The endless minute-by-minute supervision, the careful management of his every waking moment.
The therapists, the IEP classroom aides, the specialized summer camp, the 24-hour-a-day awarding of “points” for every quiet, decent hour; the deletion of “points” for his scarifying outbursts. The detailed accounts of meltdowns written by grammar school attendants who are clearly wearying of him.
He was conceived in the midst of an enormous storm, three days filled with bad omens.
We had a daughter by then, a beautiful, empathetic, sweet child, almost three years old, but my wife and I were already stumbling badly as 2000 turned to 2001 into 2002. In 2000, I walked away from a dead-end publishing job (Prentice Hall, it had 9 months to live) for something else that had even less of a future. I was out of work for six months, bringing in freelance money for book jackets and such, during the Christmas Where No One Spoke.
But the storm, I was talking about the storm. The rain fell and it fell and it fell. We were trapped in a house in the Cat’s Ridge section of Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks. The floodwaters rose over the streets and crept around the borders of our rental house. My father-in-law and I moved our cars to the last, highest hump of grassy knoll and watched as the tide rose up to the tires of our cars. It was a relief to be outside, buffeted by 60-mile-an-hour winds and driving rain; the heavy weather inside our rental house was much worse.
I was working again by September of 2002, at a job I still hold today, and so maybe it was some sense of euphoria that moved us to do what we did. We both wanted it, we both very specifically had the same goal.
After the storm passed, Tropical Storm Gustav, I packed and packed and packed. I refused to stay in the same room for more than a moment. I had driven over some sort of PVC piping in the yard and broken it. It was a relief and a release to go to the hardware store in town and buy new pipe, and replace the broken plastic. We fled that island like refugees from a catastrophe.
Most days are fine here, now. Other days are not. He has taken to hitting his sister. His sister copes by being overtly solicitous of us all. She is the facilitator of some kind of “normal life” for us all. Some times I look at my son and he looks at me and I can see him calculating. Sizing me up. He has a talent for the cutting remark. A bad day announces itself when my daughter runs out to the car when I come home and strikes up a desperately cheerful line of conversation. Today, my son announced, as he has before, that “he’s going to kill us all.” Today, I took all of his Xbox games back to the GameStop and gave them away. Tomorrow will be bad. It’s going to be really bad.
I am not innocent in all of this. Autism, they say, is latent in preceding generations. I look at him and I see all of my own failings. This series, Oak and Acorn, is not haphazardly named.
My son was conceived in a whirlwind. Sometimes I can’t see the future.
Related: Oak and Acorn 2
Related: Oak and Acorn