Inside every photo is a story.
You may not see it right away.
At first you might observe the shimmering water and the way it meets the shoreline. You admire the color of the setting sun.
From there, you notice the boy. A young man, really.
He looks relaxed.
Ever since my son Jack was born eighteen years ago, I’ve joked that the umbilical cord between us never really disappeared.
We orbited one another. I don’t know how else to say it.
He was never far from me in the house. He called for me constantly. I knew his footsteps better than I knew my own.
If I was out for any reason, he always met me at the door when I pulled into the garage.
I’d open the car door and he’d be standing there, waiting. He’d ask me where I’d been, what took me so long to come home.
In many ways, we were like bees trapped in a jar.
We scrutinized the jar. We examined the walls and the floor. We stared at one another, instead of shifting our gaze toward the horizon.
Last July, Jack went away to a college program.
It rained the morning we dropped him off—big metallic droplets that splashed across the windshield.
As we brought his things inside, the rain became a lemon yellow sun perched firmly overhead. We made trip after trip, carrying his new comforter, his bedside lamp, his laundry basket. Our feet danced around the puddles.
Driving away was perhaps the second-hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I was terrified to let him go.
Who would keep him safe?
Who would refill his medication, and make sure he dressed warm enough, and fix his glasses when the lens fell out?
Who would remind him to put his money away or that soda keeps him up at night?
In many ways, my world revolved around him. This isn’t anyone’s fault. It is simply the life alongside a diagnosed child.
But it meant I had to do the very hard work of untangling my own needs from his future. I had to begin to separate from him. And this was the hardest of all—harder, even, than sitting in the doctor’s office, hearing the words autism spectrum disorder attached to my boy.
It was harder than watching him disappear in the rear view mirror as the sun made its jealous march across the sky.
It meant letting him walk into the pharmacy and pick up his own prescription.
It meant biting my tongue when he drank too much soda, hoping he would connect the dots between beverage and sleeplessness.
It meant encouraging him to stay inside when he heard my car in the driveway.
It meant giving up control.
For the most part, it worked.
Then one day I pulled into the garage. He wasn’t standing at the door. I put my head on the steering wheel and cried.
What was I doing?
In this autism life, there is no manual. There are no instructions for how to untether yourself from a tender child who needed you for so long, you forgot what life was like before he disrupted your world in an exquisitely magical way.
I didn’t want to let go.
At the same time, I didn’t want him to wait for me another moment.
I didn’t want him to watch the world through glass. I wanted him to reach out and know his own sky.
In this photo, he stands. On a beach I’ve never seen, posing for a picture I didn’t take.
For so long he was a bee.
Now, he is the shimmering wave that meets the shore. He is the colorful cloud overhead. He is possibility wrapped up in a new beginning.
This boy Jack.
I still look for him. Every time I pull in the garage.
“Mom. My friend took this picture.”