What Charlie loves, he loves deep and with an unshakeable loyalty: the beach house and the ocean; his four grandparents; his photos of them and of his past therapists and of our little family of three; his well-washed "Daddy blue blanket"; the new yellow bike he sped around our town with yesterday afternoon, Jim beside him.
Sometime during the past two or three years, Charlie acquired a keen understanding of what it means to lose what you love. Perhaps this was the result of various toys that had become trouble--Barney, Teletubbies videos--going to the garbage. Or perhaps it arose from the comings and goings of those who have meant a lot to Charlie: my parents, Gong Gong and Po Po; our speech/ABA therapist Tara; a long list of therapists who spent so much time teaching Charlie--Stella, Arielah, Sara, Versha, and many more. Prior to my parents' arrival and departure, Charlie talks a great deal about them not visiting ("all done Gong Gong Po Po all done") and then keeps asking for them in the days after they have returned to California. I call this Charlie's anticipatory complex: he worries so much about not having something that he can barely enjoy it when he has it. So, last May, he spent the weeks before his birthday calling for "cake happy birthday" while becoming increasingly agitated as to whether or not he would actually get it (as he, of course, did, once May 15th rolled around).
Due to the unseasonably warm weather, we had planned to go to the beach today. Charlie had brought in his blue boogie board from the backyard shed last night and awoke in a sweet and happy mood. He loaded up the black car's backseat with his favorite things and off we went. Charlie's expression was serious and unsmiling and his nervousness became apparent when we had to hang onto him after he fell crying to the floor when we entered a public rest stop to get him some French fries. When he was calm but still crying we got in a very slow line. "You don't need to explain about him being autistic," said the young man behind me, serious but not unsympathetic. "You don't need to."
We decided to continue onto the beach. For the first half-hour, Charlie kept up a soft moan and paced around on the sand, running from dogs, looking anxiously back at the beachscape of houses. Jim took his hand and we started to walk north, past fishermen, some people who were parasailing, more dogs. The sand was checkered with bottle caps, a pacifier, broken shells: The detritus of a good summer, now washed up. Charlie kept walking north and eventually Jim ran back to get the car, while I followed Charlie.
We walked over a mile; he pulled off his jacket and then ran to see me and called out "shirt on!". "It's kind of cold to take off your shirt," I responded. He ran into the waves up to his knees and moseyed along in the dunes. We could probably have walked for many miles more, but I knew that Jim was looking for us and we went back out to the street and waved happily when we saw Jim in the black car. We all enjoyed a late seafood lunch with the car parked facing the bay, its waters shirred up in the wind.
Charlire was peaceful and speaking so clearly all the way home: "Super-dee-duper! Super-dee-duper! Follow me, follow me...." He was trying out a new song. At home, he refused to take off his shoes until he had to shower; he enjoyed venturing out one more time to get some odds and ends at Target (another word he said gorgeously). A good weekend, a good day full of much that Charlie likes and even loves.
When I mentioned to Charlie that Monday was "tomorrow," it became apparent why he had been so nervous on the trip down to the beach. He knew that we were not going to stay at the beach house--that we'll be back--that he would be back in school, that this was only a temporary visit to the ocean, and the contrast between the fun of today and what was anticipated tomorrow was too much for our little guy and Charlie became beside himself.
Jim and I held onto him, as one can only when one loves and one is not sure how else to help, and we kept him safe. "He's telling us something," said Jim. Yes, Charlie is--a strong message my words here cannot express--and, when he was calm again, he reached for the guitar and Jim and I listened hard to what Charlie's music was saying. "Bedtime, yes," he said quietly and Jim lifted him up the stairs. I sat at the foot of Charlie's bed in silence and nodded when he fixed me with a long look from his big brown eyes.