Most of the time when people ask you what it’s like to have a child with autism, they don’t really want an answer. Sometimes they’re showing polite interest, and sometimes, they are just making sure you know that your situation is not one they envy.
But every now and then I can see the question is sincere. The person is wondering if I compare my life now to before I had that Olive and think about how much easier things were then. Did God bestow me with the autistic child and fresh horses of patience simultaneously, somehow making me different from the person asking the question?
Here is what it’s really like,
I will say. And if I’m correct and the person really is asking the question honestly, he or she will bear with me on a short excursion that may initially sound off-topic.
* * *
When I was in my early twenties, I lived in Los Angeles and flew in and out of LAX many times. Back then flying was something almost enjoyable, and I preferred to take flights that arrived in LAX at night.
Planes that come in from the East on nights when the wind is at ten knots or greater go out over the Pacific Ocean on their final approach, and for a minute or so you see nothing but the blackness of the water and sky. I loved to feel the plane arc and then, suddenly, the city was upon me, its lights muted by red haze.
I bristle when this haze is referred to as “smog,” because that’s not what it is. There’s something much more complicated going on: weather things like cold air and warm air and inversion and high pressure and the dish-like shape of Los Angeles itself.
Nevertheless, there was a time when I would see all that red, semi-solid matter and think to myself, “I’m going to land in that? I’m going to breathe that?” Maybe for a second I looked to the other side of the plane for a glimpse back at the black Pacific.
But then the plane would land and the red haze would quickly become part of the landscape, something I only noticed on clear nights after a rain, and then only because it was temporarily gone. The rest of the time I lived in the red haze and I breathed it and I worked in it and fell in love in it because Los Angeles is a city unlike any other: it is a vast and lonely crowded sprawl.
Very quickly, I stopped thinking about the place I left behind.