I was rifling through my daughter’s backpack, unloading the remnants of second grade, when I discovered a journal hidden in the most inaccessible compartment. It wasn’t written from her perspective, but that of a mythical fairy in a cartoon she watches on TV. School lunches and spelling tests were transformed into the extraordinary in her neatly printed and misspelled script. I tucked the small notebook back into the spot where it had been hidden. Maya has no idea I also kept such journals. Mothers and daughters have the illusion of feeling unique, yet so often move as appendages from the same dancing marionette.
When I was a child I wrote constantly. In the first grade I wrote twenty pages about my fictional characters, the King and Queen of No Shine. I was surprised when my teacher proudly put them all on the hallway bulletin board. Other books would follow and my mother would save every stapled and poorly illustrated copy. In the sixth grade I kept a journal hidden in my desk. Like my daughter, I wrote from the perspective of a character I wished to be rather than the girl I was. Boys yell and punch with fists. Girls sneak and spit words of venom. Some female classmates found my journal and read it. They laughed just loud enough to be absolutely certain that I could hear.
I continued to write, but became obsessed with destroying the pages immediately after. Sometimes they were flushed and other times they were torn into tiny fragments then burned in an empty soup can. I never wanted anyone to get a glimpse beneath the surface. I wanted to be anonymous and unnoticed. I wanted to avoid embarrassment.
Having children with autism forced me to become noticeable despite my resistance. Connor and Xander made me the most noticed woman in a crowd. They feel and express every fleeting emotion with vehemence and enthusiasm. The presence or lack of an audience is irrelevant. Laughs and angry yells are given freely and often. Pleasurable sounds are made at the volume and intensity they feel necessary. If clothing is damp or restrictive, it will be removed regardless of setting. The social rules which hold the rest of us in check are absent from their personalities.
Soon after Connor was born, my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Neither of us could support each other in the ways we would have anticipated. My friend, my intelligent, funny mom first froze emotionally, then physically, and lapsed into dementia. She always had an imagination I envied, but her make-believe friends from childhood easily crossed the bridge into the world she was forced into. Snakes unexpectedly erupted from telephone receivers and flames came to life around her. Mom couldn’t understand why we could not see the world as she did. Children and animals seen only by her, became trusted companions as she forgot the members of her previous family.
Mom passed away in a nursing home while sleeping. I hadn’t been to visit her yet that week. For years she hadn’t known who I was, but sometimes she would touch my hand or adjust my pant leg as if I was a curious object that should be explored. It simply felt good to feel my mother’s touch again. In the weeks before her memorial service, many people offered their condolences. I soon realized that the people who knew her during the last decade of her life never knew the smart, sarcastic woman I knew. They didn’t know she could spell any word and was a human thesaurus. No one realized she loved to read and had memorized dozens of poems she remembered from childhood. My mom knew everyone’s birthday and address. She was what Apple envisioned when they designed Siri. Instead, they knew a silly old woman in a wheel chair who mumbled to people no one else could see. Few people knew my mother before her brain and body were ravished by Parkinson’s Disease.
The evening before her memorial service, I poured a glass of wine and wrote about my mother. Tears and words came simultaneously with no intention of destroying what what was written on the paper. Any ridiculous sense of caring what people thought had been eroded. The crowds at her service would hear my words and feel my emotion about my mother. My words were read and people knew what I wanted them to. It was too late for my mom to hear, but I wrote of truth she and I had known together. I hope that my daughter has learned from her autistic brothers to express herself with abandon. Public embarrassment is a myth as long as you remain true to yourself.