“Can he talk or not?” she asked. I knew no matter how politely I responded, the emotion would show. “Yes, he can talk”, I said and quickly tried to reinforce how busy I really was by putting stuff away in the cabinets. I was so busy I started putting stuff in the cabinets that really belonged in the fridge. Couldn’t she see I was busy.
“So I don’t get it. He can say all the names of the streets to get to your house and he drew us a map of how to get to Walmart but he can’t tell me what his teacher’s name is?”, dear Ms. Plaid said to me. She had seen how busy I was and started putting fridge stuff in the cabinets with me to help.
Gustavo heard Ms. Plaid say Walmart and started to twiddle his fingers in a flutter. He said, “X marks the spot” three times and drew an x on the map he had drawn a few minutes earlier when Ms. Plaid asked him what his teacher’s name was. He looked out the window away from the map and started tapping the x on the map. He tapped the x with such precision Ms. Plaid wanted to know if eyes in the back of his head were standard issue to children with autism. She laughed. I did not.
I decided to show her how after school communication went with Gustavo so she would drop it. I put the map away. Even out of sight, Gustavo would probably be repeating, “x marks the spot” and recite where I needed to turn left and where I needed to turn right in order to get to Walmart for the rest of the night. Mikey who shared a room with Gustavo would make sure we all heard about it in the morning.
I said, “Gustavo, come here papa.” I pulled out a chair and asked him to sit down. He said, “no, I can’t do it.” I wondered what intersection of his beautiful mind was it that took the thoughts in his mind and jostled them just a bit before they took flight into the world. “Gustavo, Ms. Plaid wants to know what your teacher’s name is.” Nothing. Sometimes if I asked questions in a different way, his response would be a closer match to the topic of discussion. “Is the name of your teacher, Ms. Green or Ms. Garcia?” I asked. He said, “no, no, no”.
Ms. Plaid had long lost interest and had sat down to watch the afternoon soaps with the others in the living room. I was lost in the desire to know how Gustavo’s day was. I wanted to know what he had for lunch and if people were nice to him at school. I wanted to hear him call me mom and ask me for some juice. Gustavo rarely called anyone by their name. He had never called me mom.
I knew the words were in him. Hearing the details of your loved one’s day is one of those treasures taken for granted. Gustavo was an excellent reader. I loved hearing him read. He pronounced words slightly off but hearing him speak in complete sentences were precious moments. I would buy books he even hinted he might be interested in. He knew they were more for me than him.
I grabbed a piece of paper from a notebook in his backpack. I wrote down a sentence and slid the paper over to him. He picked up the pencil and neatly wrote the date on the page and then slid it back to me.
“Dear Gustavo, How was your day at school?”
“June 6, 2004”
“Dear Estela, I had apple juice. The money.”
That was the beginning of the after school letters that helped me tell my son I loved him in a way that made it past the intersection. I couldn’t believe it. I could see what he was thinking. It was there all along. I just didn’t know how to ask.