Suitcase- check. Extra bag of clothes- check. Three boxes of diapers- check.
I can't do this, I thought, as I stuffed Elmo in the suitcase and sat on it to close it again. We have a long day ahead. Can't afford to cry now.
"OK, Matthew, get your coat on." I tossed it to him, he picked it up off the floor since his daddy's aim isn't that great and put it on. I heard a honk outside. Our ride was ready. It was now or never. I took one last selfie and turned towards the door. It was go time. And February 9th would never be the same. (Sorry, Marc.)
Car rides were never that successful, especially long ones. I was expecting Matthew to take a shot at me at any time. He didn't understand what was going on. For all he knew we were headed to the neurologist again, a ride that never went that smoothly. I buckled him into the van. Off to Toledo.
The Toledo ride went calmly. He hit himself in the head numerous times, but never hard enough to injure himself; it was almost as if the routine was programmed. Head hit to knee, head hit to window, hand to head twice, repeat. He didn't exhibit any acts of aggression to anyone in the car, although to be honest, had he belted certain people I wouldn't have stopped him. Do it, son. Commit acts of aggression that I could only get away with in my dreams.
He was a good boy. My good boy.
When we got to Toledo we had a meeting with accompanying paperwork. Matthew sat next to me, not crying, not getting upset, just holding my hand, trusting me. Don't trust me, son. Not this time. I don't even trust myself on this one. A dad doesn't abandon his son. I changed my mind, Matthew. If you want to come home and beat me up again I don't mind. I'll make it work, Matthew. We can go to Walmart again. I'll buy you your favorite cookies again. Just don't leave me, buddy.
We walked over to the building that would be his new home, and as we stood in his bedroom he took my hand and stretched it towards the door. He looked at me with a look that spoke volumes. Let's go home, Daddy. I'm ready to go now. I want to watch Elmo, Daddy. I want to have my ramen noodles. I want to go home.
I'm sorry, son.
I turned around to walk back to the van.
And when I returned to Elyria I wept bitterly.
We didn't have time to grieve the departure of our 16-year-old son. Our 13-year-old daughter was moving to Canton two days later, and we had to get ready. There would be time for weeping later. Oh Lord would there be time.
The process was similar. There would be a long car ride. And a long meeting, with paperwork. Rebecca didn't sit still for her meeting; instead, she walked around the table, smiling at everyone. She explored the house while we signed her away to the group home.
But there was one experience that remained the same. We showed her the room in which she would be sleeping, and when her back was turned so was ours. We left the house without looking back, got in the car, and cried.
This was our new normal. From two kids with autism, or two autistic kids, or however you want to phrase it, we now had no kids with autism, no autistic kids, no children with a disability which really wasn't a disability but a "different ability", just a different way of viewing life which didn't need a cure. Or so the blogs say.
I didn't care what social media said. I didn't care what the blogs said. They could go home and have their kids with them, bragging about them on Instagram, tweeting those little statements that were funny as hell, although as responsible parents your official response couldn't include laughter. They could celebrate their children's accomplishments, as well they should. A good parent should brag on their children. A good parent should post pictures of high school graduations and athletic events and every possible way in which that child made that parent proud.
I just wouldn't be invited to that party anymore.
"You're still their father", my friends told me. "They are still your children." And that's true... but life still wouldn't be the same anymore.
It has been three months this week since Matthew and Rebecca went to live in group homes. In that time Matthew's behavior has changed so much that he has moved into a less restrictive group home. He doesn't assault anyone. He occasionally hurts himself, but not to the degree that he needs medical attention. Rebecca has lost a lot of weight. She looks beautiful. They both cooperate with those who oversee their care.
This has been the most difficult experience of my life. Being a father was that one thing I looked forward to being, the one thing I thought I would be good at. And I tried, I tried, oh Lord how I did try. I did my best, but I guess my best wasn't good enough. Cause here I am back where I was before.
My daughter should be on the couch right next to me, playing the same games on her Kindle over and over again, taking pictures of her legs, looking straight into my eyes with a smile on her lips and sunshine in her eyes. My son should be pulling on my hand, telling me that whatever I have to type can't compare to the importance of pouring that next round of Kool-Aid.
Instead, I type through blurry eyes, wondering if I could have done something differently. Yeah, probably not.
My depression is very real. The tears I shed are real. The hole in my heart, the hole in my life, the emptiness....
All too real.