My teenage autistic son's love of the water proved to me that hope does actually float.
"Holy shit. It's so damned cold.", I bleated as my thin pajama clad rump hit the freezing car seat at 5:30 a.m. this morning.
"Language, dad.", my fifteen year-old autistic son, Noah said to me from the backseat.
"Why does swim team practice have to be so early?", I asked him. My fingers were now curled angrily around the icy steering wheel.
Noah didn't answer. He just looked out the windows and softly said "Look at all the stars. There are so many of them."
I didn't look. I just grumbled something that probably made me sound like a tranquilized animal. I began to negotiate with my car to find out what conditions would need to be met in order for it to agree to try and turn over in the glacial Wyoming early morning conditions.
Not that 5:30 a.m. should be ever be classified as actual "morning". In my mind morning begins around 7 a.m. when the dog starts begins to use my scalp as a salt lick. Anytime that I have to be awake before that I become a scourge to any other organism that has the misfortune of having to come in contact with me. I am like an escaped patient from a mental institution who deftly mumbles a litany curse words and grunts. I'm a believer in Golden Rule, but only during normal office hours. If I am forced to be out of bed before the sun rises, I am a Satanist who would just as soon cannibalize a bus full of dimple-faced orphans than I would be to try and smile.
I wasn't up at 5:30 a.m. in the morning. I was up t 5:30 in the mourning.
My Car: Why are you up so early?
Me: To get my son to his high school swim team practice.
My Car: I don't want to turn on.
Me: Do you think I want to do this? Now turn on.
My Car: You can bite my muffler. I'm not going anywhere.
Me: If you turn on I promise to vacuum out for the first time since 2009.
My Car: Really?!
Me: Yes. Plus, I will get that taco out from under the passenger seat. It's been down there a while.
My Car: You don't have to worry about that anymore. The Taco became sentient two weeks ago and walked out himself. He was actually a pretty cool guy.
Me: Please start. Please start. Please start.
My Car: Fine. *Vroooom*
Eventually, after a few twists of the ignition key my car surrendered. It turned over and we began our five minute drive to Noah's high school. Nobody else was out driving. It was just us on a road that was littered with patches of Wyoming trademarked windblown black ice and roadkill.
This was only the second morning of his early morning swim practices and I was has done with it. I already don't sleep well due to a casserole of needless anxiety and worries that my asshole of a brain has hot and ready for me whenever I slide into bed at night. I need the small amount of sleep that I force myself to get.
Now even that limited amount of slumber was being taken away from me. I started wondering that now I have to get up so early to get Noah to his practice if I should just finally become a vampire. I have watched enough episodes of True Blood to know that an eternal life of sleeping during the day while having choreographed sex and drinking the blood of entitled college kids at night wouldn't be any worse than what I was doing now.
We were halfway there when I made the mortal (and nearly unforgivable) mortal sin of vocalizing my selfishness to my son.
"Why exactly are we doing this?"
"Because swimming makes me feel good."
Noah didn't wait to respond. It was like he was in a play and he was just repeating the scripted line that his director had told him to memorize and repeat once his boob of a father got done whining.
There was a time in Noah's life when he couldn't tell us what made him feel good. There was a time in his life where he could only scream and thrash around to communicate with us. Autism had such a lock on his heart that there was never any way for his mom and me to ever really know what he needed. Now, just twelve years removed from his diagnosis, I am now driving him to a team sport at a high school where he has been fully integrated into.
Noah loves being in the water. I imagine that he took to it early because when he was younger he craved constant pressure on his body. Even during the darkest of days with his autism, Noah could always find peace underwater. As it turns out despair doesn't know how to swim. There were a lot of angels in his life that helped guide him to where he is now — but without swimming I'm not sure if he would have made the progress he has.
I shouldn't use the word "progress" because it seems like a underwhelming description of the transformation that Noah has undergone over the past decade. Ten years ago, Noah was a mystery to me. He was stuck inside his body and I was stuck inside my head. During these ten years I have watched him bravely fight his way out of the knots that had him roped to show me who he is.
Noah is courage and love incarnate. There is no obstacle that he cannot overcome and there is not a soul on Earth that he won't love. Noah doesn't just "forgive and forget" — he "forgives and hugs it out".
Before the sun even thought about rising this morning I was reminded about what a horse's ass I can be.
While I was been auditioning for the role of "Super Martyr Dad" I was missing out on the miracle that was craning his neck against the fogged up window in awe of the stars that hung over us as we drove. Noah has come so far and I haven't. I'm still being selfish and acting like any act of parenting is such a hardship.
One of these days I will get it. One of these days I will figure out that I'm not here to just drive my kids around — but I'm here to witness the butterfly emerge from a cocoon.
Swimming makes him feel good.
Swimming makes him feel good.
Swimming makes him feel good.
His words were my mantra as I continued our journey to the swimming pool. If anybody deserves to feel good it is Noah. My son is going to change the world someday, but he just needs a little more time in the pool first. Suddenly, the roads seemed less treacherous, and my car seat less cold. Like the Blues Brothers, we were on a mission from God. I turned on the radio and began to sing a long with Of Monsters And Men with my fingers now tapping along to "King And Lionheart".
"Taking over this town, they should worry
But these problem aside,
I think I taught you well
That we won't run, we won't run, we won't run
And in the winter night
sky ships are sailing
Looking down on these
bright blue city lights
And they won't wait,
they won't wait, they won't wait
We're here to stay, we're here to stay,
we're here to stay
Howling ghosts they reappear in mountains that are stacked with fear
But you're a king and
I'm a lionheart, a lionheart"
We pulled into the school parking lot. Next to my car was another father who had the same 5:30 a.m. serial killer haircut that I was sporting. We made brief eye contact with each other. We were the early morning brother in arms that were driving our kids to there destiny. The father looked over at me and shook his head in anger. It was clear that he was not pleased to be schlepping his kid to a predawn swim practice. He hadn't had the epiphany that I was granted. I smiled back at him, which I have no doubt made him even angrier.
Noah gathered up his belongings and opened the car door.
"Shit, Noah, I am so proud of you", I said without really even thinking about it.
"Language, Dad.", Noah replied while shutting the door.
He began his march towards the propped open swimming pool door. The early morning stars shone brightly overhead, but the star I saw walking into the door was the brightest thing I have ever seen.
I get to repeat this drive tomorrow morning. I am already looking forward to it. I think I'm starting to get it.
I am the driver, and Noah is my Lionheart.