A mother I do not know says, “I am told my child cannot go to school next year because she needs a feeding tube.”
The words “feeding tube” hang in the air. Her daughter wears purple corduroy pants embroidered with princess crowns. Her legs are thin toothpicks. They kick and kick the seat in front of her. The mother says, “Most days, I put on tights, then leggings, then jeans, just to keep her warm. Just to hold up her pants.”
Another mother says, “My husband’s family is so angry with me. I am the one who got our son evaluated.”
Another mother says, “Where I come from, autism means 'alone.' 'Auto,' 'alone,' so now my mother keeps calling and saying, 'Why do you send Ibrahim to a special school? He’s just a loner.' They called him loner last weekend at my house after I spent the day cooking for them. Why does a loner need a special school? Loner, loner. I pray to God, I tell them. But why can’t my son have Allah and a special school too?”
Words in me I can’t get out. I am the perpetual listener. Locked up, mummified, my ribs like a corset, my anxiety like a cloth wrapped tight around me.
Finally, I lean into the group of women, heads huddled together in the aisle of the bus, and I say, “I had to speak to my mother… She never calls my son by name. She calls him nicknames, Sheldon and Forrest Gump. She visited and she kept shouting, 'Run, Forest, run,' in front of everyone at the park."
The mother who usually sleeps says in a low quiet voice, “My family will not visit for the holidays. They are embarrassed of him.” She wraps her cardigan around her chest like a blanket and turns away.
The one mother in the second row who is always rude starts laughing.
A mother who understands some English begins to speak. She speaks quickly in Spanish, covers her eyes, begins to cry.
The mother in the seat behind me says, “I am so lucky. My parents understand. They try to help, but my mother is in her 80s. I worry, what’s going to happen? Who will take care of him when I die? I know, I know, he’ll be in a home. But …” She trails off and looks at her two-year-old son, his skin moon-colored, a child’s skin, soft and sweet. He is reaching toward the top of the bus window. He reaches over and over again to where it is brightly lit. She leans down to his face and looks up. “What is it, honey? What is it?” Something only her son can see.