Yes I Believe
I believe in my son.
He is a good boy, but not like other kids.
As I write I watch him spin, then run from one corner of my small "divorced dad" apartment to another. Exhalations of energy and sound come from him. He is in his world, which is a place I cannot even begin to see or know. It is a world unto himself that I can only hope is inhabited by daydreams of soaring feats and loving friends.
My son has been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, which is something akin to having one's mind resting, precariously, on the doorway to autism. My son is not fully taken by his own mental world, but it is one he often retreats into.
For some time I have euphemistically called his gyrations and lurching movements the "Quincy dance." By calling it a "dance" I felt that he was unique rather than different.
Then his first grade teacher stated the obvious, that Quincy is different. "Damn straight," I thought. "He is caring and gentle and smart and interesting and, and, and, so much more." But while these adjectives may be true, I would be deluding myself to think he does not face very unique challenges.
For quite awhile I worried that perhaps this was my fault. I imagined that if I'd been more insistent in encouraging his mother to heed the midwives suggestion to transfer to the hospital during his birth that perhaps Quincy could have been spared his dance.
I worried too that the turmoil of his parents' marriage, played out before him, and our eventual divorce had irrevocably pushed him into his inner-world.
And I continue to worry that my cancer diagnosis and year-long, very painful treatment was maybe the last little push causing my little Sisyphus to stop rolling his rock continually up the hill.
I worried so much that I sunk into my own despair and depression. I cried at the thought that I had irrevocably scarred his life; that I had caused his life to fall to the ground even before he could live it. Then one day he announced he wanted to join the Cub Scouts. So I signed him up and his mother bought him his uniform. On the night of his first den meeting he put on his shirt and yellow kerchief. Then he put his blue and yellow hat on. He said, "Look Dad," and he stood at attention and gave me the two-fingered Cub Scout salute. He smiled broadly and every part of him exuded pride and joy.
Over the next couple of weeks we worked on his first merit badge. When he received it in front of his fellow scouts his pride and joy ran through him to overflowing. I was never more proud of him.
It was also at that point that I realized more fully than I had before the strength of his character. I looked at this smiling little scout and I felt the greatest sense of contentment.
Quincy will live a full life and he will succeed. His life may face a few more challenges than most people face, but it may also be more unique than most. What makes him different will make him strong.
My seven year old little boy taught me to believe in my son.
My Kids, My Cancer, My Dream
The kids were asleep still curled against each other. I took my clothes off and put on pajamas and eased Violet’s small, cherubic body over so I could make room for myself and climbed under the covers. As I lay in bed I could feel the warmth of her body pressed against mine and smell her breath, which was sweet, as she lightly snored, deeply asleep. I leaned up and looked at Quincy. His blond hair was tussled and a small bit of drool seeped from the corner of his mouth. As usual, his arms and legs were scattered about in a disorganized array. He was breathing softly.
It was not unusual for me to allow one of my kids to sleep with me. It was a pleasure that after being divorced I could share this space easily with one of them, but on this night, after being diagnosed with cancer that day, I allowed both of my kids to talk me into sharing my bed. They had picked up on how unusual such a decision by me was, and it was abnormal, but how could things ever be normal again? Life, as I would learn throughout my year of treatment, would be lived moment-to-moment and continually with acceptance of what would have once seemed intolerable and unbelievable.
The lights from a car coming home crawled across the ceiling of my apartment and then immediately disappeared. A car door shut and I could hear a person or a few people walk into the building and fumble with their keys as they approached their apartment. For them, all was normal and it was just the end of another day and another week.
On my ceiling, shadows of branches illuminated by streetlights swayed and I pulled my kids a little closer. For the first time in a very long time I was laying in bed feeling scared and, despite my company, quite lonely. I thought about my grandmother and my grandfather, from whom I had learned so much before they slipped away from us in death, and despite being very much an agnostic, I hoped they could see me.
I wondered too about a recurring dream that I thought might hold some deeper meaning. In the dream I walk through the front door of what appears to be a fairly large and very old house. The reason for finding this house and feeling impelled to walk through the front door varies with each dream. Some nights I am led there by a faceless person while other nights I find myself at the front door and almost gliding through it. But in every dream the scene that I emerge into is always the same. It is a very large entry room with a set of wide wooden stairs leading up to a landing and long hallway. The ceiling is high and peaks above the steps. The walls are stained dark and fine grained. The banister and balusters are the same dark finished wood with ornately carved end posts. To my right is a doorway. To my left is an entryway that opens out into what looks like a 1960s-style, mid-modernist designed and furnished living room.
In the dream I will sometimes walk directly into the living room, but I often will go up the stairs to the landing. I walk along the hallway, which is framed by horse-hair-plaster walls and there are a number of doors.
Sometimes I walk past the doors to the end of the corridor. There is a right turn that may lead to another hallway or sometimes will open into a large bedroom. If I take this path I usually meet a person in that room in an Alice-in-Wonderland sort of way. I can never remember what exactly happens in these encounters other than the strange and disjointed sensation it creates within me even after I have woken up. Usually the characters are outlandish women that lead me in a number of different directions and act as if they have known me my entire life, though I only sense a spark of the hauntingly familiar.
Often, though, as I walk down the hallway a door will open as I pass. Looking in, there is some familiar person from my past. We look at each other in total recognition, in some instances no words are exchanged and I move on, while at other times I am drawn into the room where events and discussions play out. I often don’t remember the specifics of these interactions, but I awake with the sense that I visited with that person. The image of the interior of the house is still vivid in my mind.
A few days or maybe weeks before being diagnosed, I had walked to one of these doors and sitting inside the room next to a bed was Maiya. For many years in my youth I had loved her, but it was an affection she never returned. In my dream, she looked at me dispassionately, but she also seemed to beckon me in. As I walked into the room it immediately expanded and transformed so that we are outside in a place that feels like a garden. We are sitting together, very close. I remember reaching out to touch her and feeling her skin on mine. I don’t believe we said anything, but I kept my hand on her back and soon she curled into me and we remained like that for some time.
When I woke from the dream, the sensation of having been physically very near her was with me, and all of my memories of Maiya drifted to the front of my mind. I thought of being in school with her and the time we spent together in the field at Sam’s house shortly before we graduated. The dream and the sensation of touching her brought my feelings back in much the same way that catching a familiar scent will ignite long dormant memories. It wasn’t that I still have the same longings for her, but that my mind and body, particularly my skin, were in the process of remembering a desire for a person that hadn’t been experienced for 20 years. It is a dream of sensation.
Often, though, the dream will take me from room to room meeting and engaging with a panoply of people I had some intimate or vague association with, but always I returned to the entryway at the foot of the stairs and walked through the doorway to my left into the living room. Sometimes I was alone, while other times I was accompanied by one of the people I had run into upstairs. Always the room opens out into a sunken sitting area with a fireplace. There are bookshelves along the far wall. At the end of the wall, the room opens out into a dining area with a table surrounded by a few chairs. Set behind the table is a large picture window. Looking through the window I can see past a hedge of rhododendrons into a deeply green and darkened backyard. There is a large hardwood tree such as an oak or maple in the center of a yard. The grass is long and a deep green as if it had been heavily watered. Surrounding the yard are more shrubs making it impossible to see beyond.
Always, I walk through the living space to look out the window and I am amazed by the depth and size of the house. And always upon nearing the window I would see another hallway to my left that leads toward another living room of the same vintage as the first, but instead of bright, vanilla colored furniture and décor, this one is leather seats and sofas, and there is dark stained wood trim.
Throughout, the breadth and size and diversity of the house inhabit me in the same manner as a strong and resonant emotion. I then wonder whose house it is, and in each dream I think that perhaps this is a space meant for me. In the dream it feels so real, yet I can’t quite figure out what it is I am supposed to do.
As I lay in bed with Quincy and Violet curled next to me I thought about the dream and wondered if, as a friend suggested once, that it may have something to do with an idea put forward by Carl Jung, where a person compartmentalizes emotions and memories as a means to deal with very difficult traumas and anxieties. The mind separates various elements that are in tension as a means to reign in the brain and its tendency to fall into an anxious state. In my dream each element is in a state of resolution—Maiya and emotional and erotic tension are brought into harmony, for example. Then there is the other half of the house, the mid modernist design and décor and feelings of emotional peace mixed with wondering as to what I am supposed to do once I have seen this part of the house. Is this is my subconscious trying in a not so subtle way to seek resolution?
But then I have to wonder what, if anything Jung knows about the state of my mind and subconscious? Why would his theories hold any semblance of understanding to my psyche and why if I find resolution in my dream, or at least perhaps the appearance of it, can’t it also translate into my conscious mind. Why am I still so embarrassed by so many things I have done in my life, such as decisions I’ve made sober and actions I have taken while drunk? Why is my conscious mind so unable to forgive me, but I can find with some regularity, peace within my subconscious mind? And what about the times when I have the dream and all that happens is that I walk through the house?
I have wondered if maybe the dream is simply a metaphor for life. Is it that life starts as one thing, something that seems predictable and controllable, but then evolves and changes and takes us into strange and different places and experiences as long as we are willing to follow?
Lying in bed watching headlights from another car slide across the ceiling and listening to Quincy’s soft breathing and Violets muted snores; I wondered if the dream represents what it is like after death. I have never been all too convinced by religious arguments for life after death as being the construct of some mystic being sending our souls either to heaven or hell. It’s easier to rationalize that if there is consciousness after death, it would be something like wandering around this very big house, the many rooms and meetings, the unexpected broadness of the house and feelings of emotional wellbeing. However, it has always seemed odd that if this were to in some way represent consciousness after death, I never meet anyone from my life that has actually died. Other than my own anxiety, there is nothing within the dream to solidly indicate dying.
That night, though, I felt Quincy and Violet’s warmth next to me and knew that this is real—right now I am cuddled with my two little ones, and I am sharing this night with them, watching them and enjoying their presence and grace in my life. Fate has placed this growing, scheming thing within my body, and in one invidious draft it has invaded my consciousness and will change my life forever and may even eventually end it—but not tonight and not tomorrow. The fear is not gone, but I have time and I am not alone. If my grandparents are not watching me from on high, then my children most certainly are. I will enjoy this moment right now and look forward to tomorrow morning.