By the time Buddy was four years old, it was obvious that people stared at him, strangers, in grocery stores, at the mall, in the park, all wondering if they should alert me that my son was “special”. I knew long before that, but I thought if I didn’t dwell on it, didn’t speak it out loud, that somehow, I would look again, and he would be acting like the other little boys, playing in the sandbox or grabbing cookie boxes from the grocery shelves, tearing them open and stealing one when I wasn’t looking. I thought he would cry, or at least whine, about not having cookies or a toy, or about anything, really. I prayed for him to whine. But the reality was, he never said anything at all. He seemed unable to comprehend that if he could just mimic the kids his age, just pick up the ball and throw it, just stuff his face with French fries, I would be able to breathe. No matter how angry I became, and I’m ashamed to say, there were times I was enraged, he wouldn’t do it. I screamed at him, shook his shoulders, threatened him, sobbed out loud, and once, I even slapped his face, but nothing I did changed anything. I don’t remember the exact day I made the decision to shut him out, to let him see how it feels to love someone and not be loved back.
His pediatrician said not to worry, that he would outgrow it, that he was just shy, and sensitive, but he was wrong. I knew it then, and I know it now. This man who spent four years in medical school, who took an oath to help people, couldn’t help us at all. This isn’t a touch of the flu, or growing pains, this is so much worse than that. This is an affliction that will accompany him for the rest of his life, and I couldn’t stand it. I know that sounds selfish, but the pain of seeing my little boy stared at and laughed at, was palpable. His psychiatrist used the formal word for what Buddy has, a word that begins with an A, a word that I have erased from my vocabulary, a word that will define his entire future. There is no medicine to fix him, to mend what’s broken. I see the other mothers complaining about how much time they spend taking their children to activities and I’m seething with envy. They are making an investment in their children’s futures, making them well-rounded and talented. They wonder what their offspring will be when they grow up. I don’t have that worry. Buddy will never be anything.
He has never laughed out loud, the kind of belly laugh that is contagious, that provokes everyone in the room to laugh along, without knowing why. He has never cried authentic tears, the kind that come from a place of absolute sorrow and desperation. He has never even hinted at excitement, not even on Christmas morning, with Santa’s presents under the tree, spilling into the living room, and down the hallway. Not when he learned how to ride a bike, or play a video game. Not even when he picked out a puppy of his very own. His face displayed nothing, emotionless, without expression. I prayed for a miracle, and yesterday one arrived. For as long as I live I will thank God for yesterday.
Buddy came home filled with excitement about a secret that he was afraid to tell me. But he did. He said he was standing in the cafeteria line at school, waiting to buy a pizza, when he was pushed into the popular girl, and that push, according to the girl’s boyfriend, got her pregnant. Buddy said he was sorry. He didn’t mean to do it. He didn’t even know how it happened, but somehow, he believed, she was going to have his baby. His face looked beautiful, filled with hope and happiness. For the first time in sixteen years he actually cared about something. He was going to call her Violet. He cleaned his room, and pulled out a dresser drawer, lined it with a soft blanket, and put it on the floor next to his bed. “This is where Violet will sleep, mom,” he said. “I promise I’ll take good care of her. Can she stay, mom? Can she?”
I know what you’re thinking. That I should have told him the truth. That he didn’t make a baby. That he couldn’t make a baby without having sex, but I couldn’t bring myself to ruin this one perfect moment, one that he had been waiting for, one that I desperately needed, to validate that Buddy actually existed, that he was in there somewhere, deep inside his blank stare and rounded shoulders, that he was able to feel and hope and wish. In that one moment, Buddy lived. After we cleaned his room for the baby, we both climbed up the attic stairs, hand in hand. His hand was larger than mine, but it still felt small, and trusting. We opened the trunk filled with his baby clothes, and together we picked out a blanket sleeper, a yellow sweater, and his blue teddy bear. “Will she like this, mom?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, “She will love it.”
We sat huddled together for a long time. I wound up his music box, filling the attic with soft lullaby’s. When I put my arm around him, for the first time since he was born, he didn’t flinch, and instead, finding the soft spot in my shoulder, he rested his head. I hummed with the music, and he tapped his fingers in an awkward rhythm. Slowly his eyes closed, and he fell asleep. If I never have another day like this as long as I live, I will be thankful for this one magical day I spent with my baby boy.
Tomorrow will be time enough to squash his dreams.
But not tonight.
Definitely not tonight.