Ed Note: Please click here to read the first half of this post – Wakeup Call – Part One
We head down the stairs to start our morning. Katie is in the den, watching TV. Brooke’s not ready to interact with anything human so she heads straight for the office and settles into the comfort of the computer. I offer breakfast, but she makes it clear that she’s not ready for that either.
Katie, on the other hand, is only too happy to accept. I head to the kitchen and set about making her eggs.
I take out the pan and set it on the stove. I spark the flame as I drop the butter into the pan. While it melts, I crack open the laptop. I check for responses to my query.
My God, we’ve GOT to get this kid some help. Someone, anyone who can tell him it’s OK. That HE’S OK. That it will get better. That he’s not alone. That somebody out there gets it – has lived it – has come through it.
Yes, that’s it. He’s got to know he’s not alone.
Resources are coming in. I cut and paste as I see them. But there’s one that I’m waiting for. The man who stepped forward and said, “I run a closed page for gay, autistic people.” It’s him I’m hoping to hear from. He’s the one that holds the key to community for this kid.
The smoke alarm is loud and shrill – it’s rhythmic pulse screaming my transgression to the world.
“WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!”
I turn around in a daze.
The butter is long gone, having burned into a black residue on the bottom of the pan. Smoke is everywhere. The alarm is unbearably loud. Brooke is screaming.
I turn off the stove and sprint into the office. I scoop my terrified girl out of her chair and into my arms. I press her right ear into my shoulder and cover her left with my hand. It’s no use, really, but it’s all that I’ve got.
I scream to Katie over the alarm, “Baby, get Daddy; I’m taking Brooke outside.”
There’s no need – Luau is already halfway down the stairs.
Brooke and I run for the porch.
We’ve done this before.
Sadly, It ain’t our first rodeo.
“It’s OK” I tell her as we get outside. “It’s OK.”
Within a minute, Luau has the alarm turned off.
The siege is over.
“It’s all done, baby,” I tell her. “it’s all done.”
It’s too late.
“Do you want to stay out here for a few minutes?” I ask. She points to the steps.
We sit together on the steps.
She is still in my arms.
She is twitching – her body tensing and releasing involuntarily.
She is terrified.
January, 2012 …
It’s dinner time.
I try to coax her into the kitchen.
She takes a few steps, then bounces off an invisible wall.
Have you ever seen a firefighter repelled by overwhelming heat? It may be invisible; but it’s impenetrable.
She reels backward into the office.
I offer her my hand again. I promise to show her that the cooking is all done. That it’s OK to walk into the kitchen now. I tell her that we will look at the stove together before we walk all the way in.
“There’s nothing on the stove, baby,” I say. “I promise.”
She looks leery.
“No pan?” She asks.
“No pan,” I say again, “I promise. Let’s go look together. I’ll be right here with you.”
Her body is rigid. She’s not moving.
“No pots?” she asks.
“No pots,” I say.
“There won’t be any noises,” she says.
“No baby, no noises,” I promise. “Let’s go see.”
Together, we take a tiny step forward. I’m hopeful.
She drops my hand and bolts in the other direction. She runs in a tight circle – into the hallway, around the corner, into the living room. and back through the office door. She is covering her ears with her hands. She’s no longer talking, but yelling.
“NO NOISES! THERE WON’T BE ANY NOISES!’
God damn it.
Academic challenges? Bring ‘em on, Bucko. Difficulty with diet? Self care? Social Pragmatics? Transitions? We’ll figure em out. Every one of them.
I can’t ‘fix’ this.
I can’t make it OK.
I want to scream with her.
That was January.
We’d made progress since then.
So, so much progress.
One of two goals we’ve focused on with the BCBA who’s been helping us at home.
Step by step, brick by brick, we’d made progress.
And in one fell swoop, I’ve just dismantled it.
In one careless moment, I’ve brought her screaming back to square one.
To her home as a war zone.
To the place that she lives as a place where her worst fear may be realized at any moment.
Where there is no safety.
With each little jerk, she emits an awful noise. It’s guttural, animalistic, violent.
She clings to me.
Luau comes to check on us. He doesn’t see us at first, so he calls out. I’m afraid to respond.
In these moments, me talking to someone else is enough to unravel the one thread we’ve got left. I stage whisper, “We’re over here.”
He comes around the corner. “You guys, OK?”
My eyes fill with tears as I look up at him.
I did this.
I let someone else’s kid come before ours.
I let the needs of the world outside our door make me forget about the very real needs of the one inside our home.
I did this.
All I can say is, “I’m sorry.”
He heads back into the house to clean up the mess I’ve left behind.
I rock my girl, trying desperately to stuff the demons back into their box.
I whisper in her ear, “I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so, so sorry.”
I look up.
I heard the alarm.
Got the wakeup call.
Loud and clear.