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July 08, 2024


By Tony Gloeggler


Five states away, Jesse's
celebrating a birthday. All
last week he read social stories
trying to learn what cake, lit
candles, pizza party hats and gifts
are supposed to mean to him.
I play the jumpy email video,
watch as he slides into a booth,
shakes salt into his palm, tilts
his head sideways and, like always,
his eyes light up as crystals pour
from his fingers like fairy dust.
He makes his infamous shrieking
sound when the teacher hands
him a hat and he doesn't stop
screaming or pounding the table
until she stuffs it in the trash.

A few kids slide in
next to him, across from him
and take turns slapping,
grabbing his hand in different
secret ways and Jesse doesn't
start howling, doesn't try
to hide under the table or yell
for his mom's blue van.
He just covers his mouth
with his hand as he laughs
so hard that goose bumps
start to crawl down my arm.
Patiently he waits for the pizza,
blows the candles out, takes
a slice, nibbles counter clockwise
around its steaming edges,
drinks half a Snapple
and then rips his gifts open.

When I visited last winter,
he spent nearly four hours
repeating "Tony airport bye"
and I wasn't sure he knew me
until the next morning when
he placed his face close to mine.
He put his finger in his mouth,
tried to make that popping sound
I showed him the first time
we met and I remembered
how he'd jump with joy,
crumble into a soft, giggling,
every time I did it. He'd grab
my finger, lift it to my lips
and say "Again Tony, again."
Later, he sprawled across
my lap, let me rub his feet
as he turned pages of shiny
alphabet books, slid his fingers
over the illustrations like
he was speed reading Braille.

At thirteen, he's bigger, stronger.
He throws clothes, magazines
across his bed, desk and floor
like any teenager and he plays
his MP3 endlessly. Still
he listens to the same si
x Sesame Street jingles over
and over. Recently he's pulled
hair, torn shirts, bit teachers
and attacked Helen in the middle
of the night once. She never
told me how badly he hurt her,
but she's having trouble sleeping
and feels more overwhelmed
than usual. He's started
on a low dose of medication,
but she can't tell how much
it's helping and no one knows
about long term side effects.

I want to book an early
morning flight, drive over
the hills, ride to the rescue
like John Wayne's cavalry.
I want to remember how
much I miss and love both
of them, forget the part
of me that's relieved
I no longer feel guilty
for not spending every hour
of every day trying to cure
his autism, that even if me
and his mom still loved
each other the way we swore
we would, hunkered down
close and deep in our bunkers,
there may never be a way
to make a place in this world
for Jesse or either one of us.

From Until The Last Light Leaves

Article © Tony Gloeggler. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-10-01
Image(s) are public domain.
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