Originally published by HerWord.com, February 22, 2013
My son and I were sitting on the bed the other day, already awake at eight in the morning. It was a rare morning that we did not have to peel ourselves reluctantly from our beds. As was my habit, I kissed my son, Alphonse, on the cheek. He kissed me back, obediently, but tentatively. His lips barely made contact with my cheek.
I whispered “Good morning, baby. I love you,” to his ears and he nodded silently, a shy smile hanging from the corners of his lips.
“Do you love Mama?” I asked, again a habit, albeit a bad one, borne of the year when he would answer in the negative and push me away. Those long months of rejection were still wounds in my soul.
“Can you say I love you, Mama?” I pushed the one-sided conversation further. There was me, with all the words, and there was him, on the other side, with none to say.
He shook his head glumly. His shoulders sagged visibly.
“Is it hard for you to speak, baby?”
“Can you try? Just say mama, please. MA- MA. Ma- ma.”
He shook his head, bowing lower, avoiding my eyes. He slung one arm over my shoulder and leaned into me, his full weight almost crushing me. I could sense his disappointment and feel his sadness keenly. Why does it always have to be this hard?
Years ago, when Alphonse was a young child, he hit his head and face on walls repeatedly. He knocked his forehead against walls with such violence that he sported large, unsightly bumps for weeks. He smashed his cheeks against concrete, forming dark, ugly welts and bruises. He banged his teeth on stone, chipping off permanent teeth in the process. These frightening episodes came often when speech was demanded of him. But he tried, oh, how he tried. Sometimes, he would try to form sounds with his mouth and end up screeching and grunting instead. Other times, he would mouth silently, reminding me of old black and white silent movies. Only, in his version, we had no subtitles to tell us what he wanted to say.
My musings were interrupted by a sudden sound.
“Muh,” he bleated.
I stood up beside him. I held his face in my hands as I tried to look into his eyes- those beautiful round eyes with the long fringe of eyelashes that he, thankfully, inherited from the parent whose eyes were only as beautiful as his heart (A♥). He stole one quick look at me and quickly averted his gaze, grimacing.
“My poor baby,” I murmured gently to him. “It’s alright. You don’t need to speak. I love you anyway.”
He gave a small, imperceptible nod.
I filled the silence between us with my words, just talking, talking endlessly.
“When we are old, we will move back to the countryside. We will live in a small house surrounded by trees. You’d like that, won’t you?”
He nodded again.
“We will grow a big caimito tree in the backyard and build you a tree house. Maybe a low one on the ground so you wouldn’t fall off. You will have caimitos all year round.”
He lifted his head and smiled. Caimitos are his favorite fruits. He can’t get enough of them.
And then he saw my cheeks were stained with tears. I went on talking, stifling small sobs with more endless, pointless chatter. I couldn’t stop crying. The tears just kept falling. For him, for me, for all the years we tried but failed. For the weight of autism that is sometimes simply too much for one to bear.
Why does it have to be so hard?
He lifted one finger and touched the wetness in my face. Then he stood up to his full height, now already almost four inches taller than me. He tapped my back with the palm of his hand, a little clumsily and roughly at first, then gently and softly. Tap. Tap. Tap. He looked down at me and met my eyes with a firm gaze.
In that one brief moment, he was the parent and I was the child.