body and held me so close and told me it was okay I was okay it would be okay.
Where are you?
After your funeral we went back to Aunt Rachel’s house and we ate food and talked and stood on our feet. It was kind of like a party except for the crying. There was potato salad. I do not like potato salad because it is slippery in my mouth. If you were there at Aunt Rachel’s you would have seen the potato salad and looked at me with funny google eyes to tell me I did not have to eat it.
All this time people put their hands on my shoulder and said it was time to be the man of the house now.
I do not want this. I am too young for the man of the house. You have to be eighteen at least with hair on your face to be a man. I am only twelve. I don’t know what to do as the man.
I tried to talk about you but people just put their hands on me and said it’s okay ssshh now Cameron it will be alright.
Please, I wanted to say. Please let me talk about my father. Please don’t hug me or put your hands through my hair or on my shoulder it makes me feel like my skin is coming off my body.
Let me tell you about my dad. Let me take him out of the black shiny box and into the light. Let me tell you how he sang loud songs when he took a shower, and he loved chocolate chip cookies so much.
Let me ask all the questions that are in my brain.
Where is he?
Where did he go?
What is it like to die?
But every time I tried to say these things, the words got stuck in my throat.
After the potato-salad party we went home. It was very, very quiet. I took off my suit and I hung it up straight in the closet. I laid down in my bed. I tried to cry.
This was too big to cry for.
You are too big to cry for.
Forever is a long time I think.
I keep listening for the door.