OKay. Let’s go back a while.
The last time Mate and I were organized–TRULY organized–was on December 10th, 1992.
We sat down on the couch and without computer or fanfare, we filled out and addressed two sets of cards, by hand. One was our Christmas card, and the other was a birth announcement. We knew the sex of the baby but not the weight, we had a name all picked out, but the only thing we knew about the birth date was that he was due in December, and if we went much past the eleventh, I was gonna fuckin’ kill somethin’. The plan (faithfully executed) was for Mate to come home and fill out those last details after the Grand Event.
Big T was born at 1:10 a.m., December 12th, 1992.
He did not breathe when he was born.
Now I’ve probably said this before–the part about the not breathing–but I cannot communicate fully, eighteen years later, the enormity of that fact at the time. There was the baby, and he was the shade of a ripe eggplant, and he wasn’t making a sound or making a twitch or a gurgle or a coo. He just was–and for a moment, the fear that he was NOT was about the worst, most terrifying silence in our heads.
Now in the picture above, he is shown holding his much younger sister, but I think it’s appropriate to show him with her, because of all the things noted of Big T–his good humor, his persistence, his unflagging willingness to do EVERYTHING the way it should be done, in spite of the Communication Handicap (spawned, we’re fairly convinced, by those first purple minutes outside of the womb, and all the minutes before inside of it)– the thing that most all of us marvel at, is his gentleness.
You can see it in that picture there, can’t you?
I have a crystal clear memory of this summer, when I’d brought poor ol’ Dennis Quaid home after that final trip to the vet’s. T was the one who took the cat’s body out of the box and laid it in the ground, and instead of holding him like “dead kitty”, he held him like “gently sleeping kitty”–it was the final straw for me, the final thing that allowed me to mourn my faithful friend, and it was all in the way my son saw him.
But, of course, he’s always had a sense of humor.
He’s always TRIED to have a sense of humor, and sometimes, that’s hard. The jokes his little brother have been coming home with every week from school were beyond him when he was age appropriate. Most humor is word play, and when your whole brain is hardwired for words to be meaningless and emotions to be fragile, that makes humor a tough goddamned concept. I have a clear memory of him wanting to make a “comedy tape”–and then making me listen to it.
Most of it was him, reading jokes from a fifth grade joke book, into the microphone Then, halfway through, he started cracking up, and I realized what had happened.
He actually got the joke.
Much of his life, he’s been struggling to get the joke–and just the fact that he keeps trying, keeps working on processing the world around him in a positive way–God, that inspires me.
But sometimes–the best times–it’s not a struggle at all. Most of the funniest things he’s done or said, he did or said while not trying. That’s not to mean he was unintentionally funny–not that way, not the mean way. But when he was coming in with a load of laundry the other day, Steve the cat tried to get out, and T just scooped her up into his laundry basket and came in carrying her, looking puzzled and surprised.
I laughed all morning.
Big T has been on the honor roll for every semester he’s been in high school. He did this on a double block system, which is often difficult for students in special education to deal with, and he did this without once having me intervene on his behalf to argue for his rights or his disability. He would have died of mortification had I ever once tried.
One of the upshots of this attitude is that in eight grade, when he was accidentally put in regular PE instead of Adaptive PE, we talked it over, and he decided to stay there, and be challenged, and maybe take the C from regular instead of the A from Adaptive– and we were so proud of that!
He earned his black belt in karate–it took him twice as long as the other kids, but dammit… he just kept going. My God–tenacity, perseverance? He’s got it. Sometimes, that’s not such a fun thing. The one-hundredth time he’s asking for me to clarify a literary concept like satire, well, I curse tenacity and perseverance. Trying to explain that he’s wrong about something but we’re not angry about it? Once again–tenacity and perseverance? Damn it to purgatory, every last ounce.
But that’s from my end–from his end, he’s making that shit work for him.
The proof is in the tall, svelte young man you see before you.
T used to be a champion eater. Once, when I was pregnant with Zoomboy, I got home from work and fell asleep in my chair. I struggled awake to make myself cook dinner, and found Big T, sitting down with a plate of food. You know those frozen chicken patties? There were four sandwiches on his plate, each one had three pieces of bread and two patties, with two slices of kraft cheese. The kid looked up at me and said, “I’m just eating a little snack.”
A little snack my ass–my big fat squishy white ass, actually. But not his. Not his anymore.
It’s taken him a couple of years of working hard on his diet and of taking the toughest PE classes, but look at him.
A kid without any of the eating problems I managed to graduate high school with. All those years of teaching good choices and telling him why it was a good thing to make those choices (even if I couldn’t) and he’s proof that it works.
Have I mentioned I’m proud of him? Have I mentioned I love him?
On that day, eighteen years and two days ago, when he was breathing and pinkening up nicely, and screaming with some serious intent into the world, I looked at him and said, “Oh God. It’s going to be a quick eighteen years.”
Truer words were never spoken.