This story is by Andria Black and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This couldn’t be right. This wasn’t possible! How could this happen? Hadn’t she been watching him? How did she miss the signs? Right, like she cared about anyone other than herself. He would be lucky if she even got out of bed before noon when he wasn’t deployed. She probably missed everything while he was gone.
Maybe it was his fault? After all, Luke’s sister Lila didn’t have this problem. Maybe it was his genes that set Luke up for this? Or maybe it was work? How could he teach being a man when he was deployed nine months to a year at a time?
All he knew was he was sitting in a sterile office looking across a glacier desk at the face of a kid who called himself a doctor as he delivered the most devastating news Glenn had ever heard. Life as he knew it was over.
There would be no fishing. No hunting. No playing catch. There would be no campouts. No Boy Scouts with derby car races. No building cars together. Life as he knew it was over.
How could this be? They had to be wrong. Sure, Luke was three and not speaking. But he is a boy. Boys don’t need to talk. Sure, Luke was a bit of an escape artist, but that was because the babysitters didn’t watch him. How could they when the daycare crams 30 kids into a session? He was just an adventurous boy. Boys will be boys. Why couldn’t they see that?
What this child doctor just told him was that Luke would never have a normal life. There is no hope. He messed up. Everything Glenn thought he was doing for his family had destroyed it.
Glenn’s job required he be gone more than home, but that was needed for stability – for their future. Glenn was a provider. He made sure they had a home with little debt. He paid her gratuitous debt off! He was planning for the future! He was protecting his family. He was being a good family man.
Where had that led him? To a cheating wife and now divorce, separation weekly from his little boy when he was able to be home and now…now this!
This is worse than death. Life without life is walking death.
At least in death, he would find relief from this pain…this grief…this heartache. In death he wouldn’t have to watch his only son be the laughingstock of his peers…he wouldn’t have to watch his only son struggle through the simple things like pulling zippers and tying shoes. In death, he wouldn’t have to wonder if it was all his fault. In death, he wouldn’t have to face this alone.
How could he face this? How could he tell Luke? How would he face his family?
His mom had been right. She warned him on their last calls home something was off. Luke wouldn’t stop crying for hours….but Luke was a colicky kid. Glenn did not pay much attention to that. Hadn’t Dad told him he was concerned? Luke had started hitting his head on the ground repeatedly, for no apparent reason, and deliberately walking into walls. Glen had just chalked that up to a granddad out of his depth and Luke playing games.
How did he miss the clues? When Luke was with him, none of these things happened. They had a routine. They ate Cheerios together at breakfast making shapes in the wheat. They jumped for hours on the trampoline enjoying the sunshine. They watched at Transformers Prime and laughed together at Winnie the Pooh cartoons. They danced and sang to Goofy Movie soundtrack and Animaniacs for Heaven’s sake!
Everyone had to be wrong! But, here he was hearing it from an expert. Each word hit his stomach like a metal anvil…his breath caught.
He had been so cruel to all of them – his parents, the teachers, the babysitters – everyone. Hadn’t they all suggested Luke get evaluated? What brutal words! What mean-spirited arrogance he had. That was it – pride and arrogance. What was that old proverb, “Pride cometh before the fall?” Whoever said that wasn’t kidding.
With this confirmed, there was no way his family would be involved with Luke anymore. There would be no babysitting. Not that there ever was unless it was true emergency in the first place. With deployments, who would watch Luke? No one wants to be around someone they don’t understand. How would Glenn explain the new reality of life for Luke to the family? Friends? Teachers? Anyone?
“He will need lots of therapy. I have put in a referral for a developmental pediatrician, speech therapy, OT, PT, ABA, and social therapy. I have also put in a referral for Luke to have….”
Glenn zoned out. He was used to speaking in jargon and acronyms for work, but this was like taking a crash course in a new language and he was already failing.
What was this kid saying? Glenn knew. This doctor was saying Glenn and Luke’s life is now only therapy. Every waking moment is going to be a struggle for them both. Every day is going to be school and work and then…therapy. The number of people now involved in Luke’s life just quadrupled and Glenn was now doing it all alone.
Curse her! Curse her and her cheating, lying heart! He had trusted her! He had given her everything! He had set her, Luke, and Lila up for so much success. They had the best of all they could afford. Now, she left them for that loser! She left him alone to face this new life…no, not life – this new being. She had robbed him of his heart and now, her failure to see the warning signs had robbed him of the life he longed so much to have with Luke. That bitch! This was her fault!
“I recommend you join a support group with other parents who have been here before. This can be very traumatizing for a parent. Do you have a spouse? Someone you can depend on? I can recommend a couple of local groups, TACA is great…”
He has got to be kidding! Way to kick a man while he is down! Of course, he had no support system. He was going through a divorce, had spent the past three years basically out of the country, and there was no way his family would show up – too much of an inconvenience.
How could that doctor sit there so calmly and tell him that his and his son’s life was over forever like he was ordering a salad for lunch?
Anger did not begin to explain his heart. But then, he looked down at the apple of his eye, Luke smiled up at him as he played with the blocks on the ground by Glenn’s feet. That one smile with those chocolate brown eyes. His little tank. What could possibly be going on in that little mind? What was Luke thinking about right now that brought that beautiful smile? What was so funny? Luke’s laugh was so contagious.
Maybe he was thinking of how ridiculous these hours of testing are? Or maybe he was thinking about that time they got the bouncy house and just jumped in it for hours? Maybe Luke was thinking of his birthday and smashing his face into the cake? Maybe he was simply thinking of how fun it is to play blocks with Dad?
Glenn recalled in a moment the time he took Luke to the zoo and had to keep bending down to put Luke’s shoes back on. Glenn had thought Luke was doing it for fun, to get Dad down to his level and enjoy the day. After this tedious conversation with Child-Doctor, Glenn knew this was a sensory thing. But, in this moment, and for the rest of his life, Glen decided to remember it as a way for his non-verbal son to say, “Hi Dad, isn’t that a cool animal?”
Slowly, Glenn felt the weight lift. That one smile shifted something inside Glenn. Life was certainly different, but over? Life would absolutely be harder, but over? Life would undeniably be lonelier, but over? If that little boy could find joy at this moment, why couldn’t Glenn?
Forget that woman and all she encompasses. She wasn’t good for any of them, and definitely couldn’t be trusted with this new development. Consistency was needed. Routine. Determination not to let this one word define the rest of their lives – that was what was needed.
Slowly, silently praying to a God he wasn’t sure existed, Glenn turned back to the doctor and took a deep breath. “So, what I hear is this is a spectrum? Expect the worst, but hope for the best? And with lots of work, and apparently every specialist on the planet, we might be able to go college one day?”