As always, you can read this story without reading #1 or #2 and still get the gist. In this short excerpt from the latest manuscript I finished, a woman struggles with the day-to-day dramas of raising her two kids with little to no help from her abusive husband. Her son is probably mildly on the autistic spectrum, but he grew up before kids started getting diagnosed like crazy so he’s merely considered to be ‘odd.’-
I raised two smart cookies, Hannah always is always on top of what’s going on around here and Warren is more book-smart. He sits in his room and reads books that would make my head explode, and he finishes them in less than a day. They’re always depressing, though, I worry about Warren and his obsession with the more miserable aspects of life. I sometimes wonder if he’s depressed, the worry in his eyes makes him seem much older than fourteen. I would like to see him get out there and have more friends, maybe get himself a girlfriend. I tend to think fourteen is too young to date but if it would make Warren a little happier I guess I would be okay with it.
He used to have a few female friends when he was in preschool, and they would sit quietly together and play with stuffed animals and dolls. One little girl, Amelia, ‘married’ Warren a few months into his enrollment in preschool and for a while they were inseparable. I hoped the friendship would last into Kindergarten and beyond, but Amelia moved away and Warren started having a harder and harder time adjusting socially. He mostly spent time alone or hung out with his sister, and I started to worry that he wasn’t advancing developmentally as quickly as I had hoped.
Warren did odd things sometimes, he spun around in circles for lengthy periods of time and paced incessantly, until my head was bursting with the irritating repetition of it. I tried to redirect him, but Warren was never good at being redirected. His favorite thing was to stand out in the yard and spin, watching the light flicker through the trees as he moved, faster and faster, finally collapsing in a heap. “Why do you do that?” I asked once.
“I like watching the trees change,” he replied.
“But they’re not really changing, you’re just spinning,” I pointed out.
“They look different when I go really really fast,” Warren said, and that was that.
He wasn’t going to provide me with any more explanation than that. Sometimes I wanted to spin too and try to see what he saw, but a grown woman doing that would just look crazy, and my husband Earl said that I was indulging Warren’s peculiar behavior enough as it was. Warren spent hours in the garden flipping over cement blocks looking for bugs, and eventually two boys from the neighborhood, Bobby Blair and his brother Scotty, joined him in his search. Warren went ballistic when Bobby and Scotty killed the insects and they stopped hanging out with him, suddenly he was a ‘freak.’
I reminded Warren that they were just bugs, and that bugs had a very limited consciousness, and Warren looked at me as if I had betrayed him. I tried to understand why he loved creatures that scurried under cement blocks and the undersides of leaves but I kept drawing a blank. Hannah said the kids at school thought Warren was ‘weird,’ but when I asked her if they were bothering him she wouldn’t elaborate. He was just ‘weird.’
Hannah said she was embarrassed by him and I told her to look at me. I sat her down and I said “We are not embarrassed by the ones we love. Do you understand?” Hannah nodded, she was about eleven. She looked frightened by how unusually forceful my words were, and I felt kind of bad, but I felt like it was a lesson she needed to learn. There are a handful of lessons I want to pass on to my kids before they die and the one about not being embarrassed by your loved ones is, in my opinion, one of the most important.
There’s nothing worse than members of your own family being ashamed of you. My older brothers were embarrassed by me when I was a little girl because I was so awkward, and I’ve never forgotten that. I think that’s why it kills me when Earl seems to be ashamed to have me as his wife, when he tells me that I’m boring people at parties, that I need to say something relevant or shut up. I can’t tell you how many times Earl has told me to shut up as if it were nothing, and it hurts me every time. I told Rachel to shut up once, and then I told myself never again. Sometimes it’s the things people say to you that hurt even more than being hit.