She showed me the picture covertly so that Brooke wouldn’t see it.
“Look, Mama, I drew Brooke as Rapunzel in the tower and that’s me, climbing up her long hair to come save her! Don’t you think she’ll love it?”
Katie had been working on the picture for nearly half an hour before she finally decided that it was done. She presented it to Brooke with a flourish.
“Look, Brooke,” she said, beaming. “I made this just for you.”
Brooke took the paper from her and without so much as a glance handed it to me. “I don’t want it,” she said. “Sorry.”
Brooke and I had a chat. Ultimately, the best we could do was a parroted, “Thank you, Katie. That was very nice of you.”
Katie was crushed.
Later that day, Katie and our sitter, Julie had a special outing to the mall. For her birthday, Julie had gotten her a gift card to her favorite shop and had promised that they would hit the mall together to do some shopping. Katie couldn’t wait. She’s been begging for a trip to the mall alone with a friend. (Not quite there yet, kiddo.) So the half-step toward independence meant the world to her. She had packed up her gift card and tucked her very own money into the wallet in her very grown-up purse.
They’d spent hours at the mall.
She came home carrying a shopping bag, flush with excitement. She pulled me in close for a secret. “Mama,” she said. “I got Brooke the best present EVER! She’s going to LOVE it! You know how she keeps saying she wants earrings just like me but we know that wouldn’t really work cause she’d try to pull them out cause they’d hurt? Well, I got her MAGNETIC earrings! Isn’t that the BEST? I’m sooooo excited!!! OK, shhhhh! Don’t tell her. I can’t wait to see how happy she is when she sees them.”
She reached into her shopping bag and pulled out a small, hot pink gift bag. She’d even thought to get a gift bag in her sister’s favorite color. “Brooke!” she yelled. “I got you a present at the mall!”
Her sister looked up from her drawing.
“I did. Want to see what I got you?”
Katie was beside herself. She couldn’t wait to see her sister’s reaction.
Brooke pulled the earrings out of the bag, set them on the table and went back to her drawing. “I don’t want them,” she said. “Sorry.”
Katie tried to explain. Perhaps she didn’t know what they were. Maybe she just didn’t understand. “Brooke, you can be just like Katie. See, they’re earrings, like mine. Look, Brooke, this is what you do with them ..”
Brooke let out a sharp shriek, then yelled, “I DON’T WANT THEM. SORRY!”
The dam broke. Katie couldn’t take it anymore. I talked to Brooke briefly. Said the same things I’d said earlier. Told her we’d talk about it again later.
Katie and I walked together into the kitchen, carrying the cast-off bag. I peeked inside. There were two other pairs of earrings in the bag that Brooke hadn’t even seen. I turned them over – $5.95 each. On her big trip to the mall, my girl had spent eighteen dollars of her OWN money on something she thought her sister would love. To no avail. Eighteen dollars.
I held my girl as she let it all out, the words tumbling over each other as she sobbed. “I just wish that there was a shot or a pill or something, Mama. Something, anything that Brooke could take that would make her autism just go away. I’m just so tired of it. I just wish I had a typical sister. I’ve just been trying so hard. I just want to show her that I love her but nothing’s working. Nothing.”
I said the right things. I did. I told her that she is the best sister that I ever could have imagined. I told her that she doesn’t always have to be, I told her that Brooke knows how much she loves her – that it would be impossible for her not to. I told her that she doesn’t always have the ability to show that. And above all, I told her that I know how much that hurts.
I told her that I understood. That from the bottom of my heart, I understood. I told her that Brooke might very likely come back to the earrings later. It had been a long day and she just might not be able to handle something new. But I knew that wasn’t the point anymore. When there was nothing more to say, I held her and let her cry.
Last night, after presenting the Autism Awareness mural to the mayor, we went out to dinner at a local mall. During dinner, Brooke needed a walk. “Ooh, Mama. May I take her, please?” Katie begged, just like she always does. “I promise I’ll be responsible!”
We’d never agreed before, but the mall was quiet and it seemed like a good opportunity for a first run. Brooke resisted. “No, Mama would.”
With some cajoling, she agreed to walk with her sister.
We gave them strict parameters and then watched them walk away. Two minutes in, Luau said, “You going or me?” I got up and headed in the same direction.
By the time I reached them, they were headed back toward me, walking arm in arm. Periodically, Brooke would spin out, then come back and re-attach herself to her sister. Each and every time she came back, Katie’s arms were open.
Brooke stopped walking in front of the entrance to a shop. I wondered if she was going to go in. Instead, she leaned into her sister and hugged Katie for all she was worth. Katie hugged her back, grinning from ear to ear. I felt like a voyeur as I feverishly snapped a picture with my phone.
They began to walk again, slowly, lazily. Katie kissed her sister’s head and said, “Thanks, Brooke, I needed that.”
And her Mama thought, “Me too, baby. Me too.”
I will treasure it!