Monday morning I got on the phone with a friend from college whom I hadn’t been in the same state as, much less spoken to, since the year I graduated from said university. Roughly twenty-five years or so. We’d been in touch via the Face, as many of us are with peeps from our past, but we hadn’t had a meaningful conversation since, most likely, the summer after graduation. Twenty-five years. It was great. You know you have those people in your life whom you don’t talk to all that often, or see very much, maybe years in between, and when you finally hook up, it’s like a single day hasn’t passed, and you just feel at home, right? Yeah, it was like that. And it’s wild, because obviously SO MUCH time has passed, and things have changed or evolved, you’re in different places, with families, maybe different families from when you saw each other last, whatever your deal is, but it’s like going home. You fit right in, no questions asked. Yeah.
Not to spoil the surprise, but of course this was like that. We cracked jokes, we reminisced for a few minutes, we marveled at how much fucking TIME had passed, and we had a great time, not only in spite of the subject matter but also because of the weight of it.
See, my friend also has a child on the spectrum. In fact, he has two, and that was specifically the reason why I had reached out to him. As I’m still only a year or so into this journey with Duncan, I’m still trying to understand what it means, for the present as well as the future, and the best way I’ve found to do that is to talk with people who have been there, who are still there, who can tell me openly and honestly what their experience has been like, so I can gain some knowledge and even a little comfort from what they have to say. I’ve been reaching out mainly to people I know who have some connection to it, either personally or close by. And as I do this, I continue to be amazed at just how many people do have someone with autism in their lives.
We’ve heard the statistics before – last I heard, I believe it was 1 in 59 children in the US had a diagnosis, so that’s already a lot (and let’s face it, the diagnosis itself has a very broad, excuse the pun, spectrum these days, so there’s a lot going on in there). Then, you start to filter down to the number of people you personally know who are part of this community, and it becomes even more surprising. As of this writing, I have at least five friends with children on the spectrum, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out about more. Of those five, two of those families have more than one autistic child, and my friend I’m writing about told me during our call that he himself had been recently diagnosed. He’s about fifty, and he’d never known it. But it was eye-opening. He said as soon as his doctor told him, so many things about his childhood, his relationships, so many pieces of his life that had been so strange or uncomfortable to him suddenly made sense. He now had a reason for why he responded to those moments or those people the way he did.
It was such a wonderful conversation, and the impetus for him to share all of that made for all the feels. We laughed, we choked up, we sympathized, and we resolved to continue talking about it. Not only that, but also just to get together and shoot the shit, reminisce about our glory days in college, catch up on all the shit that we’ve gone thru since then, just be friends again. It felt so amazing. And it reminded me of what it felt like to be in a community again.
And that’s really what this post is about. He mentioned to me that he had tried support groups for parents in the past, but he hadn’t had a lot of success with them. He’s not the type to just open up to a roomful of strangers, which I totally get, so having someone with whom you already feel comfortable, who already knows the dirty secrets of your past (heh heh heh) – having someone like that with whom you can also share this extremely personal, vulnerable facet of your life with – that’s a blessing. It gives us a way to become even closer, which is pretty amazing, especially after a twenty-five year gap in communication. (P.S.: as I re-read this, I’m aware of the irony that I’m posting this on a blog on the internet, so in essence I AM sharing it with strangers. Immaterial. Life is contradiction, deal with it.)
I’ve noticed lately that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my past, about the people I knew then, and how tight some of those bonds were. And I think again at the wonder that Facebook can be. Thanks to this platform of misinformation, I’ve been able to reconnect to people very dear to me from half my life ago, and I’ve even been able to make new friends out of old acquaintances – people from high school who I wasn’t close to but in class with, etc. – people who, like me, have grown up and grown into (sometimes) very different people from who we were then (or, at least, whom we thought we or they were then), and to find new things to love about them or to remember old things that made us love them then and make us continue to do so. College in particular has been ripe for this, mainly because I was in a theatre program, and doing a show with someone is a guaranteed way to get to know them deeply in a very short amount of time. Then put those same people together for show after show for three or four years, and you know things about them that their husbands and wives may not know. Pretty cool, and it makes for solid bonds that can last.
And the cool thing about that is, as I’ve been discussing this whole time, getting to know these people again later in life is truly rewarding. Even when the impetus isn’t always a good one – a family tragedy led a bunch of us to reconnect, and while the event was and is awful, at least there’s some solace to be had in knowing that there are people who care for you, there, ready to listen, to hold you, to lift you up when you need it. A community. A family, even moreso. For a lot of us in that program, I think the theatre gave us a sense of family that we may not have even known we needed. And to have that family available and close again? Breathtaking.
And I share my friend’s trepidation about opening up to a roomful of strangers. I’m probably more likely than him to do it at some point, but I get it, totally. And so I’m glad that he and I have a reason to share with each other, to re-establish that sense of community, to be close again, because I think closeness, community, family – we all need that. Many of us don’t have those bonds with our own families anymore, and so we seek out those that we mesh with, and we build our own families.
I was an only child, no siblings. I never felt that I’d missed out on anything – I think saying there’s a right way or a wrong way to be born is absolute horseshit, and that kind of thinking needs to go away – but I was raised in a household with open doors. My friends were always made to feel welcome, and many of them came to think of my home as their home, too. One friend from high school, recently passed, actually, always referred to my mom as “Mother Teresia”, and he loved to sleep on our couch – he said it was the comfiest couch he’d ever slept on. But I learned early on that family has nothing to do with blood. I’m an only child, but I have so many brothers and sisters. My family is rich and full, and it’s spread all over the world. And it’s always a gift to find a new member of the family, or to reconnect to an old one. The reason doesn’t matter, it’s the bond that counts. The things that we have in common can create ties stronger than blood.
So I had a great fucking time with my brother from another mother this week. Right at the end, he told me that I and another brother from those times are still very popular topics of conversation in his current household. I think we met his wife, then his very new girlfriend, one single time before we all went our separate ways, but it’s pretty incredible to think that we’re somehow still part of their lives. I love it. I can’t wait to talk with my brother again.
I’ll write again later about this phone call and focus a little more on the subject of autism, but for now I really just wanted to express the joy it gave me to talk with my friend. He had a lot to say, and all of ti was helpful to me in so many ways, from just solidarity to logistical issues, and especially lots of humor and love. And the best part is, he helped me see how much having autism in his family has helped him become a better person. Altho he was pretty fucking awesome to begin with.