Rude Awakening

Rude Awakening

2011 Essay Contest-Young Adult Second Place

| Published:

Everyone grows up eventually. Just some, sooner than others.

John and Elaine. Brother and sister. Ying and Yang. That’s what we were, two complementing sections forming a perfect whole. Same cloudless indigo eyes. Same auburn, frizzy locks. Same childish, pearly pudge of skin. Same sprinkling of rosy freckles. Same scrawny, poppy lips.

But appearances aren’t everything.

We were tumbling on a favorite quilt, the jovial colors and shapes whipping around us like flocks of startled birds as we slid in and out of each other’s grasps. Our bronze curls shone in afternoon sunlight gushing through blue-veined glass. Our delighted squeals leapt off the walls, intertwining in a constant, joyous melody.

Suddenly, Mommy yowled, “Elaine, STOP!” from her kitchen domain. I froze, startled into rapt attention. “Be careful with John!” Mommy snarled, in strained, painful tones. I’d never heard her scream like that. She sounded like a panicked mother cat, returning to the nest to find her newborn kitten cold. Stiff. Dead.

In a way, she was.

I didn’t understand my mother’s anger, but the fear beneath her words sank into my pores, sending quivers through my tiny body. I felt myself shrink towards the wall, clutching the blissful, noisy quilt to my chest. Mommy, realizing the harshness of her voice, retreated apologetically, her lips bumbling over a muffled “I’m sorry.” As she recoiled into her kitchen den, I heard her mumble one last word: “Autism.”

I shrank further into my wall. Autism. Autism. Autism. A curse. A shadowy, traceless bogeyman, like the ones that would get me if I didn’t finish the vegetables on my plate. Only worse. And it wanted my brother, my other half. My ying. I had seen the monster in his eyes, the hazy, glazed stare he would adopt unexpectedly. I had seen it in the hours he spent lining hundreds of tacky, plastic Legos in the upstairs hallway. The catastrophic, unrelenting temper-tantrums in supermarkets. The way he didn’t look up when I called his name to play. The minute routines he repeated over, over, and over.

Autism. Autism. Autism.

The bogeyman was stealing my ying away, forever, and I didn’t know how to stop it. Slowly, the enormity of what I was losing dawned upon me. Never would I know if John could understand me when I said “I love you.” Never would we share friends, stories, favorite movies or inside jokes. Never would I feel my heart expand with pride, watching John graduate from high school, from college, get married, have kids. The monster had crushed those hopes and dreams into fine powder, tossing them carelessly on the unforgiving winds of reality.

Autism. Autism. Autism. Our curse.

I looked over at John. Oblivious to my harrowing understanding, he was gazing quizzically at our lost playmate: the vivid quilt. Gasping back tears, I gently untangled the cheery coverlet from my grasp and placed it in his chubby hands.

I will always wonder what our lives could have been, if not for our curse.

Elaine B. Bucknam lives in Potomac and is a rising senior at Richard Montgomery High School.

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