June 4, 2010
It would be so simple to miss them, these slight nuances of connection. If I had turned my head I would never have witnessed the subtle smile that played across my son’s face, or regarded with joy his intrinsic desire to interact with Zachary without the prompting of his demanding mother. If I had walked across the room to close the gaping maw of my son’s closet door I might never have seen this moment, the instant where for the first time ever my eldest child responded of his own volition to my youngest child’s request for a goodnight hug. I am struck by how close I came to having my back turned while Justin reached out and cupped Zachary’s face, smiled at his brother, and simultaneously returned his gaze unflinchingly, with an unparalleled intensity to any look I’d ever seen him bestow upon his sibling prior to this evening. In just the blink of an eye, I might have missed it all, and the truth is, with autism, there is never any certainty a moment, a gesture, a half-articulated word, will ever repeat itself.
For once, I do not have to rebuke myself with regrets, for I have been blessed with the opportunity to watch this entire scene unfold, unbidden, before my eyes. Zachary’s extravagant gallop into Justin’s room to pay homage to our recently established nighttime ritual. Justin’s choice to remain stationary throughout Zach’s embrace, a welcome variation on a theme. Zach’s gentle kiss on his brother’s outstretched palm, an offering delivered there because he cannot as yet reach Justin’s cheek. My oldest’s laying on of hands, without a request, or demand, or interference of any kind.
I tell Zachary this is Justin’s way of saying goodnight, and of showing his brother how much he loves him. Zachary regards me with a look that conveys the sentiment “of course, Mommy” without having to express the words, pivots on his heels, and runs to the confines of his safari bedroom and the comforts of his own evening ritual.
My firstborn firmly closes the door on Zachary’s retreating form, takes my hand, smiles into my eyes, and with the twist of his wrist on the light switch plunges us into darkness and enfolds himself in my waiting arms. It’s time for our ritual now, one that this evening included a precious new twist. I cannot be certain I will be graced with its presence again, but I take what I can get, and am grateful for it.