When we decided to have another baby, I didn’t realize how fearful I was of it. It wasn’t until the doctor told us we were having a boy that the anxiety attacks began to kick in. I would cry and yell at his dad, and when my mom tried to calm me down, I would take it out on her also. But it was my brother who got the brunt of it.
1 in 54 boys have autism. ■ Boys are five times more likely than girls to have autism. ■ There is no cure or clear-cut detection of autism. ■ There’s a spectrum.
It was all I could think about. I read blogs from moms with children of autism. Some accepted their kids fully, but then there were others who the random statistics and figures and numbers I’d read throughout the years pounded me. Hard. Yes, I was afraid my son would be autistic. After all, he had a tío to take after. I didn’t mind if he had the same hairline as my brother, his height or eyes and smile. I always thought my brother’s smile—with a hint of that spectrum timidez—was beautiful. But that was as far of a resemblance as I wanted. I didn’t know it a year ago, but I was very resentful of my brother, and extremely angry that autism robbed me of having a real relationship with him. “It’s like I’m an only child,” I would tell friends sarcastically. I was angry at him, my mother, at the fact that it all left me with a heavy weight of uncertainty. I wanted him—more than anything—to do something about it. To fix it. He’d avoided getting help for years, and I was afraid the same thing would happen to us. Although I knew better, it was as if autism were a virus that could be passed down with a brief saludos on the cheeks, and the thought of us inheriting that was more than I could carry again. My mother never, fully accepted my brother’s diagnosis, and a childhood clothe in that denial was still weighing down on me. I knew I had to do something. I knew I had to address the shame she’d passed on before it consumed me and became a pattern in my new family.
It was the smell of coffee that always returned me there. How my mother would wake up before sunrise, before the world, and at the ready to colar her cafe. Her crackers stacked neatly on a little napkin, always three to four of them. “Can’t eat more than that,” she’d say, “I’m getting too fat.” She’d adjust her shirt and pat her thighs, as if tucking them back, and laugh. Although, to our little eyes then, she was always perfect. Nothing seemed out of place. Not even the black mole on the bottom, left-hand side of her face.
Those mornings were the easiest we’d spent as a family. Probably, the most normal part. There was no divorce, no stepfathers, no moving to Rhode Island, and – most importantly – no autism.
—Pieces to Normal, 2013
I’ve always confronted myself through writing. When I was a pregnant teen with my first daughter I kept a year-long journal, documenting my transformation from an honor-roll student to a statistic. Years later, when I’d left my career as an editor to finish school, I wrote again about the feelings of being broke, writing with the light of a small candle and nearby streetlight, courtesy of not being able to pay yet another bill. But now, it was different than all that. I felt a bigger responsibility to the page, to a truth I needed to seek. So I write and write. Because my brother still avoids his diagnosis. And I write and write. Because I still don’t know if my son, born late last year, is in the spectrum. I write and keep writing, because I’ve yet been able to make sense of it all.
He didn’t go away after that, but we hardly spoke. His silence was desperate and frustrating. His existence was only within his shadows. We were only between quick phrases: “Excuse me,” “This is for you,” “Where’s Mami?” and “Do you want some coffee?”
Although we never had that sweet morning scent, our mother’s quickness in the kitchen, and he stopped sucking his finger after a while, there were remnants of that childhood that when threaded together reveal a beautiful childhood.
—Pieces to Normal, 2013
This piece goes out to the warriors from the Writing Our Lives workshop for helping me dig out this writing. Thank you to our fearless leader and loba, Vanessa Martir. For more information on Writing Our Lives Workshop, please visit Vanessa’s website.