Tuesday, 1 January 2008

When man lives by bread alone

I’m afraid it is confirmed Mrs. Bodley.
Your son has…
At this point I switched off. I saw the doctor’s lips moving, and knew I should hear the news, but in my heart I wanted to believe otherwise. It wasn’t that I was afraid of the diagnosis, more afraid for my son.
Of course I had thought of the "if only this, if only that" but for the doctor to confirm what I already knew as a mother, well I didn’t need to hear it.
When he finished he looked at me and I knew he was waiting for me to say something, anything to alleviate his discomfort. It can’t be easy telling bad news to parents. How often I wondered as I saw him raise his eyebrow, did he go through this scenario?
I mumbled that I needed to catch a bus and
"my goodness look at the time" picked up my handbag, gathered my little boy and shot out of the office without a backward glance. I realised as I hurried down the echoing corridor that I hadn’t thanked him. That’s rich I thought. Thanking someone for delivering bad news.
As I held Jonathan’s hand to cross he road I automatically told him to look right and then look left and look right again. He didn’t vary his grip and in a break in the traffic we walked across. I gripped Jonathan’s had tighter and chatted as we hurried to the bus station. It was only when we arrived at stop 21 I remembered I had brought the car.
The doctors news must have affected me more than I realised. Now I had to negotiate the road and go back into the outpatients, and walk through the hospital to get to the underground car park.
I started back up the road, explaining to Jonathan how silly mum was to forget we had driven to the hospital. He tagged along keeping pace as we came to the gutter to cross the road once again.
I stood still waiting for the traffic. Cars, trucks, delivery vans whizzed by as I stood looking into Jonathan’s future. What sort of life will he have? Will he be happy? Could he ever be happy?
As the traffic ebbed and flowed I felt terror. How could I let my son live in this world? This world that was so full of emotion and he would never experience it.
To never appreciate a symphony. To never remember the feeling of a first kiss. Not to cry over the birth of his first child. These things are what makes us who we are. Jonathan would have none of this.
He stood impassive and I knew it was I who was gripping his hand, he would never grip mine.
We could have stood there all day and Jonathan wouldn’t have moved. Spiderman could have jumped off the traffic lights and he wouldn’t blink. Life was of no consequence to Jonathan.
The doctor called it a sort of autism. He used platitudes like
"he marches to a different drum." And "in a world of his choosing" but kind words can never replace a kiss from a child, or a giggle at bath time.
The quiet of a break in the traffic brought me back to the task in hand and after repeating the look left and look right mantra, we crossed the road.
Next we had to negotiate the outpatients. I hated this bog of humanity. Walking through sick people and children felt like drowning in mud. I had on more than one occasion admired the nursed fortitude to face the mud every day, day in day out. When Jonathan and I were summoned once a month I ‘d find a small corner of space and hunker down for the duration.
Walking through the bog now I tried to be impassive like Jonathan. We scuttled around small children and wheelchairs, past tables overflowing with leftover sandwiched and old magazines to the north exit.
There is a small public convenience at this exit and I suddenly felt the urge when I saw the sign. From an early age my mother had instilled the pavlovian dog response in my sister and I. Whenever we saw a convenience we should use it, because you never know when the next one will come along.
Usually I would take Jonathan in with me, and he would dutifully do what was asked. But this day I asked him to wait outside.
As I was washing my hands I analysed my actions.
Did I want him to wander off? Was I hoping he would be kidnapped? I began to see the enormity of his life as a millstone around my neck. What emotional life would I have? How could I cope, never having a kind word or a smile from my only son?
How selfish could I be, or would I become. Then I thought, was I testing the Doctor’s diagnosis? Perhaps Jonathan would be chatting to a nurse, or reading the information booklets on hospital governance.
Pushing the door open I saw his standing where I had left him. Not leaning casually against the wall. Not looking around in childlike wonder, or even staring at amputees. No, he was standing just as I had left him.
A child screamed and I winced. What I would give for my child to scream in anger at the denial of a treat or rage over a perceived injustice.
The question had often crossed my mind. What would I give? My right eye. A lifetime devotion to God.
God? Where was he now? Where had he been when I prayed last night that the Doctor would tell me to give Jonathan two tables and he’ll come good in the morning.
Bitterness leaves a taste in my mouth, when I think about my life. Motherhood was given to me and for a joke the Gods took away my sons emotions.
I studied Jonathan waiting by the exit. What if I was to bargain with God? What did I have that I could trade for one of Jonathan’s tears?
I grabbed his hand and we swung the double doors into the foyer. We took the lift to the car park, and I put Jonathan’s little finger on the door open button and pushed. I remembered we had parked right near the entrance and as we walked our echoing footsteps heightened my anxiety. This cavern underground felt intimidating, and lonely. I could have been alone, except for a little warm hand in mine.
As I spotted our car, a van careered around the corner at high speed and headed straight for us. In an instant I knew it wasn’t going to stop and I pushed Jonathan out of the way.
The force of the impact threw me back and I felt the wind blow out of my lungs as I landed on the concrete. As I heard a screech of brakes I felt a searing pain in my legs and at that moment I saw Jonathan. He was crying.
The Gods were listening that day.

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