I am 18, a senior in high school, and the younger sister of a 21 year old brother with low verbal autism.
I recently suffered a terrible heartbreak. My relationship of four years came to an abrupt end. This person was very important to me, and was my closest friend. He had gotten very close to my family, and was amazing to Anthony. They say life is a cycle and is always changing. For me, one thing always remains the same -- Anthony’s autism.
I was sobbing while my mother attempted to comfort me when Anthony came thumping down the stairs. I rarely cry, so this got his attention right away. Anthony immediately stated, “Natalie…what’s wrong?” followed by the command, “Natalie, stop crying.” This prompted both my mother and me to laugh through our tears. To Anthony, it was as simple as that. Crying is bad, so just stop doing it. I couldn’t imagine how I would explain things to him. For a moment, I wondered how Anthony would handle this person’s absence from my life. Before I could give it another thought, Anthony commanded, “Natalie, come upstairs and see iPad Christmas Special.” With tears in my eyes and an exhausted smile, I looked at my mom and said, “Even when my heart is breaking, Anthony is still Anthony.” She stroked my hair and said, “You’ll be a wonderful mom some day. “ With that, I followed Anthony up the stairs and did my best to act cheery for him.
Anthony’s “iPad Christmas Special” consists of opening credits with a cast of various, unrelated TV and movie characters set to the tune of “Hip To Be Square” by Huey Lewis and The News -- or as Anthony puts it, “Heavy Lewis and The News.” I have seen this a million times. First, it was the iPad Halloween Special, then the iPad Thanksgiving Special, and now it is the iPad Christmas Special. I guess the iPad New Years Special and iPad Groundhog Day Special are next. Just hearing the first few chords of “Hip To Be Square” makes me cringe. For Anthony, it never gets old. For us, it’s mind numbing. In order to be kind, we all suffer through it. Anthony typed up the whole thing himself using an iPad app, and added the music. He is very proud of it. I did my best to hide my heartbreak and cheer for Anthony as I always did. As I faked my smile, it occurred to me that absolutely nothing happens in my life without autism being a part of it.
I live in two worlds – the real world of obligations, deadlines, and expectations, and the time suspended world I share with Anthony. On one hand, Anthony’s world can be a distraction from pain. I must subdue my misery so I can appease Anthony. Placating my brother with games and movies allows me to escape my frustrations. The down side is internalizing everything just to cope. When I try to share my feelings at home, I must deal with the jarring effects of Anthony’s multiple interruptions. Anthony’s needs are always “now” even though the past and present exist simultaneously for him. He can’t fathom what I am going through, so he’ll make the same demands on my time regardless of what I am suffering. This is a constant reminder that I can’t lament too long. Anthony’s persistence won’t let me. I have to keep moving forward because Anthony needs me no matter what I am doing, or how I am feeling. Reality compelled me to throw myself into my portfolio work, and just keep going. I may mourn, but my work is still there.
Natalie Palumbo is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.