Lady, there’s no way I can fix this.
Oh, okay. By the way, my name is Car—
I mean, has the vent ever been cleaned?
I stood next to the repair man as we both peered into the dryer.
Well, I think it might be—
No, listen it’s not that. You don’t know.
I glanced back at my tall son and tried to make eye contact, to let him know it was okay.
But this boy of mine wouldn’t meet my gaze.
For seventeen years, I’ve looked at autism from my side and his side.
I’ve examined it from every angle I could think of—statistics, behavior, the boy himself.
And yet I don’t know it at all.
To me, autism is an ethereal, wispy ghost I cannot quite capture in words or thought. It slips through my palms like a phantom.
It is trains lined up on carpet.
A silhouette in the cool morning light.
The sound of ice filling the sink.
People ask me what kind of autism Jack has.
I guess you could say he has the swearing kind.
He has the kind that make fireworks too loud, and facial expressions too vague.
He has the kind that limits his vocabulary, but grants him the uncanny ability to understand intention.
Mom. For who is. LADY.
Nobody buddy, come on. Let’s go into the kitchen while he finishes up with the dryer.
I mean, he’ll have a conversation with you if you talk about what he wants to talk about—holidays and Disney and Oreos.
He’ll sit through his brother’s baseball game but only if we promise him Chipotle.
The truth is, I really don’t know autism at all.
I don’t know why he talks to himself all day long.
I don’t know why he swears even though it makes his father’s hair stand on end, or how on earth he figured out how to start the car when he was four.
I don’t know why he rejects his peers.
I don’t know why everything is so much work.
Autism is a winter sunrise, headphones in July, the last inning beneath a springtime sky.
He was born on Mother’s Day.
Seventeen years later, I can still feel his angry baby-body squirming from my own.
Still, I see him running out the front door and down the driveway on his chubby toddler legs.
Still, I see him huddle in the corner of a middle school classroom—terrified and alone.
Still, I know every mistake I have ever made.
The truth is, I don’t exactly know what kind of autism he has.
I do know there are no shortcuts.
There are no shortcuts to teaching eye contact, or finding the right words, hiding the car keys.
When he was first diagnosed, a lot of people with great big hearts and good intentions told me it would be okay.
For a while, I believed them. I believed them because I wanted to, it’s just that simple.
And the truth is, I don’t think any of us could have predicted the path we now follow.
But why. Did the man talk like that.
Some people do that, buddy. Let’s make lunch.
He is brave. That much I do know.
He is braver than I’ll ever be.
You’ll never meet another person like him in your life.
He is complicated, and determined, and honest, and pure.
I’ve always encouraged him to take up space, that’s the thing.
I’ve always wanted him to claim the air and sun and earth that is rightfully his.
People tell me all the time I am strong. They admire my strongness.
If they only knew. I am anything but strong.
I am weak and uncertain and scared and unsure.
Okay, Lady, I’m done here.
But what about—
Yeah, you need to call someone to figure it out.
I glanced over at my son, sitting at the kitchen counter. He didn’t look up from his sandwich.
I don’t know everything about autism. The truth is, I probably never will.
But I do know this this boy Jack forces me to look deep inside myself and find my own braveness—if not for me, then for him.
Because sometimes, it’s not okay.
My name is Carrie. And you need to change your tone of voice when you speak to me.
There are no shortcuts.
Tacos with chicken and cheese. That’s what he always orders from Chipotle.