I was five and the girl with orange hair wanted me to play at her house. She lived higher up the hill on our sparsely traveled road. Arrangements were made and their 1970’s automotive behemoth arrived at the agreed upon time. The girl bounced with excitement on the cavernous back seat. Forgotten seat belt latches were stuffed deeply into crumb filled crevices. Her skin was paler than mine and stained with brown specks like the ones flies leave behind on white walls. She hugged my arm like a cobra when I sat next to her. I expected her to feel hot, like a campfire or a stove burner. Instead, she was eerily cool and slick with sweat.
Her mother reversed out of the driveway with two little girls entwined in back while my mother waved goodbye. I realized the window above my head was halfway open. Without a second thought, I squeezed my body head first through the opening of the moving car. The orange haired girl screamed. Brakes were forcefully engaged. My mother pulled the remainder of my upside down torso through the window and stood me on the roadside.
She asked what I had been thinking and told me I could have been run over by the moving car. I told her that I was not thinking. I just did not want to play. I turned my back on the disappointed girl and the worried mothers and went inside to resume what I had been doing before they arrived.
After Xander was born, the memory of this failed play date replayed unexpectedly. It gained a life of its own, filling the space where anxiety had been. When Xander slept through the night too soon, I suspected. When he was content being left alone, I worried. When his baby vocalizations contained more vowels than consonants, I was quite sure. When he failed to respond to his name, when he lost the few words he had spoken, when his toenail turned black from an injury without a cry of pain, I became numb. When his only smiles were for spinning objects and were accompanied by profound silence and flapping hands, I knew.
No practitioner wanted to deliver a diagnosis of Autism to a child younger than two years old. The first gave an all clear developmentally. The next found scattered delays. The third was presented with my vehement assertions as I stood shaking in front of her desk. I was an experienced player in this game, with extensive field testing. I knew I was right. She diagnosed Xander with Autism at seventeen months of age.
I haunted the agencies that had helped Connor. I annoyed the Department of Health with daily phone calls. I cried and begged without consideration of pride. A program for toddlers was started at Connor’s school and Xander was first on the list. He was nineteen months old.
Xander attended the program every morning. Eric and I took turns driving the 35 minute commute. He was too young to ride a bus. The memory of the orange haired girl was a frequent visitor in my unstable mind. The car was backing out of the driveway again. I wanted to rewind to the familiar. Like the child I no longer thought I was, I did not want to think. I fantasized about discovering an open window. I did not want to play the game again.