* * * *
Silence chokes the walls of the house. The dinner table remains silent as mother, stepfather, and daughter sit eating. Her brother is in the other room watching TV as he eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, his favorite for the moment. She looks from one parent to the other, waiting for someone to talk, but no sound fills the air except from the TV in the living room as both parents stare silently at their plates.
The sister excuses herself after finishing her dinner, takes her dishes into the kitchen, does a half-hearted job of washing them, and puts in them in the dishwasher. As she turns to head into the living room to see how her brother is doing she hears a heated, whispered discussion between her parents. Not wanting to eavesdrop, she quickly leaves the room, attempting to ignore the terse words.
* * * *
Lacy, the sister’s best friend since kindergarten sits on her unmade bed in the center of her bedroom. The white wall next to her bed is covered with pictures of actors, actresses, and famous places, which were cut from magazines or printed from her computer, as well as her favorite family photos. Posters line the other walls – Braveheart, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love – all her favorite movies or the band of the moment. The sister sits at her desk cluttered with schoolwork and miscellaneous drawings. She sits in her chair, quietly staring out the window at the trees in her backyard.
“What do you mean your brother has Autism? What is that exactly?” Lacy asks.
The sister sighs. “I’m not so sure really. I don’t know if I understand it right. My mom and step-dad have been talking to lots of doctor’s to figure out what to do. All they’ve really told me is that Stevie has something wrong with his brain – something about the synapses, that they aren’t quite corrected right – or something like that. They said that the doctor’s say he can never get better and that there is nothing we can do. There’s no way to treat it.” Silence.
The sister continues, “My parents told me that most of the kids that get this will never talk, that they will grow up very different from how you and I did. They have to be in special-ed classrooms away from neuro-typical kids. The doctor said that kids with Autism will probably never live on their own, never attend regular school, never have a girlfriend, and most will someday have to go to special homes and institutions.”
She can’t help it, tears flow freely down her cheeks now. “I guess it means I will never be able to hear my little brother tell me that he loves me. That he’ll never be able to get a real job or get married someday.” Pictures of the special-ed kids at her school dance in her head; she thinks the way that they get picked on by the older kids, the way that they are bullied and made fun of for their disabilities. Will that really happen to her brother?
The sister cries unembarrassed that her friend watches her fall apart from across the room, knowing that Lacy offers support in her silence. She is unable to stop her tears as she thinks of all the dreams that she had for her brother that were taken away with the awful diagnosis. Before he was born she would lie in bed with her mother, her hand on the bulging belly waiting for her brother or sister to kick, picturing what it would be like to have someone to share her thoughts with, to play with, to take places. She would picture what Christmas’s would be like years down the road, what it would be like actually open presents with someone. She would picture what it would be like to teach him how to treat girls or to teach her how to deal with boys, or to talk about what it would be like when he or she fell in love one day. But now the sister cries for those dreams have disappeared. She thinks about the baseball games that she will miss, the school pageants that will never happen, school dances that he won’t be able to attend, the wedding that is impossible. She cries for the words that her family will never hear, for the future that was taken away.
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