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Something on my drive home just made me think of the time when Ryan and Wayne and a couple other rotating guys lived in a big house on Bertrand street. One year, to decorate for the holidays, they plugged in some outdoor Christmas lights and dropped them in a tangled heap onto the bush out front. Then they left them plugged in for an entire year.
It still makes me laugh.
In my last year of college a good friend went with a group of people to the spillway attached to the reservoir outside of town, and ended up drowning after saving one of the girls that had waded in too deep and had gotten caught by the undertow. A few months later Ryan’s best childhood friend (and very close friend of mine as well), Wayne, and I, attended a wedding for a friend in the group. After the reception, more than a little drunk, we drove out to the spillway to see where Ryan had died. I remember being furious. Inexorably furious, that you could actually hear the water rushing from the reservoir, and that somehow my friends had been dumb enough to come here and attempt to get in the water, even jokingly. There was no mistaking that despite the calm surface, the water was roaring off the dam just around the corner. I remember that it was an icy cold December night, but surprisingly not very windy, which is odd for Manhattan, and that at some point after silently sitting on some rocks for a while, I just stood up and started hurling things into the water. I stood there and threw as hard as I could anything my hands snatched off the ground, and then I lugged big heavy boulders, discus style, into the water with big splashes. I don’t know how long I did it, or that I did anything much more than scream and throw rocks. But whatever I did was enough to make my right arm almost useless for many days afterward, and that this soreness was oddly comforting to me. It seemed defiant, this attempt to fill up the particular bend of the river, and was was by far the most cathartic and freeing thing I did during the grieving process. I needed to do something with that much powerless grief, so I filled up the river like a big fuck you. Because what I really wanted to do was yell at Ryan for being so stupid, but I couldn’t.
So this morning as the kids and I trekked across KC on our thrice-weekly school vs home commute, Jack all of the sudden burst into tears. I did that swerving-thing where you spin around in your seat and try to gauge based on sight if he’s just upset or if he’s bleeding or on fire or something. He had his head tipped back as far into his hood as he could, and tears were just streaming down his face. When I finally got him to answer my pleas for an explanation he said he wanted to know why Lucky had died. And where he had gone. And who took him there. And what he did there. And if his mom was sad. And if that meant that great-grandpa Woody or Grandpa Great were going to go, too. And last of all if heaven was on the moon.
Jesus Christ, I hadn’t even started drinking my coffee yet.
So I scrambled (because in the end all parents know that most life-defining moments sprung on them are flat-out scrambling), and quickly tried to weigh validating his sadness with how much time we could really spend on this if he had to go to school. Also up there is the fact that validating Jack’s anxieties too much might have him spin out completely, and he was already having one hellaciously kind of existential crisis for 7:40 in the morning.
I told him that Lucky had been sick and old, but that he was happy now. “With Nana’s dog, right?” Yes. “Is he with God?” Ummm… do you think so? “Yes.” OK, then he is. “Are they in heaven?” Sure. “What’s God doing with him?”
“Feeding him treats”, Lorelei said, completely unfazed and never turning from the window.
He told me that he knew he needed to calm down before school, but that ‘the tears keep coming out of my eyes’. I pulled over so I could give him a proper hug before dropping him off, but he just seemed miserable; it’s a sad truth that platitudes really are worthless when someone is grieving. And I really wish I knew what had sparked it. My thought is a dream he might have had, with that sucker punch realization thinking about it later that the details are either totally true or completely the opposite of whatever you’d dreamt. Who knows. He couldn’t tell me. I mean, he didn’t even realize Lucky was even missing from the house until a Wii Fit pet roundup produced an AWOL member two weeks ago, two months after Lucky had died. Jack’s mind fascinates me.
In the end he seemed to find some peace when he declared he wanted to write Lucky a letter to send to him in heaven (on the moon). To tell Lucky that he was a good cat, even though he bit sometimes, and that we all hope he feels better from his sickness by taking lots of naps. I told Jack that that was a great idea, and that I loved him as much as anyone could possibly ever love another person.
And that is all I can do.
Don’t EVER let anyone you know assume that all autistics are unable to feel empathy. Ever.