Authors: Shelly Hickman
After the appointment, Carly and I really don’t have an opportunity to talk, without Claire, about this difficult news, and the first thing I do when returning to my office is go onto my computer to learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome. Even though Dr. Barker said the term has been officially dropped, I figure this will be the best way to find additional information about the behavior Claire has been exhibiting.
What does this mean for Claire? For Carly and Jason? Visions of a normal, happy life for my daughter and her family rapidly slip away as my fears get the best of me.
As I read through various websites, Dr. Barker’s statement about autism being tricky to diagnose is repeatedly confirmed, and there’s no denying Claire shows many of the signs. There’s so much information, it’s hard to know where to begin. I Google “Asperger’s in toddlers” to see if I can find anything about early interventions, and stumble upon a site that shares articles written by parents and those affected with the disorder themselves. A post on the subject of eye contact, written by someone on the autism spectrum, draws my attention because of the doctor’s earlier recommendation.
He explains how he doesn’t understand eye contact, that it’s a foreign concept to him, and likens it to looking into flashing headlights. Though on an intellectual level he recognizes the societal importance of communication through the eyes, it’s a great source of stress to someone like him, and he doesn’t agree with forcing autistic children to engage in it. Never knowing what his eyes may be conveying to others, the experience is nothing but torture for him.
I pause to sip my coffee and wonder if Claire faces similar anxiety when she looks into someone’s eyes. It’s true, rarely does she do it, and it worries me that she may already be suffering in silence, not being able to express her discomfort. And now I’m just confused. Should we make her do this or not? Everything I come across stresses the importance of teaching these socially expected behaviors to the child because they will never come natural. She’ll have to learn them the same way she learned the alphabet, through rote practice.
Another article catches my eye, one written by the parent of an Asperger’s child. As I scan through this candid piece that addresses many of the questions grandparents may have, this articulate mother explains how such a child is “blind” in many ways, and that it takes courage for her just to walk through each day. Therefore, she needs accepting, loving grandparents to show her understanding and guidance.
My eyes burn and I swallow the lump in my throat. The author goes on to share what it’s like to be the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, how so much more of herself must be given than the average parent. How the day-to-day difficulties of raising a unique child will lead to stress and exhaustion that can in turn affect her entire family.
Lowering my head, I massage my forehead with my fingertips. That’s it. If it turns out this is Claire’s diagnosis, I need to start planning now on cutting work hours so I can help. Carly already started her adult life with an unplanned pregnancy and the strain of finishing her education. How will she navigate through all of this? Jason and Carly had plans to get their own place once she finished her graduate program, but now I’m not sure it’s such a good idea. They’ll need the extra support they currently have from Luke and Richard. I’m just thankful we all live in the same city so we can provide that for them.
Overwhelmed by this possible reality, I’ve lost the desire to gather more information right now. I glance down at my cell phone and see that I received an overlooked text from Hayden, asking me to call him when I have a moment.
“What’s up?” I ask once he’s on the line.
“Hey, do you think you could give me a ride to work tomorrow? My car was supposed to be out of the shop this afternoon, but they need to keep it one more night, and my roommate’s out of town. If you can’t, no biggie. I’ll see if I can get someone else.”
“Sure, I can do it.”
“Thanks. So… I just got off the phone with Carly.”
“Oh. Did she tell you what the doctor said?”
“Yeah. Kinda scary, eh?”
As a mom, one thing that pleases me to no end is that my kids are close as adults. No, they don’t spend huge amounts of time together these days, but they do keep each other in the loop about the important things in their lives.
“How did she seem?” I ask. “We didn’t really have a chance to discuss it afterwards.”
“She’s pretty shaken up.”
“Gah! I just wish there was something I could do.”
“Well, with any luck, the doc is mistaken. And if he isn’t, I told her if anyone can handle this, she can. She just got a degree in human behavior, for cryin’ out loud. So Claire’s got a mom with the chops for it.”
I’m not sure I agree with Hayden’s simplistic assessment of the situation, but I’m proud of him for expressing his confidence in her. “You really are a good brother, you know that?”
“I know,” he teases.
After we hang up, I lean my face in my hand and gaze at the computer monitor. Surely there are
good things about Asperger’s, because everyone knows there’s a history of “unusual” people making brilliant contributions to society. Instead of freaking myself out with all the challenges of this possible diagnosis, I type “positive things about Asperger’s” into the search engine.
And I’m glad I did.
“Your skin is on fire,” Kiran says, squeezing my hand as we sit down for dinner.
“I don’t know what’s going on with me lately. I actually had to keep an ice pack between my hands last night just so I could sleep.”
He grimaces and leans over to kiss me. “Poor thing.”
“Just something else I plan to talk to my doctor about at my appointment. No hot flashes, but hot hands and feet, especially when I’m sleeping. It’s majorly annoying.” I dish some lasagna onto his plate. It’s only me and him this evening because Kiran’s parents are out with friends, and Seth is just “out.” “How are
feeling, sweetie? You’re still looking so tired.”
He rubs his eyes with his thumb and two fingers and exhales. “I am. It’s starting to feel like I’m never going to adjust to these medications.”
“It aggravates me that they insist on keeping you on the blood pressure medication when it’s gotten so low. I don’t care that they decreased the dosage.”
Kiran sprinkles some red pepper onto his lasagna. “I suppose they’d rather risk me having fainting spells than me having another heart attack,” he says with a smile. “Enough about that anyway. Tell me about Claire’s appointment today.”
I take a deep breath. “Well, the doctor thinks she may have Asperger’s. At least, that’s what they used to call it—I guess they don’t officially use that word anymore. Anyway, he says it could be that, but it’s too early to tell.”
Kiran is about to pour us both some iced tea when he stops what he’s doing. “Wow.”
“Do you know anything about it? Asperger’s, I mean?”
He tilts his head back and forth. “A little. I went to med school with a woman who had it… She was brilliant.”
“It’s just somewhat jarring, is all… to hear that. Even though we kinda knew something was wrong. I was trying to do some research after the appointment, and managed to find some good stuff about it that made me feel better.” I use my fork and knife to saw through an overcooked portion of pasta. “It talked about how Aspies—that’s what they call themselves, I guess—generally live in the moment, how they’re less judgmental, and they usually don’t have hidden agendas, because what you see is what you get. Overall, they tend to be honest and don’t place lot of importance on what others think…”
Kiran nods thoughtfully, looking down at his food. “That
good—that they don’t care what others think. Being the awkward kid growing up, it pains me to think what Claire may have ahead of her.”
I had silently wondered if Kiran might have a special empathy with Claire, given this pending diagnosis.
“How is Carly taking it, anyway?” he asks.
“I don’t know. She can be good at bottling up her feelings. I think she just might be in shock. Hayden said she was pretty shaken up, but again, nothing’s for certain at this point.” Not knowing how he may feel about what I’m about to say, I hesitate, moving the salad around on my plate. “You know, when you had the heart attack, I’d wished that work didn’t pull me back so soon, so that I could stay with you longer. And now, this thing with Claire… How would you feel about me going to part-time hours so I can provide more support to the kids?”
I can’t believe at this point in my life, possible confrontation still worries me like it does. Especially when Kiran is so easy. I just don’t want him thinking now that we’re getting married, he’s expected to pull all the weight. Weight that, in this particular instance, is coming from my children.
Kiran leans back and crosses his arms, tilting his head. “Why do I get the feeling you think I’d have a problem with it? Frankly, I’m a little offended.”
I shrug and stare at my plate. “The last thing I want is for this to create added stress for you. Less hours for me obviously means less money because I’ll need to hire someone to pick up the slack.”
“Anna, our finances are fine. If you wanted to close up shop entirely, we could handle it.”
I do know that. Kiran has a hefty savings and has made good investments, and having always been frugal myself, I’ve got a pretty decent stash, too. I nod and stupidly scrunch my mouth.
With a slight smile, he stares at me for a moment.
“What?” I ask.
“There are many times I don’t know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t one of them.”
“Really?” I ask in a cocky fashion. “And what am I thinking?”
“You’re worried now that we’re getting married, I’ll think you just want to kick up your feet on my dime. That you’ll be seen as a gold digger. Not that I’m rich or anything…”
“What?” Snorting, I make a face and shift my gaze to the empty chair beside him. “Uh, no!” In the meantime, Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” starts playing in my head.
Kiran grins and takes a bite of his meal. “Okay, so what
you thinking then?”
“I told you. I don’t want a decision like this to be a burden on you or your health.” Which is totally true, but so was his assessment.
“You know what would be a burden on me?” He pauses and dangles his fork over his plate. “Watching you stress out because you’re not able to help Carly if she needs it. No more discussion about this. It’s settled… I’ll just tell my parents that my bloodsucking girlfriend is easing her way into retirement.”
My mouth falls open before I start cracking up. “You are such a jerk, you know that?” When I stand up to punch him in the arm, he pulls me onto his lap.
“Yes, but I’m your jerk.”
I press my lips together. “I’m starting to see more and more of a mischievous streak in you.”
After giving me a peck on the lips, he says, “Will you join Seth and me for a couple of drinks tonight?”
I refrain from sighing dramatically. Though Kiran is taking the opportunity to spend as much time with Seth as he can while he’s staying with us, he’s overdoing it. It’s all over his face. He even zealously resumed his regimen at the gym not long after his heart attack. I wish I had half his commitment to fitness.
Responding with a tight smile, I shake my head. “No, thanks. You two have fun.” Then I return to my seat.
His forehead wrinkles. “I don’t have to go…”
Don’t be passive aggressive, Anna. You’re not his mother.
“Of course you’re going!” I say brightly. “I’m just tired. It’s been a long day. Plus, I need to get up a little early tomorrow to give Hayden a ride to work. Think I’ll just soak in a hot bath and do some reading tonight.”
Several hours later that evening, I lay tucked in Kiran’s arm after our failed attempt at intimacy. It’s not like this is a chronic occurrence, by any means. I’d say a good ninety-five percent of the time, it’s smooth sailing for us. I just feel awful because I don’t know if this is affecting Kiran, or if he accepts this as part of life at our age, especially now that he’s on blood pressure medicine. And I don’t know what to say. I’m certainly not going to go with the patronizing
“It’s not a big deal, it happens”
speech, so I just make light of it, like I do everything.
We ladies are so lucky in that regard. Although there are times it would require a blast of dynamite for me to feel anything in my fun parts, at least it doesn’t keep me from engaging. If we choose, we can fake it. That’s not my style, though. Faking it has never been in my repertoire. When it’s not gonna happen for me, I just tell him, and I really don’t feel bad about it because I know it’s my stupid peri body, not him. I can’t even imagine a day when Kiran wouldn’t turn me on.
However, my mind can’t help but start to manipulate me. Is this truly an age thing with him? What if he
starting to feel trapped right about the time he would have been able to enjoy the single life for the first time, due to his newfound hotness? Is Seth planting more seeds in his head?
Don’t be ridiculous, Anna! This is Kiran you’re talking about.
“Did you and Seth have a good time tonight?” I ask.
“Yeah, we did.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Oh, this and that. We spent a good amount of time reminiscing about when we were kids.”
“Yeah. We joked about this one summer in particular when our families were both staying out at the lake, and this kid decided to make it his job to relentlessly pick on me.” There’s a smile in Kiran’s voice. “Seth had had enough, but he couldn’t beat him up because the kid was my age, and that’s never been Seth’s style anyway. So one night when all the families in the area shared a bonfire… What was that boy’s name? Kevin, I think.”
Sitting up, I prop my head on my hand to listen.
“Kevin was sitting on a log, talking to a girl who I think was his crush. I don’t know. Seth comes out of the shadows, pulls me aside, and hands me a whoopee cushion. I asked him what he was doing, and he just tells me to wait for his cue. He had a paper bag in his hand, and I’m thinking, ‘What is going on?’ Turns out, it was a bag of shit from his dog.”
“Oh no…” I say. “This isn’t going to be good.”
“So while no one’s paying attention, he puts the bag on the ground right behind Kevin. This is when I thought nothing would ever happen, because Seth was waiting for him to get up and sit back down again, and it seemed like he was never going to get up, he was so into this girl. In fact, I motioned to Seth to just forget about whatever he was planning. He stood there with his arms folded, shaking his head at me.
“Finally, Kevin walks away to get stuff for his s’more or something, and Seth casually lingers by his empty seat, no one really paying attention. He turns to me, points to the whoopee cushion, points to Kevin, then points to the log. I nodded to let him know I understood our mission, trying to keep from laughing.”
I scrunch my face. “I hope he didn’t get poop on anyone, unless it was Kevin, that is.”
Kiran grins. “Well, the moment Kevin sits down next to the girl, Seth stomps on the bag, just once, freshening the odor, I suppose, and I squeeze the whoopee cushion. No one really seemed to know what happened because all they noticed was the fart noise. But the girl?” He pauses to chuckle. “She jumps up with the most repulsed look on her face, I’m sure because she could also smell the crap, and says, really loudly, ‘Kevin! Did you just shit yourself?’”
I shake my head.
“Everyone started cracking up, giving poor Kevin a hard time, while Seth walked back to where I stood without being noticed. All we could hear while heading back to the cabin was, ‘That wasn’t me! I swear it wasn’t me!’”
Hmmm. I think I may have a new admiration for Seth.
It’s midnight when Kiran’s phone chimes with a call, but he doesn’t stir. I ignore it the first time, but when it rings again, I get out of bed and walk around to his night table to see who it is. It’s Seth, and there’s already a voicemail so I figure I better pick it up.
“Hello?” I answer in a hushed voice, taking the phone into the hallway.
“Anna! I’m sorry to be calling this late. Is Kiran still up?”
“No, he’s sound asleep. Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine. I’ve just had one too many and wondered if I could trouble him to give me a ride. It’s okay. I’ll just call for a cab.”
Oh, how I’m dying to say cheerfully, “Okay. We’ll see you tomorrow!” but that stupid nice gene stops me. “Where are you? I can come get you.”
God, I’m going to be dragging ass tomorrow!
“Are you sure? I know it’s a bother.”
“It’s no bother.”
. Honestly, I’d rather do it myself than have him get Kiran up in the middle of the night. He’s worn out enough already. At least Seth is at the Red Rock Casino, which isn’t too terribly far. I throw on some clothes, grab my phone, and text Kiran where I’ll be in case he wakes.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m picking Seth up from the front entrance. “Thank you, Anna!” he gushes as he gets in the passenger seat. “I really appreciate this. I’m so sorry to pull you out of bed.”
What did you think would happen, calling at midnight?
Although, Seth is such a night owl, he probably thinks everyone stays up late. “No biggie.”
He doesn’t appear to be slobbering drunk or anything, and after everything I went through with David going way past the point of sober a time or two when he drove, I appreciate that Seth doesn’t want to take any chances. But I swear I smell something besides alcohol on him. Is that…?
“So, were you taking in some gambling?” I ask.
“Yeah.” He draws out the word. “I’ve been away from Vegas for a while. Gotta get the blackjack out of my system, I suppose.”
Keeping my eyes on the road, I nod.
“What about you? Do you like to gamble?”
I scrunch my nose. “Not really. I get too pissed off when I lose and start thinking about all the other stuff I could have done with my money.”
He chuckles. “You’re a smart one. Unlike me.” The more he speaks, the more his buzz is detectable.
“Did you live here at one time?” I wonder, simply because of his “friendship” with Marie. “Or just visit often?”
“No, never lived here, but it’s one of my favorite places, so I would come down once or twice a year.”