My husband Joe doesn’t buy me flowers. It’s not his way.
When I was younger this bothered me a little.
Once upon a time in early fall, he and I stood upon a concrete campus, hands clasped, hearts racing. The trees glowed.
If we knew all that was ahead of us, would we have stayed together, fingers intertwined?
If we had a crystal ball to show us this messy, ordinary life with five children, autism, work, and family?
Would we have stood at the altar, all white dress and black tuxedo, and exchanged our earnest vows?
Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to be married to me.
I am routine to his spontaneity.
Risk-adverse to his entrepreneurial adrenaline.
I can be needy.
I tend to dwell.
I hand out forgiveness like so many gold coins in a Leprechaun’s silken bag.
Again and again my 47-year old familial baggage rises to the surface.
I mean, he isn’t perfect either. He is a good man, yes.
But he snores.
He complains about weird things, like when I buy a new shower curtain or put a frying pan in the dishwasher.
Yet he’s the one you want with you in a hailstorm, or a dark alley, or a crowded airport.
He’s the one you want to go out for dinner with and enjoy his gusto for calamari and pasta.
Nothing is real until I tell it to Joe. Nothing matters.
Our special son is seventeen now. And as he prepares to leave for a college program, I am reminded again and again how we carry autism grief separately like colorful buckets of very red paint.
For seventeen years, we have interpreted this boy to the world, and this world to the boy.
We’ve always had to look at life from both sides: diagnosed and undiagnosed.
All day long, we push uphill. We work to speak autism’s language. And once we master a few sentences, we turn and offer the words.
My husband is my witness.
And I, his.
We are witness to all the ways we help this boy of ours claim the piece of earth that is rightfully his.
Side by side we stand, firmly rooted to the ground, and stretch our gaze toward the sky. We hope for the best, but fear the worse.
It is the hardest work I have ever known.
And on the days when it is all too much for me, when I can’t see the sun for the clouds and I can’t take another step in the name of spectrum progress, he holds my hand is his, and helps me reach beyond the storm.
What makes a good marriage? What are the right ingredients? I’m not sure anyone knows.
After all, it is little more than small pockets of time—moments of hope, and love, and loss, all mixed up with old-fashioned grit.
Funny birthday cards, goofy texts, the silent treatment, stolen kisses, give-and-take, compromise, failed attempts, and new beginnings.
Morning coffee, small smiles across the table, keys left on the counter.
His love is not the way of flowers, it’s true. It is not the way of candy-coated Valentines, or Hallmark cards, or lavish birthday gifts.
It is the way of cleaning vomit from carpets.
It is the way of burgers on the grill when I don’t want to cook and waiting up for teenagers just licensed to drive.
It is the way of IEP meetings, and behavior plans, and guardianship appointments.
It is the way of holding doors, and carrying bags, and always offering me the first bite of his chicken parmesan.
It is the way of the ordinary work it takes to move a family forward.
He and I root for the underdog.
We root for the boy who doesn’t always have a voice of his own.
Have we done enough?
Have we explained and advocated and hoped and hurt and tried enough?
No one believes in him the way we do. That’s the thing.
Rooting for the underdog is equal parts thrilling/scary/ordinary/new.
I guess, at the end of the day, all we can do is hope the world is gentle.
We are two pages in the same story—the story of a family, and autism, and discovering what’s possible.
I would have held his hand in mine, standing beneath the autumn sun. Even if I knew all that was before us.
He holds up half my sky.
He still makes my heart race.