He was banging his little legs against the cabinets as he sat on the counter by the sink. In his right hand he had an iPhone that played a YouTube video of his favorite Nick Jr show and with his left he took a hold of the back of my head, guided me to his forehead, so that I could give him a kiss. Then he wrapped both arms around my neck, momentarily okay with losing sight of the video, because he may be nonverbal and on the autism spectrum, but he was in no way obtuse. He was scheming. We both knew it.
He was as much of a five-year-old as every other five-year-old out there. He wanted off the counter, onto the floor, and for me to clear the path so that he could jump on the bed with his shoes on. A kiss and a hug were his bartering chips.
I felt used, but smiled anyway, because he’s five, and giggles when you tickle him, and teaches me a lesson on how simple it is to ask for love and to have it be returned.
Two words - “give love”. That’s all it takes for him to know that I want his love, to give him mine, and that we’re both worthy of the encounter.
He knows nothing about insecure love. Maybe because he doesn’t understand our world much or maybe because we’re too ridden in self-doubt and a need for imposed perfection to understand the magic of his. His is a world where love is simple.
In his world, hand holds that guide loved ones to exactly what you need aren’t colored in resentment and definitely don’t trigger. They’re simply helpful acknowledgements that as individuals we know our own needs best and to be able to express them to those we love should be our biggest advantage.
Proof that we complicate love the older we get is how likely we are in our twenties to lie about how much we love someone. We hide behind cold faces and rehearsed words as if saving face makes us the heroes of our own stories, instead of our most potent enemy. During the most fear-induced times, we forgo building walls entirely and instead simply stand in our own way when it comes to love. An army of one, the power of a thousand.
We disqualify ourselves from the fun, most anchored parts of love because somewhere along the way we convinced ourselves we’re only worthy of the fails, the sowing with tears, the struggle.
Every time I look at him, I realize how simple love could be if we stopped making love and relationships synonymous. Relationships are layered and so complex, they require effort because they should. You don’t suddenly partner up with your person and live happily ever after forever. Who you are at 23 isn’t who you are at 25 isn’t who you are at 25 and 113 days. We grow and a relationship that lasts needs to be able to grow with us. Because life as a duet requires rehearsal.
Love though, love just is. It matures, becomes more anchored, but it never stops being an action verb, a feeling, and a person. It’s brown eyes first thing in the morning. It’s picking up dinner for them when the writing session is too good to step away from.
It’s “give love” over and over and over again. It’s welcoming love on the forehead and in instructive handholds, over and over and over again.
I look at my nephew and I wonder why the world is so determined to pull him out of his world. I want to see him thrive, yes, but isn’t he already winning one over all of us?
He’s braver at love than all the men I’ve known. He’s more receptive to being loved by way of being taken care of than I am. He lets his body float whenever he jumps in a pool because you don’t need to know a language to feel the freedom that comes with surrendering to pure joy. He floats because he trusts that the people around him won’t let him drown.
At what point do we start losing that kind of trust in our people?
My little buddy’s world is different. There are realities that he has to live with that no one who isn’t on the autism spectrum would be able to understand. He’s sensitive to sound, practices ritualistic behaviors, and communicates through pictures. We get frustrated because sometimes we wish we spoke the same language, but I don’t know, in the most important ways I think we do.
He wraps his tiny arms around my neck because he knows I’ve got him, the fall from the counter to the floor it doesn’t seem too high if I’m there. He chooses me to guard his six as he plots a beeline to the bedroom because I sneak him chips and we’ve built up camaraderie. When I say “baby, give love,” though he doesn’t stop and weigh his options. He just loves. He expects. He gives and takes.
I’ve had a hard time expecting, well, my entire life. I’ve had a hard time giving and receiving love as of late. I wonder if I let him jump on the bed and the couch if he’ll teach me some more about loving well?
Today's essay is dedicated to World Autism Awareness Day. To learn more about autism visit Autism Speaks.