I Learn How to Love and Forgive from My Son

*All the names and characters in this story are fictive. This story is written to increase awareness about Autism and to encourage people to be mindful when they meet someone who has Autism.*

I remembered how happy I was when I learned that I was pregnant. I was married at 35 years old, and my in-laws were worried that I would have difficulty to conceive a child. My marriage itself is kind of outside the norm in our Asian culture, mainly because I am married to a guy who is four years younger than I am. My husband is a loving guy who treats me equally. He allows me to work and do things that I like to do. In short, our marriage is a happy marriage.

I gave birth to a cute baby boy at 36 years old. We named him Jeremiah, and we celebrated his presence by throwing a fantastic party. Jeremiah grew healthy, and his milestone was on track. At 2 years old, I noticed something odd with Jeremiah. His speech skills seemed to regress. He used to wave and call me “Mama,” but his words were disappeared. We took him to a child psychologist and were advised to take ADOS test. The psychologist suspected that Jeremiah might have Autism. I cried when she said that, but I braved myself to take the test. Four weeks later, it was confirmed that Jeremiah had mild Autism. I cried every night for about a week. I tried to tell myself the result was wrong, but I also recognized that he lost his speech and he became avoidance. Our daily schedules were changed ever since we found out that Jeremiah had Autism. Therapists were coming in to our house and we also transported Jeremiah to see another therapist outside home. I signed up for ABA courses. I even attempted to put Jeremiah on a strict diet. However, my husband was against this idea. He said we better kept him in behavioral therapies instead of strict diet.

Jeremiah started to talk a bit at four years old. We were able to put him in a regular school, though it was a hard work. My husband used everything he could do to keep Jeremiah in school. We demanded his school to give Jeremiah extra lessons to catch up missing work. It was an exhausting process, but we would not give up for Jeremiah.

Bad words about me started to show up, as soon as people learned about Jeremiah’s Autism. They blamed me for bringing bad genes. I wanted to smack them, but I knew it wasn’t appropriate. Jeremiah knew when I was sad. He would come and hugged me tightly. He said “It’s ok, Mommy.” When the school called me to inform that Jeremiah had a hard time in the classroom, he would look at me with teary eyes and said “Sorry, Mommy.” Parents who did not know about Jeremiah’s diagnosis often blamed me for not teaching rules to him. However, parents whose children also have special needs, though it is not Autism, understood my situation. We made a group chat via WhatsApp, and we shared tips. This group chat has supported me to survive and raise Jeremiah. I deeply thank my husband who against all odds and difficulties, he is always on my side.

Jeremiah is 17 years old now. He will graduate from high school next June. We are not sending him to a college. Instead, we bring a teacher in to teach him baking and cooking. Jeremiah loves baking cookies. Ever since he was young, he enjoyed watching Food Network and asked me to buy ingredients so that he could bake and cook. We plan to sharpen his skills and hope that he could earn money through baking and cooking. Through Jeremiah, I learn how to love unconditionally. He is teaching me to forgive those who talk bad about us. Jeremiah is a loving child. His Autism does not stop him from being a lovable person and most importantly do not block him from pursuing his passion.

The Return of Hans

**All names and characters in this story are fictive.**

The last time Susan spoke with Hans was on Christmas day, 5 years ago. Hans is neither her best friend nor her special friend. He is simply a mutual friend, but he has been around her for 8 years. Susan doesn’t say much to him because she thinks if she has no special interest toward him, she should not try to get his attention. On the other hand, Hans occasionally sends a random message on important events, like birthday and Christmas. Not every year, it’s only when he feels he wants it.

Susan has been keeping herself busy with her job as a hospital director. Seeking a love mate is not her priority. She thinks getting married is a hassle and even if she decides to get married, finding the right guy seems a hard task for her, perhaps even harder than running a hospital. She fell in love twice in her life, but Cupid was not on her side. She had a nice guy back when she was in school, but she decided to let him go because she thought it was too early for her to commit in a romantic relationship. Hans was among the guys whom she was introduced with when she was in a college. Hans was a serious guy at that time, and perhaps still, and this somewhat scared Susan. A friend asked her why she did not want to date Hans, and Susan said Hans was too serious and appeared to be rigid. She disliked that kind of feeling. Too much expectation. Susan left every possible romantic relationship up in the air with any guys who is fond of her. This becomes her expertise. Love life is just not her thing, and she can’t explain why.

After so long not talking each other, Susan was surprised to hear news from Hans. Their conversation was about holiday activities, and as usual, Susan kept it short and simple. Two weeks after their first phone talk, Hans sent him a message. This time he said, “Hey, I will be back home for a vacation. A short visit, a week. Would it be okay if I visit your workplace when I am in town?” Susan kept that message, not sure what she would say. This morning, Susan replied. “Ok. Come to my workplace. I’ll send you the address.”

Three weeks later…

Hi, I’ve just arrived this morning. Are you busy this afternoon? Can I stop by?

Susan replies immediately. “Sure, How about 1 o’clock?” I have free time about an hour and after that I’ve got to see a client at 2.”

Yes. That sounds good to me! I will visit my sister after that.”

Hans’s little sister is married already, and she has three kids. Her little sister is a chatty person. Her personality is the opposite of Hans’s personality.

Beep..beep…

Yes.”

Maam, your guest is here. His name is Hans. Should I let him in?

Yes.”

Hey, Susan! Long time no see! You are looking great as always and doesn’t change that much since the last time I saw you.”

Hahaha.. how are you Hans? How’s life on the other side of the earth?

Both Susan and Hans are studying in the United States. They both worked in the States, but in different cities. Susan left home for good, while Hans remained in the States.

So, this is your office. Looking nice and you have a nice view from here.

Thank you! So, what’s up?”

” Nothing new. I saw your travel pictures on Instagram. It looked like you traveled to different places. Meanwhile, I worked like a hell. Your last picture on Instagram made me to come home.

What???

“Yes, I’ve always read your captions. The last picture made me booked a ticket. It’s last minute. But, it feels good to be back home.”

How long are you going to be in town?

A week. I have a few important meetings next week, so I must return to work next week.”

I see.”

Hm, are you dating anyone right now?

Nope.”

Why? You are not young anymore, you know?

Yes, I am aware of that, but I like to live this kind of life.

Are you serious??

Susan doesn’t know what to say. She smiles. She wonders why this guy is here and asks such a direct question.

Susan, I am here because I have been thinking of you all these years. The last time you rejected me was my devastating moment. I was mad at you, so I didn’t look for you for a while.”

“I see. I am sorry.”

However, you are always on my mind. I even remember your birthday. So, I still text you even if your answer is short.”

“I know. I am sorry again for giving you a hard time.”

“No, you don’t have to feel sorry. So, this is the reason I am coming home. I want to ask you to go on a date with me. What do you think?”

“Susan, listen to me. We both are not young anymore. You have impressed me so much years ago and still. Don’t you think we should try?”

“Hans, thank you for expressing your feeling. Can we talk about this another time?”

“Susan, what are you waiting for?”

“I just need more time. You come home and suddenly ask this type of question. I am not ready to answer.”

“Sigh. Fine, Susan. Let’s talk about it later. I’ve got to go. Let’s meet again before I fly back to the States.”

“Sure.”

Hans is still a guy with straight forward personality. Susan, again, feels the pressure. The same kind of pressure that Hans asked him years ago.

Susan remains quiet. She meets Hans one last time before he returns back to the States. They eat together and spend hours talking about almost anything. Hans could date another girl, but he insists on dating with her. Susan doesn’t get it, but Hans is a good guy. Even if she doesn’t end up with Hans or when he is giving up on her, Susan hopes that he will find a nice girl who will treat him like a king and treasure him like a diamond.

Should she accept him? Should she say no? Susan does not know when it is the right time to say “yes.” Her mouth is just so hard to say it.

Love Without Borders

Lela wakes up with the sound of birds chirping outside her window. She has unusual dream, a kind of dream that she never expected it. Today is her birthday. She is officially 34 years old and has no intention to celebrate it. Feeling lazy on her birthday, she grabs her phone to check if her parents called her. Instead, she sees 100 notifications. All of them are birthday wishes. Lela feels shock as she spots a message from her long lost friend, doctor. His real name is Dave, but Lela called him Doctor.

Hi, Lela! It’s me, Dave. How have you been? I am back home. Happy Birthday! Can we meet?

Lela doesn’t sure what she should type back at him. Her mind wanders to the last time they spoke to each other….

17 years ago….

“Hey, Lela! You must check this out,” said Anny.

“Whaaat?? Don’t you see I am busy???” replied Lela.

“Come on! Look! Our school got a new transfer student yesterday, and he is super smart.”

“So what?” said Lela.

“Well, he is smart and has a good body, like the one you see in a movie.” said Anny

“Hah! You are ridiculous! I’ve got to go. I have to help my Mom cleaning the house.”

“Lelaaa!! You are so boring!”

“Hahaha” Lela swings her bag and kisses Anny’s cheek.

Lela is the youngest child in her family. Her older sister is already in a college, and Lela is excited to start her college, too, next year. She wants to be a nurse, so she makes sure she gets accepted at the nursing program. She is not interested in discussing any other topics except nursing program.

Lela meets Dave for the first time during science lab. Dave is her lab partner. Earlier, Anny has been telling her that Dave is the guy she told her about the other days. Lela glances at Dave, and she doesn’t see anything spectacular from him. She admits that Dave indeed has an athletic body and doesn’t look nerdy just like other typical smart boys. The problem is that Dave is a straightforward guy who will point every mistake Lela has made during lab, and this bothers her so much. Dave criticizes Lela almost about everything, up to the point that she swears she won’t meet Dave again.

The turning point of their relationship happens when Lela is coming to school with a pale face. She insists to come to school despite of her diarrhea because she doesn’t want to miss a test. In the lab, Lela hardly could concentrate because she feels dizzy and weak. Dave notices that Lela doesn’t look well, and when he sees that Lela is fainted, he quickly catches her and brings Lela to clinic. Lela thanks Dave for helping her, and they become friends since this moment.

Lela and Dave argue less during science lab as they become friends. They often chat at the cafeteria after school is finished. Lela later learns that Dave wants to be a surgeon like his Dad. He hopes to attend a medical school in the University of Pittsburgh. Dave tells her that his Dad is a doctor, too, and he graduates from the University of Pittsburgh. He wants to follow his Dad’s footstep.

Lela and Dave occasionally do movie dates and dine out whenever possible. Dave convinces Lela to apply for the nursing program at the University of Pittsburgh, so that they could stay together. She agrees to apply for the same school, but fate says something else. Lela is not accepted at the nursing program. She feels devastated and decides to take one year break joining Peace Corp. Dave feels bad, too because he is looking forward to spending college years together with Lela in Pittsburgh. Right before sending Lela off to India for Peace Corps, Dave gives her a Tiffany’s key pendant. He tells Lela that the pendant is a promise from him to her that he will wait for her.

One year post Peace Corp…

Dave nervously stands among other people outside the international arrival gate at JFK airport. Lela is coming home after completing her Peace Corp assignment in India. He spots Lela and quickly waves at her. He hugs Lela tightly. Lela gets tanned skin, loses a lot of weight, but still has pretty smile. They spend one night in New York before getting on a bus to Pittsburgh the next day. While on the bus, Lela tells Dave that she has been applying for a school in the Fall. She decides that she wants to be a teacher, so she applies for the special education program in New York. Upon hearing this, Dave feels disappointed because again, he wants Lela to stay close to him. Acknowledging Dave’s feeling, Lela explains to Dave that her feeling towards him won’t get affected by the distance between them. The distance between Pittsburgh and New York are not that far, visiting each other shouldn’t be an issue. Dave remains quiet as Lela said this to him. Inside, he just dislike the idea because he wants Lela to live in the same town with him. He has no worries with his school because he knows that he is excelled in this part, but living separate from Lela somehow worries him.

September that year

Dave helps Lela moving in to the dorm. They spend the rest of their afternoon strolling around the city. Dave asks Lela to come to Pittsburgh during homecoming weekend because he wants Lela to meet his parents. The last time Lela met Dave’s parents was on the high school graduation. Dave’s face looks exactly like his Dad. His younger brother was still in middle school at that time. Dave is a family man and will prioritize family matter above anything else.

Lela enjoys her school and life in New York. New York’s lifestyle suits her life preference because it allows her to meet people from all over the countries. She secretly signs up for another summer global program in which she will work abroad for three months. She has not told Dave about this because she knows Dave won’t like it. Lela is debating whether she should tell Dave about this, or maybe convince him to attend the program.

The homecoming weekend is here. Lela finally meets Dave and his family. It’s a good weekend for Dave because he wants Lela to meet his parents. Dave is very organized and well-planned, while Lela is a free spirit, does things when she feels she wants to do it. This becomes one of the major issues in their relationships.

Lela tells Dave about her plan for Summer before she is returning to New York. She asks Dave to join with her. Dave refuses to do it because he will start his medical shadowing that Summer. He lets Lela to fly solo because he knows there’s nothing he could do to stop her. Lela’s next stop is Indonesia. She will teach students with Autism through Global Autism Project in rural area in Indonesia. Lela begs Dave to visit her in Indonesia so that they could visit Bali before going back to the States. Dave doesn’t say much.

Every time Dave sends Lela to a foreign country, his heart aches. He kisses her forehead and tells her to be careful. Lela smiles and waves to Dave for the last time before proceeding to the immigration area.

Dave stops picking up Lela at the airport. He is quite busy with his medical school. They don’t talk each other until Christmas. Both of them realize that the spark between them is fading. Dave’s mind is occupied with school and getting ready for his residency. Lela, on the other hand, is busy with her global mission to educate children with special needs in developing countries.

Despite their fading relationship, Lela manages to attend Dave’s graduation. She is proud of him and is admiring his work. Dave is moving to New York to live closer to Lela. He doesn’t want to let go Lela. Moving closer eventually doesn’t fix their stranded relationship. People said high school love usually doesn’t last that long. This apparently is a true scenario for them. Lela and Dave agrees to take a break after six years of dating. Dave remains working in New York. He pursues a speciality program in New York, while Lela is working as a teacher in Brooklyn. She travels abroad every Summer. They don’t talk much, but still manage to see each other every major holiday like Thanksgiving and Christmas. One night, Dave calls Lela and asks to meet. Dave tells Lela that he will join Doctors Without Borders. He gives Lela a wooden box and asks him to open the box tomorrow morning.

The next day, Lela opens the box. Inside, Dave left instructions to ask Lela to open the letter one day at a time. Lela cries as she opens the first letter.

Hi Lela, how are you today?

I must be on the plane en route to Africa. I never been to Africa before, so this must be exciting, right?!

Do you miss me? I missed you that much the first time you were off to India.

Ok, that’s all I have today.

Kiss and hugs,

Dave.

Dave left 730 letters for Lela. Some letters were blank, some were filled with poems, and some were photos they were taken years back. Lela and Dave lost contact after that because Dave apparently extended his job contract.

Here and Now, present time (2018)

Lela’s mind is back to a reality. She types back to Dave.

Hey! Are you in New York?

I heard from your brother that you finally finished your specialty program last year. I was in Australia for the past 2 years. I taught special education and just returned back to the States early this year.

Yes, we can meet.

3 secs later, Dave is texting…

Yes, I am in New York.

Do you want to meet in Laduree cafe downtown? Today, 6 pm?

Lela types back, Suree. See you!

Lela feels nervous as she has not seen Dave for a long time. Lela spends her day searching for a nice dress to wear. She decides to wear a green-jade color dress. She still wears the pendant necklace that Dave gave to her long time ago.

Dave waves at Lela. He looks a bit old, while Lela still looks the same just like the old time. He wonders how that’s possible. He hugs Lela and wishes her a happy birthday. They enjoy dinner together, and before they leave the cafe, Dave presents her with a Tiffany’s box. Lela opens the box and sees a ring. Dave tells her it’s a birthday gift. He also expresses his desire to reconnect their relationship, now that they both are living in the same town.

Lela nods her head. Reading 730 letters that Dave left for her convinced her that she and Dave will reunite once again. And when they reunite, she will stay with him, and so she fulfills her promise.

34 is not a bad age. She gets her long lost soul mate. Her old high school crush. The one she used to miss days and nights. Time and distance prove that a true love eventually will bring you back to the same person.

Epilogue

Lela and Dave hold their initimate wedding in Bali in December that year. The wedding is attended by their family members.

Do you know how much I love you?

I have loved you more than you love me.

I have been watching you long before you start to watch over me.

I have been imagining what life would look like with you on my side.

I have been hoping to hold your hands before you even had the idea.

You must be special because I have been waiting for you all these years.

Are you my shoes?

Are you my shoes?

I am looking for a pair of comfortable shoes. The one that will comfort my feet and support me wherever I go and in everything that I do.

I am looking for a pair of shoes that will not run from me because it is afraid that it will walk on smooth and rough roads.

I am looking for a pair of shoes that will make me look presentable. I don’t need to look fancy like those socialites. So long as I look clean and neat, it’s good enough for me.

I am looking for a pair of shoes that will last long. It won’t break easily. It would accompany me years whether I am in high or low mood.

Where can I find all of these types of shoes? Maybe the right shoes will come upfront. I don’t need to search for one.

** p.s. this poem is also appeared on Instagram: 1001diarycollections

You are Still My Home

This the final chapter of the love story between Gray Cloud and Sonny Sunshine. The three other previous stories could be assessed in this blog with the title “2gether is Better Than One,” “You are My Home,” and “On My Way to London.

London has been good to Gray. She loves the city and her new job. Gray admitted that it was not easy for her to interview parents about their journeys raising children with medical illnesses. She often had to hide her tears as she was listening to their stories. The editorial team at work has been helpful to her, and this has made Gray felt relieved. She kept herself busy and often forgot to call Sonny. She used to think about Sonny day and night, but now, she likes her solitude life here in London.

“Hey, Gray ! Your friend is here. He has been waiting for you all day long,” said Cassie, Gray’s housemate.

“What?? Who? I don’t expect any guests…”

“Well, he’s sitting on the couch and reading a book. Go see him.”

Gray enters the room and sees Sonny sitting in the living room. She is speechless.

“Hey, Gray! Long time no see you! No food in London?? You are super skinny!!” said Sonny as he walking toward Gray. He then hugged her tight and kissed her forehead. His heart feel warm and happy.

“What?!? You don’t say anything to me? Like how handsome I am now??” said Sonny. “Ha ha ha ha.”

“Why are you here?” asked Gray.

“Of course, I am here to visit you. I am jealous that you could fly to England meanwhile I am stuck at work.”

“But, you love your job.”

“Hahahaha, well, I love you more than my job.” replied Sonny.

Gray rolled her eyes as she heard this.

They both went out for dinner after that. Gray couldn’t believe that Sonny flew all the way from Singapore to London to see her. Sonny hasn’t changed that much. He is still a man with countless jokes, though he is completely a different person when he is on the job. She could tell how happy Sonny is from the look on his face and eyes.

Sonny, indeed, is a very happy guy at this moment. He just cannot hide his excitement from Gray. He doesn’t want to let go Gray’s hand from his hand. Occasionally, he pulls Gray closer and kisses her cheek. This sounds childish, but he is a happy guy. As he holds her hand, he is thinking, he doesn’t want to return to Singapore alone. He wants Gray to come back to Singapore with him. He just have to find the right time to convince Gray.

Sonny doesn’t have to wait because Gray actually senses that Sonny is hiding something from her, and she wants to know the truth now.

“Tell me again why you are here?”

“Hahahaha. I told you the reason.”

“No, it has to be something else.. do you get into a trouble back home??”

“Nooo!!! Hahaha” Sonny continues to laugh and shakes his head.

“You want the truth?” said Sonny

“Yes, please.”

“I am here to convince you to come home with me. I mean, I want us to live and build a family together.”

“You know I am sick right?” asked Gray

“Yes, I know, I am the one who has always been there for you. I still want to live with you.”

“What if I am too sick and cannot have kids?”

“Gray, I don’t care. We could buy a dog.”

“Now, what if I die?”

“Come on, Gray! You will not die. If you die, I still want to live with you before you die.”

“I don’t want to leave London.”

“I figure you will say this. I will still wait for you. I have to go back to S’pore this Friday, but I will visit you again soon. The point is I want you and I live together. Remember what I said in the past? Two is better than one. So, you can’t live here alone because I won’t let you live alone.”

Sonny hugs Gray and whispers, “Now, will you dance with me? Because I am tired arguing with you.”

They dance without a background music in the bedroom.

Sonny suddenly pulls out a Tiffany’s box and asks Gray to open it.

Inside the box, Gray sees a ring covered with diamonds.

“Because you are way too precious for me, so this ring represents how I feel about you and our journey. You could keep it, and please wear the ring on your way back home.”

“You are still and always be my home, Gray. Come home with me, because I am your home. You have to admit it.”

Soulmate

The journey of looking for a soulmate is like waiting for a bus that is running late. You see your fellows were getting picked up by their buses one by one. They are waving good bye at you and wishing you luck before they stepped on the bus. You made a sigh every time your fellow said it, but you figured you could handle it. You kept saying, it’s not the end of the world anyway. 

Hours have passed, and you have been waiting for too long and was getting tired making multiple phone calls tried to reach the bus operators that were always busy. The schedule said the bus should have been arrived, but it did not. You checked your phone’s battery power and saw that you have 10% left. 

You decided to walk and hope to see your bus somewhere (hopefully), than standing at the bus stop for nothing. As you walked home, you met various people from different backgrounds. You met a fellow who then lent his power cord to you and chatted for a few hours while you waited for the battery to have at least 80% power. You were parted with this fellow and continued on your journey. A faithful heart is a must in order to survive on this journey. A clear mind with positive thinking will help you to come up with plans (what if there is no bus), but it is God’s grace and guidance that will make the way.