Nick has been in my world for twenty-one years.
I can hear him stirring about in his room. The bedroom door is partially ajar, so I can peek in to see what’s going on. His modest sanctuary is in temporal flux. The décor is part teen, not totally masculine. Bright sunlight pushes against the venetian blinds on the overhead windows. He is sitting on his double-sized bed. Nick is slender. His haircut is freshly trimmed, worn low next to his scalp. Thick black brown punctuate his milk chocolate eyes. The TV is on low while he is carefully peering at his laptop. His fingers are curled over the keyboard. His expression is studious, but I know better. His eyes ping-pong back and forth as he is staring at something on the screen. Probably checking out the birthday wishes on his Face book page.
His various certificates and awards and meticulously aligned on the opposite wall. Atop the surfaces of both his dresser and his desk items are precisely spaced and lined up. Nick is a neat sleeper. He doesn’t thrash about or kick wildly in slumber. He lays flat on his back, allows his head to roll to one side and closes his eyes. When wakes up, he pulls the sheets in place and sits on top of the comforter. I call him “Neat Nick”. Everything must be tidy and in order in his space. Nothing is awry or out of place unless his older brothers comes in and moves anything. Then it’s war.
He’s confided in me his expectations and his excitement. Life can officially begin, he declared. There is so much he wants to do, much he wants to have, and he is determined to get them. He has to get his car. He wants his own place. He wants a nice girl. Not like Santana. She was clingy and pushy and required too much attention. His father threatened she would show up to his birthday dinner.
He can do anything and I know that. A man’s twenty-first birthday is an honored custom. He desires not to drink or smoke. He is steadfast in what he believes. He is such a gentle young man.
A few weeks ago, I’d noticed he posted an online rant. The content of it stunned me. Like most his age, he had to get some ugly vibes off of his shoulders. I take it for granted he doesn’t feel anger or resentment. I take it for granted his feelings won’t be hurt. I am aware of it when he tells me. It’s then I turn into a lioness willing to protect her cub under any cost. It’s been years prompting Nick to tell us if anything is wrong. It’s been harder not to hover over him. It’s been most difficilt not to smooth every path for him.
I confess it’s going to be rough letting him drive! He’s counted over 450 Dodge Neons he’s noticed around Greensboro. It’s his favorite ride. I’d tried to teach him to drive my manual, but he wasn’t comfortable with it.
I wonder if I’m ready for any of this. Resigned to the inevitable, I audibly sigh and roll my eyes.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” he asked, placng a hand on my shoulder.
Once, he couldn’t look at me. Now, his keen brown eyes gazed into mine. Once more, he reminded me he is an adult.
“I don’t want you to grow up, Nick.” I’d harrumphed.
He smiled crookedly, cocking his head to the side. “You have to let me grow up, Mom.”
I’d rubbed his face stubble with a finger. Autism slammed into our lives like an out-of-control car. It once represented unrest, blame, guilt, and uncertainty. Now, it is represents normalcy and acceptance.
“Yeah” I’d answered sadly, “I guess I do.”