The phone just rang, “Private Caller.” It’s Tuesday, so I figured it was Nat. We had our usual conversation, something like this:
“Hi Darling! How are you?”
“So did you have a good day today?”
“What did you do?”
There’s some fumbling with words, false starts, and then: “You went swimming.”
“Oh, good! Who did you swim with?”
A pause. “Richard.”
“And where did you eat lunch?”
“Oh, that’s a nice mall.” And so on.
I don’t know why I said that, I guess I was just relieved that they went to upscale malls, not sleazy ones. I don’t mind him visiting malls regularly, don’t most Americans?
But sometimes I feel sad about his life. Not what he does, exactly, but the fact that no matter what we do, no matter how mindful staff are about self-direction, independence, Nat still has most choices made for him. And I wish that were different.
I get a tinge of pain every single time I say goodbye to him, still, after all this time. He gets picked up at 11:30 Sunday morning from his weekends here, and even if we ask him “do you want to leave in the morning or after lunch,” and he answers, it still makes me sad. It still seems like things are chosen for him. It is still a limited choice, he still doesn’t know to say, “What if I don’t want to go at all?”
Sure, you could argue that none of us has absolute freedom. Well, I’m not talking about absolute freedom. I’m talking about a normal amount. Max chooses his college, within a handful that accepted him, and he chooses his classes. He chooses his clothes, his food. He chooses his friends.
Ben has a girlfriend now. He just decided he liked this girl in his art class, and the next thing we know, he’s going out with her.
Nat sometimes seems like a prisoner of other people’s calendars, other people’s decisions. And I wonder, does he know? Is he sick to death of being treated kind of younger than he is?
Ned says, “It’s the age-old dilemma: how much does Nat know? What is he aware of?” We just don’t know and so we have to hedge our bets. We have to aim for the denominator that is the most likely. Not the lowest, never that. I aim high, and I watch and listen so carefully to see where it lands. I know now that at least he can make a true choice, he can even sometimes offer up true accounts of things. So maybe someday he will be volunteering his opinion, his ideas, his wants, on a regular basis. Declaring himself, the way Max has a major or the way Ben has a girlfriend. We have to declare ourselves somehow, don’t we? And if we can’t, and others project their own shadow shapes onto you, how do we learn to step out into the light?
As George Harrison might have said, “I really want to see you, Nat, but it takes so long, my Nat.”