Tears stung my eyes one night last week as I listened to Aaron suddenly tell me about how much he loved his friend, N. Oh, he’s talked about N for a long time. Sometimes she’s his good friend…sometimes she’s his antagonist. She is a fellow client at Paradigm, Aaron’s day program, and they have known each other for years.
Aaron’s developmental delays due to his autism and seizures have prohibited him from having some of the normal joys of life that our other two children have enjoyed. He’s not able to drive. Holding down a job would be very difficult for him. Responsibilities that they have assumed as they have become independent have not been possible for Aaron.
Aaron has always had a pretty simple view of life. He’s never seemed to really mind not moving on in life as Andrea and Andrew have. It’s actually a blessing that he doesn’t have those desires. He’s very happy to live as he does.
Yet when Andrea and Kyle started dating, we saw another side of Aaron beginning to show. It was a combination of jealousy over Kyle’s relationship with Andrea, whom he dearly loves, and resentment. But was there resentment over Kyle taking Andrea away? Or resentment over Andrea and Kyle having something that he did not have?
Two years ago, Aaron went with Gary and me to see Andrea in Houston. This trip had the different dynamic of Kyle now being in the family picture. He and Andrea were not engaged yet, but we all knew that they would be someday.
On one hot Texas afternoon, Kyle was showing us around Galveston. We walked in the historic district, going into quaint shops and enjoying the sights before heading to dinner and the beach.
Aaron, however, was in a very foul mood. And when Aaron is in a foul mood, no one is in a good mood.
Aaron didn’t want ice cream. Aaron didn’t want candy.
Aaron didn’t want to look at old architecture.
Aaron didn’t want to have his picture taken.
It was miserable. WE were miserable! He kept saying, “I just want to go out to eat and go to that lake!” A really big lake, by the way.
In the parking garage, as we walked to our car, Aaron finally had enough. With pent-up anger, as I tried to walk with him and cheer him up, he blurted out: “Well, Andrea and Kyle are going to get married!! Why can’t I get married??!!”
There it was…a glimpse into Aaron’s feelings and into his heart. And there I was, with no words to console him. What could I even have said to make him feel better?
In the following months, Aaron brought up the girlfriend and marriage subject more and more often. He was putting two and two together, and there were some uncomfortable moments.
“Mom,” he said one day, “I want a girlfriend.”
“Oh, Aaron,” I answered. “I understand that, but you don’t really need a girlfriend. Just be happy to be friends.”
“But you were a girlfriend to Dad, right?” he asked.
Oh dear! Busted!!
“Well, yes, I was,” I uncomfortably answered.
“What was it like?” he continued.
“Ummmm,” I struggled, “it was special.”
“I want to be special,” he said.
My heart!! What does a parent do with this side of their special-needs child?! No doctor or medicine or therapy can fill the normal void of my son wanting to be loved in the way that I had just described as being special!
As Andrea and Kyle became engaged and we planned their wedding, Aaron was resentful. He didn’t even try to hide it. And on the day that we told him about their engagement, he went outside and did his thing in the mulch, alone, as he crumbled mulch and I watched him out the window…my heart crumbling, as well.
Gary and I have tried to be honest with him as he’s asked more than once about why he can’t get married. I mean, could he marry one day? But then we’re reminded of the very answers we give to Aaron when he brings up the subject.
We tell him he needs a job…that he would need to live somewhere else with his wife…be able to pay his bills…that there would be her medical issues and his medical issues…
And we feel mean to tell him these things.
Yet that IS the reality of Aaron’s life. Reality can’t be sugar coated in an effort to make Aaron feel better.
Or in an effort to make us feel better, as well. Letting Aaron marry would bring to our doorstep a host of issues that we do not even want to think about.
On that night last week, after Aaron and I had watched a rather emotional episode of the series we’re watching, instead of hurrying out of his chair he instead started talking.
“Mom,” he began. “I love N, and she says she loves me. When I come in Paradigm, she says hi to me. She wants me to sit beside her, and she holds my hand. That makes me happy. It makes me feel good.”
The sincerity in his voice and his sudden cascade of words stopped me from moving off the couch. His rushing words and his emotion also stopped me from brushing off what he was saying. Instead, I sat there and looked at him as he talked. He continued.
“Ever since first grade,” he said, “I wanted a girlfriend. No one ever wanted to be my girlfriend until N.”
It was hard not to smile, and also hard not to cry. In fact, my eyes did fill with tears, which Aaron really dislikes.
“Are you crying?!” he asked. But when I told him I was, a little, he didn’t even get upset. He just kept talking about N…about how he wanted her to be his girlfriend…and how no one else wanted to be her friend.
His relationship with N is complicated. She is complicated and Aaron is complicated, and there are many issues. N uses Aaron, trying to take his money and his food and all his time. She gets angry, and sometimes makes Aaron cry. Yet Aaron defends her most of the time, particularly when she talks him into giving her his money.
Aaron reminded me of the day that I had recently called Barb about N taking some of his money. Aaron gets very angry when I do that. He said the most amazing thing that night.
“Mom, when you called Barb about N taking my money, you messed up the boyfriend/girlfriend option!”
Where on earth did he come up with that?! And how on earth did I not break down laughing?!
A few weeks ago, as I drove Aaron to Paradigm, this is what he said:
“Mom, N asked me to marry her. On accident, I put it too far and I said yes!”
Again, I was laughing inside but knew that on the outside Aaron needed my understanding. Thankfully, his “putting it too far” did not end up in a commitment of any kind. But sometimes, in his heart, I know he wants to have this taste of a normal life even though he has no idea at all about what it would mean.
But Gary and I know what it would mean, and we know it can’t happen. It makes me a little sadder for Aaron when he does talk about it. Yet I think of the reality of what would happen if we said yes to this grand idea, and I’m jerked back to THAT reality and know that it can’t be a part of Aaron’s life.
God continues to give us grace and to soothe my heart when I hurt for Aaron. And I’m very thankful that He gives us the strength to not “put it too far,” and say yes!!
I’m thankful, too, that God isn’t too far from us in any of this. He knows and understands, and His promise to be near the brokenhearted is always true!