My name is Carrie.
I am married to a man named Joe.
We have been married for twenty-one years.
We have five kids. Our second son, Jack, has autism.
Jack was diagnosed fourteen years ago. Joe and I were barely thirty years old.
I had a baby on my hip and another one inside my stomach and a four-year old who loved to sing The Wheels on the Bus while he sat in the stroller.
And I had Jack, a one-year old boy who never slept and banged his head on the floor and screamed all the livelong day.
When he wasn’t screaming, he was very, very quiet.
He was lining wooden blocks up in some mysterious order or tracing the grout line in the tile with his finger.
Or—even worse—he was picking the lock to the front door and running down the sidewalk toward the road.
I was terrified, overwhelmed, and alone.
We were both alone, to be honest.
Joe and I argued a lot back then.
We argued if he was ten minutes late from work after I spent the day juggling the baby on my hip and singing about how the wheels turn round and round and ate crackers to calm my queasy stomach.
We argued about money.
We argued about the best way to get Jack to stop crying, and how to rock him to sleep, and whether or not we should start speech therapy.
After dinner, when we finally got the kids settled and the dishes were done and I threw my maternity jeans and a load of onesies and tiny t-shirts into the wash, we went our separate ways. I went up to bed, while Joe sat on the couch and watched television late into the night.
Silently, and apart, we nursed our private hurts.
I tossed and turned and he changed the channel and we both worried about our mysterious boy and what would become of him and why wouldn’t he play patty-cake.
One morning we were really hostile with each other. I think Jack had been up maybe half a dozen times and we were both exhausted and I was dreading the long day ahead of me and he sat on the bed buttoning his shirt and I just snapped.
I told him I couldn’t do this anymore, I wanted him to leave.
He told me to calm down, it was going to be fine, we were just tired.
I told him to forget it. I was done.
So he buttoned the last button and he stomped down the stairs and slammed the back door.
I trudged through the rest of the morning, alternating between rage and sadness.
I changed diapers. I fumed.
I mean, who did he think he was? With his stupid job while I stayed home and raised our family?
I wiped noses. My heart softened.
I thought about how he always ordered calamari when we went out for dinner.
I remembered the way we’d eat huge slices of pizza from the place around corner in college, and the time he helped an elderly man push his car up a hill.
I put all three boys down for a nap and I walked into the bathroom to take a shower and I noticed the sink was clogged.
I leaned over that reservoir full of little-boy spit, and I decided I could not do this alone.
I could not reach my hands into that sludge and pull the plug or teach a child to speak or raise our family by myself and I loved him still. I loved him always.
That was fourteen years ago.
We’ve come a long way.
Sure, we still argue.
Sometimes we yell.
But after fourteen years of private hurts and some counseling and a lot of work, we have found our way back to each other.
Now, when I look at this man, I see someone who is trying to hold his family together and teach traditional values and understand autism.
I mean, he showed Jack how to pump gas this week.
He is determined to teach him to drive.
He is always sure, when it comes to his son.
I don’t mean he believes in him more than I do—he simply believes in him differently.
And this is a very beautiful thing.
When I see the spectrum ceiling, he sees a blue, blue sky.
I see a diagnosis, and he sees an important boy, who will grow into important man.
Yet like little boats bobbing along the stream, we each harbor different worries beneath our sails.
I’m afraid Jack will never make a friend and he worries about him changing in the locker room at the pool.
I worry he’ll spill gasoline all over himself.
He worries this boy of his may never know what it’s like to fill up your tank, and drive off while the sun sets behind you.
Together, we are forced to trust humankind. We turn our faces toward the world and with outstretched palms, we present our complicated boy.
This is a very vulnerable, tenuous position. It’s like trying to balance upon frozen water with stilts strapped to your shoes.
Perhaps it is the very point of marriage.
He makes me nuts.
He uses every dish in the house when he cooks.
He reads the mail the second he walks in the door.
He yells loudly, but he forgives easily.
I know the shape of his hands better than I know my own.
Anyone can unclog a sink. That’s not the hard part.
The hard part is holding one another up, even as the ice cracks beneath your feet.
Fourteen years ago, I looked at all that water pooled in the bottom of the sink, and I picked up the phone.
Hey, it’s me. Do you want to get some pizza tonight?