Essay. Doorknobs, Lamps and Love.

I wrote as a child. I started writing again after the head injury that ended my medical career. This post is because my son is turning 21. For Joseph, 21 means turning 3 for the 18th time, although he does not realize it because of his autism. My lovely boy is like Peter Pan. He may grow older, but he will never grow up. I went back to his past to find the memories that make me feel most assured everything will be ok, now and in the future.

A few months after Joseph’s second birthday, we realized he was tall enough and dexterous enough to open door knobs. My wait began for the day when I had shut him safely in the family room to run to the bathroom only to find him with me.

One afternoon after we had been playing, I came in to make patties for the grill. I put Joseph in the family room with a Winnie-the-Pooh video. Teddy, our bearded collie and Joseph’s constant companion, had decided to stay outside and let the summer breeze flow through his hair.

While I had my hands in hamburger, I heard a single bark at the door between deck and family room and began to wash my hands so I could let Teddy in. Then what to my wondering eyes should appear but Joseph, slowly backing away from the television, eyes still glued on Winnie, moving toward the door.

He opened it, let Teddy in, laughed when Ted licked his ear while going by, closed the door, and went back to the television, all the while seemingly unaware I was in the house at all.
Teddy sauntered into the kitchen to get a drink, while Mom hovered over him asking how long this had been going on. Teddy said nothing. (Joseph could say nothing. His autism had not yet been diagnosed, but I had been complaining to the doctor since he was a year old about his failure to being to talk.)

For the next holiday, we stayed with Jeff’s parents. The trip took more than seven hours in a van, with the new element that Joseph had learned how to get out of his car seat. Keeping him in was a struggle, a constant battle (too often a physical battle) to keep him amused or at least safe until we hit a stopping place. Then we wrestled him back into the car. Teddy simply slept in the back.

By the time we got to the house, it was late afternoon and we were drooping. Jeff’s parents had set up two bedrooms for us for the first time, one with a crib for Joseph and the other for us. We had talked on the phone and agreed that Joseph might sleep better (he was waking a lot over-night) in a quiet room with no distractions. The baby monitor would tell us overnight if he woke.

Jeff put Joseph down for a nap, I put myself down for a nap, and Teddy lay in the hallway between the doors while Jeff and his parents ran some errands. At some point, I was jolted out of a sound sleep by Teddy STANDING on my chest, barking and licking and thoroughly aroused. I mumbled something foul and tried to catch my breath and wake up. When I was sitting, he stood by the door, barking and milling about.

It was only in the hall that I heard Joseph’s voice, softly half-mewling, half-crying. Teddy rushed ahead of me to the crib. I stood and stared. Joseph was sitting in a pile of debris that had once been a lamp. The base was in the crib with the cord dangling downward from the height of a tall bureau. The shade, metal collar, light bulb, and other pieces were lying about in the crib.

I got everything out of the crib quickly, settled Joseph down, and looked at Teddy, who was sitting quietly. When Jeff and his parents came home, I showed them the pile of ex-lamp and asked where it had been. They had estimated Joseph’s reach and moved the lamp to the back of the bureau with a dresser scarf and some other things. They had underestimated his reach or he had crawled out of the crib. I think he saw it, stubbornly became determined to have it, and stretched himself out until he reached it.

I still don’t know what motivated Teddy to wake me as he did. He had never done it before, and he never did it again. I believe he realized Joseph was in trouble and he needed to get Mommy. I know that Teddy was our shepherd, our good shepherd, up to and including the day he died, all too young, at age 7, of a cruel autoimmune disease, lupus. Joseph was 6.

When Jeff’s father died, the last of our parents to pass, Joseph told me he had gone to Heaven to be with Teddy. Not Gran, Jeff’s mother, but Teddy. I suspect if I asked Joseph where Heaven is, he would point to the sky, and if I asked what Heaven is, he would tell me it is where Teddy is.

Some day I will tell Joseph that Mummy or Daddy needs to go to Heaven with Teddy, but we will watch him, and love him, and wait for the day we will be together. Joseph will probably nod and look forward to being with Teddy again. And that will be ok with me.
Love has many faces. Joseph was blessed to be born to Ted.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c)

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