Katie and Brooke
Dear Mom who approached me at the play the other night (just before Brooke lost it),
I hope you don’t mind me reaching out. I’ve been wanting to get a hold of you.
You see, there’s something that I need you to hear. I know I said it the other night, but well, Brooke was starting to need my attention and you and I were losing the thread and .. well, this is important. I need you to really, truly hear it.
You were talking about your girl. And I was trying desperately to listen because something in your eyes told me that you really, really needed me to listen. But I couldn’t, of course, because the storm was coming, and, even though you couldn’t see it yet, I could sense the change in the wind. I knew.
So I couldn’t give you what I wanted to give you. And even when you said the words with edges so sharp that they cut straight through my heart, I couldn’t free myself to do what I wanted to do – to grab you by the shoulders and shake you and say,
No. Hell, no. Hell to the mothereffing no.
I tried. I tried to will you to understand the weight of my words.
Don’t let anyone do that, I said.
It was all I could manage without sending Brooke over the edge. If I’d shown any strong emotion in that moment, she’d have been done for. So it was all I could do. And it wasn’t enough.
I know that we barely know one another. I know that I may very well be way out of line in presuming the right to say what I’m about to say to you. But you came to me for a reason. You told me that you read my blog. You very sweetly told me that you admire me. I was grateful for your words. And they told me that you know me well enough to know what I was going to say. You had to know that all I possibly could say was, Hell no.
Because no one – NO ONE – has a right to take away hope. Not from you, not from your girl, not from any one of us who happens not to fit the mold. No one can look at your sixth-grader – or any sixth-grader –and tell you that “She’s not the kind of girl who will go the prom. It’s just not possible.”
Do you hear that? It’s God laughing at those with so little imagination as to cling to nothing but their lack of faith. I’ll show you possible, He says. And every day, He does. Again and again.
When Brooke was three years old, she was diagnosed with autism. Upon delivering the diagnosis, the neuropsych who had evaluated her looked into her crystal ball and told us that our daughter would never be comfortable around people. She told us that she would tend to eschew the company of others. That she would live alone. That she would always prefer solitude.
Every day since, Brooke — not us, Brooke — has shown us not just the wild inaccuracy, but the abject absurdity of that prognosis. And time and again we have been reminded of the peril of what might have happened had we believed it.
Six years later, my daughter LOVES to be around people. It’ s not always easy, and her interaction with them sure as hell isn’t always the one that society prescribes, but she adores company. When given the choice of a private gymnastics lesson vs. a class last month, she chose the class. Her favorite day of the school week is the day on which she has chorus and can sing in a group. She invited every girl in her class – plus a few – to her birthday party. When Katie and I returned from our night away this weekend, the very first words out of her mouth were, “I missed you.”
Because she didn’t have the skills to interact the way that the doctor expected her to, it was easier for her to assume that she didn’t want to interact. Easier, but not accurate.
Six years later, the good doctor would not be making the same mistake upon meeting our girl again, should she be blessed with the opportunity to do so. (She won’t.)
Now, I’m not real good at math, but I’ve added it all up and carried the one and I’m pretty sure that twelfth grade minus sixth grade equals six years. Now ain’t that something?
Six years for your daughter to show you the absurdity of trying to predict her future. Six years for her to prove to you the insanity of extinguishing hope.
Maybe she won’t go to the prom. A lot of kids don’t. Maybe she’ll choose to go to a different kind of prom, or celebrate the evening in her own way. Or maybe she will go. Maybe she’ll be the damned queen of the dance — literally, metaphorically, both.
Who the hell knows? She’s in sixth grade for God’s sake. And six years from now is a long time. A long time to learn, to grow, to put tools into her tool box and yes,a long time for the world around her to learn, to grow, to evolve along with her. But so too, it would be an awfully long time to lose, having already decided what she — or anyone — will or won’t do, can or can’t be.
So if I’m out of line, I apologize. But I can’t sit back and let anyone put our kids in a box fashioned from the planks, not of our child’s limitations, but of their own limited imaginations. Besides, if you really know me through these pages, as you say that you do, then I’m guessing that’s precisely why you told me.
Stay strong, my friend. And the next time someone tells you that your girl isn’t exactly prom material, tell them to call me, okay?
Same beach, same girls
6 years later