Over the summer I met a sweet little autistic boy. We had gone to southern California for my sister’s wedding, and Mr. W was excited for me to meet his old roommate from college and his 3-year-old son.
From the moment I laid eyes on “D”, I couldn’t help but be enamored with him. He was fairly quiet, but had an inquisitive nature. I’m familiar with autism as far as kids who don’t make human interactions and seem really withdrawn, as well as the higher functioning autism of Asperger’s Syndrome that results in poor impulse control and an inability to understand morals or consequences. But this little boy didn’t seem to fit either of these definitions. You could tell he had a sense of confusion about him, but he also seemed incredibly gentle and loving. He was immediately drawn to me, calling me “mama” despite repeated corrections that I was “Crissi”. He stayed by my side the whole afternoon at the beach, letting me take him into the water or dig with him in the sand, or just being content to sit in my lap and lean against me as if I really were his mother. And when we went back to the beach house he continued to try and show me things, my only competition being the cartoon playing on TV.
D’s father repeatedly mentioned how he was happy to be spending some time with D, as well as giving his wife a break. He explained how he worked all day, and she was left to stay home with D all day long, every day. He recognized that she could use some time off, and I got the sense that she was overwhelmed with the burden of being the caregiver for a special needs child who probably took up a lot of her energy. Remembering what it was like being a mother of young children, where the majority of the care landed on my shoulders, I had the utmost understanding for what this woman was going through.
It was Sunday morning, April 1st, when Mr. W got a phone call from his old college roommate. The answering machine woke him up. He brought me a cup of coffee in bed and told me he really needed to call his friend because it sounded urgent. He left me in the bedroom and went downstairs so he could talk. Moments later I heard a loud wail coming from the living room. I paused, listening again, hoping it was laughter instead. But what I heard was a cry of distress.
Immediately I thought of D. I knew something had happened. What else could it be? I figured that somehow his handicap had maybe caused him to die in his sleep, or have an accident. We had just been talking about D the day before. I don’t remember what it was about, but I remember his name had come up in conversation. I was immediately filled with fear about what could have happened.
I pulled on my robe and came downstairs where I found Mr. W with the phone to his ear, his face a mess.
“She drowned him,” he said. “She drowned D.”
Nothing prepared me for this. The image of this sweet little boy held under water by his own mother haunted every corner of my mind. I curled up next to Mr. W and held him while he continued talking with his friend. When he hung up, we just held onto each other for a few moments; numb in the news and grateful we had each other and our children. We sleepwalked through most of our day, feeling the need to be close to each other all day. Eventually this turned into a petty game of nitpicking at each other until we realized that we were just too overcome with emotion to even know how to handle the day-to-day. We came to our senses, understanding that loving each other was more important than being right.
Two days later, and it still doesn’t seem and more real.
My thoughts are with Mr. W’s friend who was at work when this happened. He lost his wife and his son in the very same day. I am thinking of both of their families who are also mourning the loss of this little boy.
But my thoughts also rest with this mother.
From several news stories, it is reported that after she drowned D, she attempted to drown herself. When that didn’t work, she brought D to the police station with hopes they could revive him. An officer on duty performed CPR on the boy, as did paramedics. But it was no use – he had already died. The mother was arrested at the scene.
I cannot comprehend killing my own child. And I do believe this mother will have to answer to a higher power for what she did. But I can’t help but feel compassion for this mother as well. She was overwhelmed with a special-needs child. But there’s more to the story than that. She was originally from Mexico, where all her family lives. She learned the language and culture here in the short time she’s lived here. But from what I knew of her, she was alone. When her husband went to work, she stayed behind in the house. She didn’t have any friends. She didn’t have anything except for D. More than that, she also suffered from OCD. Everything had to be perfect. It’s questioned why she didn’t seek out help with D, but the truth is, she couldn’t let anyone care for him when she knew how to do it right. The only way I can explain what happened was that this mother suffered from a lapse of sanity. How else could you kill the very person you spent so much time and energy caring for? She had to have snapped, suddenly overwhelmed with the huge burden on her shoulders.
What is she thinking now as she sits in a cold jail cell, realizing that her son is gone, her whole life is gone, because of one moment when she chose not to walk away and take a breather when caring for D got to be too much?
The comments on the news story want to point fingers at who’s to blame. Persecute the mother! Where was the father?!? Why didn’t the community know?!? But the cold truth is that a mother is in jail, a father lost his wife and son on the same day, the community feels betrayed, an extended family has no explanation, friends don’t know what to say or do – and a sweet little boy is gone forever and no amount of finger-pointing is going to bring him back.
And that’s devastating.
This week has been burdened with sorrowful news. On Friday I learned that my friend’s mother, a woman I considered as my second mother growing up, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sunday we got the call about D. And yesterday I learned that another friend’s mother, who I had been close to in my childhood, took her own life.
I feel like the sunshine has been stolen from the sky, from my life. So much loss. So I stole a little bit of sunshine from my kitchen table to help make up for the cloudy day – a jar of daffodils to look at on my office desk as I muddle through the day. And yet, my heart just isn’t into work. What’s the point? What difference does it make?
My heart is heavy.
Life is precious. Hold those you love close. Keep your eyes open for those who need your help. And if you have too much weight on your shoulders, don’t bottle it up – let others help you.