About two weeks ago---the day a winter storm coated the roads in ice and slush---my computer screen froze in the midst of loading my homepage. I tapped several combinations of keys to no avail---the keyboard seemed frozen, too---sighed, turned off the machine, waited a minute, and pushed the on/off button again. There was a slight metallic noise and the front light came on, and dimly glowed instead of its usual animated flashing. The screen was black, and blank.
I tried to turn the laptop on and off several more times, then shut it and put it back in its case, and dug out the Support and Service number for Apple.
Since Charlie and I both had a snow day I called Apple while he slept in. I followed instructions to insert the backup CD; I looked at a very black screen. "Let me see, there are some Apple stores in your zipcode range if you'd like to take it to the Genius Bar........" said the voice of Tech Support.
I closed the laptop and cut to the quick---something I have learned to do from these past years in Autismland, for worse or for better: Do what has to be done now. Don't even look at anyone who's looking at you, and Charlie, and get yourselves out of there right now......... "I'd like to send it in, if that's all right," I said.
"Just a moment while I look something up.........Be sure to back up all your files." I heard Charlie talking. I told Tech Support that, as I could not even turn on the computer, I could not do that.
It took an extra day for the DHL box to arrive, due to the wintry conditions. On Monday morning, I handed the box over to the delivery man. I felt fortunate: My parents had bought Charlie a small white laptop over a year ago, and so I spent some days typing on Charlie's computer and admiring the JigZone puzzles that appeared whenever I went to the homepage. I had put a number of photos from the past several years on this computer for Charlie; together, he and I watched a photo slideshow: Charlie on Jim's shoulders by the railroad bridge in St. Paul. Me in what was once my favorite dress and smiling (I am actually holding a week-old Charlie in the photo, which only shows my face). Charlie at the beach as a 4 year old, a 5 year old with Jim's best friend Mike, a 6 year old on Jim's back, a 7 year old swimming on his own, an 8 year old holding on tightly to his boogie board, a 9 year old catching the crest of a wave. Birthday parties at the pool, holiday parties in his classrooms, bike rides galore in our old neighborhood. Walks in New York and Hoboken and rides home on the train. Watering the lawn, standing at the top of the slide, carrying the shopping basket. Barney, Goodnight Moon, the blue blanket. The faces of therapists and teachers present and past, walking hand in hand with my parents, Thanksgiving with Grandma and Grandpa and aunts and cousins. Charlie and Jim. Waiting for the school bus. ---- And all to the tune of Jimi Hendrix, Desmond Dekker, and the Beatles. (Note to Mom-NOS: We just got Rubber Soul and after "You Won't See Me," Charlie was listening.)
What good times; what a good life it is, every day with Charlie.
I began to write about Charlie online back then somewhat out of desperation. Charlie---who had done the full panoply of early intervention, intensive ABA, some biomedical treatments, speech therapy and OT etc., etc.---was not doing well at all. In writing about him online, I hoped that I might represent what Charlie did and who Charlie was---who he is---as honestly as I could, even when it was a terrible day. In the summer of 2005, terrible moments were happening regularly. Charlie had summer school from 8.30 - 12.30pm and, after getting another report of another tough day, Charlie and I would walk back to our old house and shut the door and try to get on with the rest of the day. After another mother said to me "I really feel sorry for you and your situation. I just had to say that," and turned away---after the principal called me and demanded you must pick him up right now, he cannot be in the school like this---I felt (rightly or wrongly; it is what I felt) that what was being communicated was, We don't want to have to see this. We don't want to have to see this child suffer and bruise his own forehead. We feel terrible for you, but we do not need to see this.
After long conversations with Jim, I decided to post photos of Charlie online because I wanted to show that, terrible moments and all, here we were, with nothing to hide. Charlie was struggling (we were all struggling), but that did not mean that we had to become invisible.
And I wrote about Charlie, every day, and my blog about him became an unintended chronicle of our attempts to find the right school for Charlie. Not to cure him, not to recover him from autism, not to see him mainstreamed. Charlie's days at his public school in our old town became more and more difficult, and on November 8, 2005 Jim and I took him out of his public school classroom for what turned out to be forever. My mother flew out from California to stay with him while we were at work and Charlie was homeschooled by our ABA therapists. Many meetings and phone calls (you can imagine the tone) with the school district followed.
In early December, Charlie was admitted into a small private autism school and slowly, slowly, things turned around. When the school closed forever in June of 2006, we moved into the basement of my in-laws' house and---slowly, slowly again---settled into a new routine; a new life. In July of 2006, I felt that---with this, hopefully, final, move---it was time to stop writing every day about Charlie and to focus on the book I had always planned to write. I had started to write another autism blog, Autism Vox. I thought I would post about Charlie occasionally every week, add a special photo---but within one week, I was back to posting every day, as I realized that the story of Autismland was not quite over.
Fall came, Charlie went back to school, I went back to work teaching Latin and Greek to college students, Jim threw himself into organizing the October 27th autism and advocacy conference, Witness and Hope. The conference was a great day, and all the more so because Charlie was doing so good, at home, at school, and everywhere.
Charlie is doing good. He goes everywhere with us, and so is seen not only by the residents of our town in New Jersey, but also in Manhattan, all over New Jersey, in Philadelphia, at basketball games and movie theatres and wherever we might wish to go---wherever he might wish to go. When he and I go for walks, sometimes he walks in front and shows me the way: I do not have to hold his hand. Charlie is coming into his own, if he has not already.
And so I think it is time for me to step aside and leave the telling of Charlie's life to Charlie himself.
I will still be writing regularly on Autism Vox and Charlie will be mentioned frequently there. But this daily account of his life, of our life, is going to stop here: Autismland will be the chronicle of a particular period in Charlie's and our lives. I will be forever grateful that I was given the chance to tell you so much about him and our lives for these several months; your reading, your words, your support has sustained us through some difficult moments and has helped bring us to this new stage, this next phase, of life with Charlie. Everything I have written here on Autismland will stay as it is on the web, and I will be doing some organizing and reorganizing. And writing my book.
I feel wrenched to say good-bye to writing here, but I think that---based on what Charlie has been telling me, not always in words but simply by his determined requests for what he really wants, his understanding that he can play in the front yard but not leave it, his peaceful easy-feeling demeanor----it is time for Charlie to do the talking about Charlie.
To my surprise, a box with my laptop in it was waiting for me on the table when I came home from work on Wednesday. When I took out the computer, something was very different. There was the same scratch on the bottom, but the keyboard was shiney, the monitor bright and unstreaked. I turned on the machine: Welcome to your new Mac OX system. When I got through all the start-up screens, I discovered that all of my files had been erased, as a new system had been installed. I had expected this. Knowing that most of the photos were those I have been posting online, that many of the originals of the files were attached to emails, and that anything related to my job was also on the computer in my office, I knew I had little to lose.
Except for the rough draft of the proposal for my book that I had been working on. It is completely gone. "It's in your head," Jim reassured me as I had said to him about his tapes.
And I hope to be able to show to you, sooner than later, that it indeed is in my head and coming, too, straight from the heart.
Thank you for more than I can say, in 100, 614, 1000 posts. Thanks for joining us on this journey, altogether in Autismland.