Essay by Emily Boring
The girl on the bench was the first voice of doubt in my kindergarten mind. One drizzly recess we sat, shivering in sweatshirts and sneakers and pink socks. I didn’t really know her. She was one of those kids who walks up to every girl in the grade and asks, “Do you want to be best friends?” and then ignores you after a day. She had accosted me with this very question that morning, and I had been cold and lonely and didn’t want to play monkey bars or king-of-the-slide with my other classmates, so I agreed. Hence, my position on the wet metal bench beside her.
I was watching the monkey bar acrobats and tasting the drizzle when she asked.
“Your little brother. What’s wrong with him?”
The words dripped harder and colder than rain.
My head spun as I tried to puzzle out what she might mean. And it was a puzzle, like the ABC jigsaw that I had proudly finished that morning. What could be wrong with Aaron? I silently wondered. I didn’t think he was sick or hurt. I grew worried. What could this girl possibly mean? I twirled my chilly fingers, damp and red, wished for sunshine and answers. And then oh! A thought … Was she talking about how Aaron sometimes hit or threw things or even pulled my hair when he was angry? Had she noticed that he was three-years-old but couldn’t speak a sentence? Had she seen that he wore glasses that didn’t quite hide his unfocused looks sometimes?
As far as I could tell, none of my friends’ younger brothers did these things. But did that mean Aaron was wrong? I had always accepted my brother’s actions as unavoidable characteristics, normal as his brown eyes and sandy hair and joyful laugh. It had never occurred to me to think of my brother as anything but different.
Unready to answer to the cold rain and my colder maybe-friend, I asked a question of my own.
“When have you met my brother?”
“He came with your mom to drop you off at school last week,” she confessed. “He seems kind of …” she glanced furtively around us, “weird.”
“He’s not weird. He’s different.” It was a statement, not a defense.
That afternoon, my mouth full of apple snack and chatter about school games and music class and the picture I had drawn that day, I asked my mom the question from recess.
“What is wrong with Aaron?”
And that’s when I learned the meaning of the word autism.