By Barb Arland-Fye
My younger son Patrick and I were immersed in conversation about his high school’s homecoming while we waited for our meals to arrive at a local restaurant. My older son, Colin, was sitting quietly beside Patrick and seemed subdued.
“Are you sad?” I asked Colin. No, he insisted, he wasn’t sad. But clearly, he was. For the 23 years of his life I have longed to understand what he is thinking and how he is feeling. But he, like many individuals with autism, is unable to articulate emotions. It’s one of the communication glitches in his mind’s wiring.
The answer to why he was sad should have been obvious to me. Dad was absent; he was on a train trip and had missed Saturday night Mass and Sunday night dinner with us. This hit-and-miss schedule marks a change in routine that is unsettling to him. The fact that three-quarters of the Fye family are present doesn’t make up for the missing quarter. That had been wishful thinking on my part.
But sometimes Colin conveys his feelings through an opposite sentiment. He told me he’ll be sad when I complete graduate studies because he won’t be able to attend Mass with me on the weekends I’m in class. What he really means is that he’ll be glad when I am no longer taking classes and we stop the disruption in our Mass routine on the second weekend of each month.
After dinner, Patrick and I dropped off Colin at his apartment and headed for home. We discussed how Colin seemed; Patrick worries about his older brother and is beginning to feel more responsible for him, which is encouraging to me. Steve and I need the assurance that someone will advocate for Colin after we die.
“Colin lives his whole life for memories,” Patrick observed. I pondered that statement. Does Colin really live his whole life for memories? He volunteers at the agency that provides services for him and other individuals with cognitive disabilities; he invites friends over for pizza parties; he takes piano lessons; plays sled hockey and Challenger League baseball; participates in “People First” advocacy meetings and in other activities.
But he cherishes the memories of his past and seems to be trying to re-live them, in part, through his younger brother. He asks Patrick how things are going in school, inquires about his teachers and what homework he’s working on and checks the school calendar on our bulletin board at the house.
Colin’s pleasant memories fill a treasure chest of comfort. But one negative memory has had a profound effect, too. As a result of a bad experience a few months ago, he carries a remote control from his “Wii” game system in his pocket whenever he goes out to church or to dinner with us. We can’t convince him to leave it at home, and he can’t explain why he needs to take it with him — even though he leaves three other remote controls on the TV stand.
It reminds me of the time when Colin as a child insisted on wearing hats and mittens well into spring because the change in seasons was just that — another change!
I don’t think Colin lives a life full of memories, but he holds them close because they are unchangeable.