The other day, I had this conversation with Ezra.
Me: do you want anything?
Ezra: what are the things?
Me: I don’t know. Something you might want.
Ezra: are the things upstairs?
Me: Ezra! Just tell me if there’s anything you want!
Ezra: what do YOU want?
Me: I want all the things. I want money, man. I want more, more of everything good.
Ezra: I want milk.
He’s a fan of things. When he was young, he carried around the foam inset animals from a book he loved. Michael and I lived in fear of him dropping one, which he did often, because then we would get home and he would see that one was missing – the purple cow, for instance – and he would melt down, inconsolable. Once, Michael was gone for an hour as he took the car and retraced our steps. He found the pink pig half buried in the dirt at a park where we’d been. But, you know how it is when you have kids. We’d do anything.
Most people I know with autistic children have this story. The things. The things they had to carry with them everywhere. The piece of aluminum foil. The fork. The stapler. The other day at pick up, one of Ezra’s classmates carried a screwdriver.
“What’s up with the screwdriver?” I asked him.
I knew he wouldn’t answer because he’s nonverbal. He’s also the most gentle person I’ve ever met, and he writes stunning poetry. One of the teachers answered for him. She said, “He showed up with it today.” She shrugged. They’re used to that at our school. And thank god for it, because a screwdriver? A kid would get expelled for bringing one into a different sort of school. Not at ours, though. At ours, he was allowed to carry it around with him all day, keeping him company in whatever way it did.
In whatever way it did, because what do I know? What do I know about things?
One of the classic symptoms of autism is a seemingly bigger interest in things than people. The assumption, I think, is that this is bad. People should be more interested in each other than things. But, I don’t know if I buy this.
Last month, my now husband and I went to city hall to get married. We wanted all four children there (two his, two mine, now all four ours), so I went down to Ezra’s room to get him ready to go.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Jim and I are getting married.”
“No married!” he said.
“No, Ezra. I don’t make you do a lot of stuff you don’t want to do, but this I am. You’re my kid. My kids will be there when we get married.”
Later he came upstairs with a blue noodle. “Can you marry this?” he asked.
So, I did. I did a little ceremony between me and the pool noodle. He looked at me the whole time like I was crazy, and reasonably so. That’s not what he meant, I figured out later. He was thinking about marriage. I figured that out when he came to me again while I was getting myself ready to go. He said, “Can I marry that?” He pointed at the laundry basket. When he said ‘you’ earlier, he meant ‘I.’ He often confuses pronouns.
I said, “You can’t marry things, Ezzie.”
He said, “Can I marry things?”
“Unfortunately,” I told him, “I’m pretty sure you can only marry humans.”
“No humans!” he said.
We wound up bringing the pool noodle to the ceremony at city hall. The other boys wound up chasing each other around and smacking one another with it, but it will forever be a part of our story. Because Jim and I are the ones who are crazy, aren’t we? We’re the ones doing something terribly difficult, blending our two loopy families and trying to make it work. Almost weekly, something happens in which I feel like I can’t do it, this was a mistake; I should have just married the god damned pool noodle instead. So, I get it. Things. They’re comforting. They’re uncomplicated. They make sense. If you lose one of the parts, you go find it. Usually, it can be found. Whereas we humans can hardly communicate our feelings are so complex. And then we wind up divorced, like Ezra’s dad and me did. The things you lose don’t always come back.