The Autism Card
“He didn’t want kids with autism, so why the hell do you?”
I love Tillamook, and Andrew knows it. It smells like ocean and cow. I smile for the first time since we left the doctor when I eat my first cheese sample, and he parks me in front of a video about dairy cows. I catch him looking at me. A family passes us with three screaming children, and I cower until they’re finished putting their heads in a cutout of a happy cow and farmer. They make an insane amount of noise the whole time.
“I’m really, really scared,” I say. “Not just because I don’t want to do this, but also because I don’t think I can.”
The lighthouse we visit is crowded for a Sunday. Ten tourists at a time are allowed up the winding iron ladder. I’m too short to jump over the last ledge, but he pulls me up after him. The sun’s magnified through the orange panes, and I have to squint. He puts a hand on my back even though it’s sticky.
An old couple with sunglasses, a guidebook, and binoculars are arguing over a species of bird on a rock. A teenage daughter rolls her eyes at her dad. The tour guide tells us that the glass on the lighthouse is cracked by vandals and only a bit remains of the last real lighthouse in Oregon.
“I think I want an abortion.”
“Autism isn’t the worst thing in the world you could give. You have a lot of great things about you.”
I grip the railing of the lighthouse and look blearily through my watering eyes at the waves, hoping to see a seal.
“Being a mother isn’t one of them,” I say. “I can’t even stand the thought of their noises. I can barely walk into Target on a sale day, or listen to a single rock song on the radio.”
“Look, horrible diseases could happen to anyone’s kid.”
“Was that supposed to cheer me up?” I say with a smile. I turn to face him but can’t meet his eyes; I’m looking at a point some three feet to the left at a piece of black railing.
“Yes,” he says. “Look at me.”
“I hate the Looking in the Eye. It’s such a hallmark of my differentness but it’s the worst.”
“You do it for me all the time.”
I sigh and force myself to. His eyes are blue. But I’ve seen bluer once.
“What do you want to do?” I ask.
“Sometimes all you have to do is look at someone to know.”
I was looking at my bag in the security bin when my dad said he wished he had daughter who could make it through the airport without a meltdown. I was looking at the floor when my uncle screamed at me on Thanksgiving that I was rude for not saying hello properly. I was looking at my teacup when my mom told her friends not to mind my behavior, it was just the Autism (something I’m not a fan of being brought up at meals if I’ve been hitting eight out of ten social interactions correctly. After three big fails I’ll graciously let her play the autism card).
You don’t have to look people in the eye to know who they are.
“I was dropped off on the wrong planet. The stork was confused in space,” I say.
“And then the stork got tired of flapping around and dropped you off here on Earth, and thought hey, this could work out.”
We have to climb back down the ladder again soon, but we’re the last two up here before the next group. I look one last time out over the waves, and I lean against him and he holds onto me.
I wasn’t born to master the looks on people’s faces, but the one on his right now will always be my favorite. I love him so much I feel like a teenager in a cornfield, but I kiss him like we’re on the rail of the Titanic until the tour guide pokes a broom through the gap in the ladder and says it’s time for the next group.
“Right, then the stork was like yikes, that didn’t work out so well,” I say.
“He actually probably thinks he got it right,” says Andrew, holding my hand and helping me onto the first step of the ladder.
The gift shop on the bottom is dingy and filled with broken magnets and old stuffed animals. No one is lingering in the stuffy space, and the next ten people are already climbing to the top.
“But I don’t have the most important thing. Who cares if I’m smart if I can’t be happy?”
“You’re scared our baby won’t be happy?” he asks.
“No,” I say. I fidget with a generic lighthouse magnet. I avoid his gaze again and cross my arms when he takes the magnet.
“I’m scared that they’ll be different like me, and then we’ll both spend the rest of eternity waiting to be normal.”
Tabitha Pearson is an autistic adult. Her life’s work is in the service industry making people sandwiches. She lives in Oregon with her cats. Her story “What You Deserve” also focuses on autism and is forthcoming in Jersey Devil Press.