My daughter Reagan is a junior in high school. I haven't talked about her on my blog as much as I have her brother. This year, she is taking AP Lang, and recently wrote this essay about Pierce. You've heard a lot from me about parenting a child with autism, but I thought you'd appreciate a different perspective. Reagan has given her blessing and allowed me to share.
AP Language and composition
I stepped out of the car into the humid evening air of July, my face rigid in an attempt to remain neutral. I wasn’t happy to be here, but I wasn't angry. Not yet. I tread through the parking lot alongside my father, listening to my brother sing to himself about a talking vegetable who had lost his hairbrush. He was dressed in a white button up shirt and dress pants, and only God knows if he knew why. As we strolled into our beloved church’s sanctuary my stomach dropped. Lively music was being played over the speakers, and on the screen were displayed the many faces of those who were about to depart from our body. We were there to say a final farewell to the now graduated class of 2017, as it was the end of a summer of lasts: last camps, last Otter Creek Sundays, last life groups, last youth group adventures. Senior Night was the throw of the cap in the graduation ceremony of an OCYG member, when your final camp had been completed and your last retreats long gone. This was all that was left in the process.
We took our places in the third pew from the front, my parents beginning to make small talk with some people I didn’t know well enough. I watched my big brother’s face with a sort of pity as he watched Veggietales on his phone, smiling with him as a silly green cartoon cucumber hopped across the screen. He rewound and replayed the same ten seconds over and over again, a finger pressed against his left earbud to insure he could hear better.
“Pierce is here!”
I looked up to see the familiar faces of the boys in Pierce’s grade as they travelled over to our pew, and Pierce pulled out his earbuds and waved. A huge grin spread itself across his face.
“Pierce, you wanna come sit over there with us?”
As he gave them a simple yes in reply and jumped to his feet, the boys checked with my mother to make sure it was okay. She threw them the “Oh of course” she always did, and watched them all sit down together with a tearful smile. It was like any other church event, and to an outsider, it was just any other group of guys.
As the lights dimmed and the music faded, our youth minister came onto the stage. He thanked everyone for coming, welcomed a round of applause for the grads, and introduced a video that contained clips of different church members sending their thoughts and prayers for the seniors; thus, beginning the same spiel that I had begun to despise.
“We are so proud of all of you; we’re going to miss you; we know you’re going to be successful; don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned here; come back and visit when you can!”
My eyes darted over to my brother, folded in on himself staring down at the floor as he whispered nonsense movie lines to himself. My stomach boiled. Unable to stand it any longer, I rose from the pew, charging for the doors towards lobby. Hot tears were brimming the edges of my eyes; they came fast and hot and plentiful, for though it wasn’t the first time I had been hit with these feelings, it was the first time they had hit me with such force.
I couldn't comprehend why we were being forced to endure such a spectacle, for though my brother had graduated, it felt like it didn’t count. Everyone else had been saying goodbye, and all summer I had listened to the laments of girls who were losing their brothers and sisters to the call of college, yet they were so proud. I envied them. Everyone continued to pester us over where Pierce was headed, and it felt like a cruel jab every time. Pierce wouldn’t be going anywhere; he wouldn’t for a long time. I, his little sister, would all too soon be leaving before he did. He was trapped in the basement, tangled in computer cords, rewatching old veggietales DVDs that should have gone to goodwill, singing “Oh Where Is My Hairbrush” and “Barbra Manatee” day in and day out, without a care in the world. That was the best and worst part about it; though my parents and I grieved over unrealistic life goals we had hoped for him, he couldn’t give a care to the world. Pierce was both blessed and cursed, living with a childlike mind in a 19-year-old body, unable to see where he wasn’t going, yet so content and happy in where he was staying. Life in Brentwood would most likely be the only life he’ll know, for there are not many places a boy with autism like Pierce can travel.
I listened to boy’s names ebb though the open doors of the balcony, names of boys who were Pierce’s closest friends and guardians. They’d be leaving him, and he couldn’t follow. Maybe they’d visit, but it’d never be the same. My brother would never again have the same constant, inviting circle of boys he had right now, who were happy to invite him over to sit or take him out to the newest Disney movies. He would have me, my parents, and adults from church and school once he returned there for more learning in the fall. He’d never have any more guys his age there for him, and it made my heart ache then more than it ever had.
An hour later my family walked to the car together, my parents emitting a silence that I knew meant I’d done something wrong by fleeing. But as I looked upon my brother walking to the car, a hand cupped to his ear as he reenacted a line from the Pixar film, Finding Dory, “Dory, you are about to find your parents! And when you do that, you’ll be home,” I wanted so badly to give to my brother what I had. Opportunity, awareness, a life that was better than the one he had been dealt. I wanted to hurt and feel joy for him in the way everyone else got to for their siblings; missing them when they leave, crying with happiness when they marry. I’d never know these supposed luxuries.
In spite of all of it, however, I’m reminded that we were, and still sometimes continue to do all this hurting for a boy who wasn’t even hurt himself. It was all almost funny. We all wish we didn’t have to grow up, and in a way, my brother had the ultimate wish come true. As a friend of mine later put it, he’s always going to be with people who love him. He’ll never have to leave the shelter that we’d always known. And once I leave, he’ll always be there waiting for me.