Ed note: My name is Jess. My sister’s name is also Jess. I know. Just go with it.
Ed other note: We call each other Darryl. Because “This is my brother Darryl. This is my other brother Darryl.” If you’re not old enough to get the reference, look it up.
Ed last note because this is getting ridiculous: I do not mean to imply that I would not want my nephew to be autistic. That’s important. I’ve been wrestling with how best to explain that point and here’s what I’ve come up with:
When I was in high school, I had a close male friend who was black. I’m assuming he still is, but I haven’t seen him in an awfully long time. (Ba-dum-bum). Anyway, back in high school we hung out a lot and one day my dad asked me if we were dating. When I told him that we weren’t, he said, “Oh good.” I was horrified by his response, but I was also confused. My father is not that person. He never has been. So his reaction made no sense. He plucked the questions out of my head and answered them. “I’m sure he’s a wonderful young man, Jessie.” he said. “The only reason that I am relieved — truly, the ONLY reason, is that the world still isn’t completely accepting of interracial couples. Your life with him would be more difficult. That’s all.”
It’s like that. Sort of. A little. Just keep reading, okay? We can talk more later.
Brooke and her cousin Jude
To my sister,
I’m so sorry.
I don’t know if you knew. I hope to God you didn’t.
But in case you did, I need you to know why. I need you to know that it wasn’t what you thought.
I wanted to be there, in the moment, laughing and smiling and enjoying your boy with you. I still can’t believe he’s a whole year old. Remember when I told you how fast it would go? Believe me now?
I wanted so much to be there. Watching your beautiful little man, my delicious nephew, pick up Cheerios, eat one, then feed the next to Daddy. To see him throw one onto the floor just to watch it drop, then put the next one in his mouth, smiling like the cat who’d caught the canary. I swear I could watch him for days.
I wanted nothing more than to celebrate with you as we watched him gleefully wave back to the hostess at the restaurant. Such a glorious moment of discovery, connection, growth. And with his own little twist, of course – his entire arm, straight out in front of him, sweeping from side to side and back again.
The beauty of a new achievement — of interaction with another human being as its own reward — is a wonder to behold.
And I wanted to hug him and you and I wanted to enjoy that moment with you and for you. But the waters were rushing the dam.
And then you said, “He hasn’t done this before, you guys! So many developmental milestones this weekend!” and with no warning the dam was toast and I was underwater and there was no air and Luau was reaching for my hand because he saw and he knew and I tried, Jess, I tried so hard to stop them before they came, but the tears wouldn’t listen, and as they fell, the water roared past and try as I did to hold on for dear life to the present tense, I was already somewhere else entirely.
It was three years ago. Brooke was seven years old and it was summer. I was picking her up at camp and the counselors / therapists were waving goodbye to her from the checkout table. They were calling her name and she was staring blankly back at them as they waved at her and I was standing there in shock, realizing for the first time that my daughter didn’t wave. That she didn’t know what to do, didn’t know why they were looking at her, didn’t know what they were waiting for. How could I have not known that my child didn’t wave?
I prompted her to wave back to them. I showed her how. And they erupted in cheers and she smiled. So we worked on it. Every day for the rest of the summer, we worked on teaching our seven-year old to wave.
And it’s okay. It’s all okay. I know that. I believe that. Down to my very marrow I know that it makes not a whit of difference when she learned to wave or if she ever did or never did but the dam broke anyway and the tears didn’t listen and they just kept falling and Luau was squeezing my hand and I was so incredibly grateful that he got it and that I wasn’t as alone as I felt in that moment. That he was there with a lifeline, that no matter how high the water got, he wouldn’t let me drown.
His hand said, “I get it. It’s okay. It’s all okay.”
I’m so happy for you, Jess. And for your beautiful, delicious, side-to-side waving boy. I pray for an easy road for him. And for you. One with just enough struggle to sweeten triumph, but no more.
I’m sorry for the tears. I’m sorry for all of it. I needed you to know that it wasn’t what it seemed. I needed you to know that I would never begrudge you ease and joy. That they are my most fervent hopes for you. But really? I’m telling you all of this because, above all else, I need you to know THIS …
Don’t ever stop sharing his milestones with me, okay? Promise me that. They are glorious. And I want nothing more than to be in the moment and celebrate them with you.
Little by little, I’ll shore up the dam.
I love you, my sister. And I’m so, so happy for you.