I always take great solace that Nate’s autism gives him a protective coating against the pain we project – his lack of friends, lack of girlfriend or boyfriend, etc. If he doesn’t feel the void, then why should we? That defense mechanism has only been punctured once.
When he was in high school, Nate turned to me and said, with much hurt in his voice, “I don’t have any friends.”
I choked back my emotion and tried to explain how to fix his problem.
“Nate, to make friends, you need to be a friend,” and went into a list of things he could do – ask questions, show interest in others, and so on. He retreated (not my intent; I thought if I made a list he could follow it) and he’s never brought up the topic to me again. But he felt some loss and now I felt it for him.
On Saturday, Joey had his senior prom. Yup, our baby is on his way out of high school and into college. Cooperstown kids are very lucky to have their prom at the Otesaga, a grand hotel on Otsego Lake. There was limited picture time for parents, so Nate and I trekked over there for an hour.
We sat in the lobby, waiting for Karen and her aunt and uncle to show up. I, of course, was camera-less. Nate slouched down in a chair, asked for my iPhone, and started playing around with it. Then he spoke.
“I wish I’d gone to my prom.”
That stung. I remember we encouraged him to go to the prom, or, if not the prom, Project Prom, the all night after party. In Cooperstown, kids who go to the prom have the option of spending the night at the Clark Sports Center, where they can eat and be entertained with inflatables, mechanical surfboards, DJs, live music, swimming, bowling and more eating. If they go, they can’t leave unless a parent picks them up early or at the 5 AM end time.
“Nate, did you want to go to the prom?”
“Yeah,” he answered very sadly.
“But Nate, we asked you if you wanted to go to the prom and you said no.”
He seemed to remember that and stopped talking. I tried to delve deeper, attempting to find out what he recalled and what he felt. Whether he stopped talking because he was suddenly at peace with the matter, or because he wanted me to shut up, it’s hard to tell, but there we were.
Nate has developed the ability to reach far back in his memory and recount for us how he experienced things when he was uncommunicative. To hear him reflect on what occurred only five years ago was different, because it felt that maybe we missed something that was so close in time.