Ben came in at about 8:30 tonight, the cold air clinging to him as he spun around the living room. He’d been out with a girl — his girlfriend from high school — and a new friend, and he was beaming. I listened to him talk about the afternoon and evening they’d had, and I was marveling at how alive he was. I almost felt like I was talking to someone I didn’t know that well, this grinning guy with broad shoulders, long skinny neck and waist, hair bound back in a pony tail. He’s so grown up now that he seems to be amused by his own awkwardness. He let me cut up an apple for him, stayed downstairs with us a little bit more, and then zoomed upstairs to his laptop and cell to resume with her.
Ned and I had been alone in the house for the later part of the afternoon. We had taken Nat back at around 3, stopping with him for a treat at Starbucks before trying to find the gym where his roommates and staff were hanging out. He was anxious to get there. This was a gym we had taken him to years ago, back when an area support group (TILL, Towards Independent Learning and Living) ran a family day on Sundays. The family gym was the only place we could all play with total impunity, a precursor to our Special Olympics experiences. He’d swing on ropes and jump on the trampoline with us. Max could have fun there, too. And Ben was not yet a twinkle in Ned’s eye.
It was strange to think of how shut out from the world I felt back then: to think that there were so few places we could go where we felt comfortable, and unafraid of what Nat might be up to. The boys were so young, so bright-eyed and so much themselves. Life had not really gotten through to them yet. Max was a big-hearted little boy, his soft self showing right from his eyes, unguarded. Nat was bigger than him then. He was wiry, high-pitched, electric. He did not talk to himself back then, but he was extremely self-contained and self-sufficient. I was used to not feeling needed by him emotionally. My connections to both of them were physical, as the mommy and caregiver. I didn’t get anything back from them; it was just the selfless love you feel towards your children. Anything I got from them was given off in surprising wisps like the cold air surrounding Ben tonight.
The gym building was all locked up, and we could not figure out what happened, except that the house manager must have been operating on old information. The family gym was not there anymore. Nat asked Ned once about going to the gym, and Ned told him it was closed, and that he was going home now. Was it Nat’s disappointment that shot through me, a vestige of our past physical bond? Or was it my own? Yet he accepted the news with a calm “Okay,” and got into the van to go back. I felt the need to reassure him somehow, so I told him we’d make a pie next Friday. “Yes,” he said, and the door shut. I felt alone. But Ned took my hand and played with it, poking my palm while we drove back.
We had a date to skype with Max when we got home, and sure enough, he popped up on Instant Message as soon as I flipped open my laptop. We sat across from him, and I found I was tired and didn’t have much to say. I listened to his stories about his new girlfriend, their evacuation from New York (due to Hurricane Sandy), the friend’s house they stayed in. The next movies he’s going to make, the movies he’s seen (Wreck It Ralph, the same one Ben saw tonight with his girlriend). I had a sigh inside me, an indecipherable feeling, like I was floating above the conversation, not really a part of it.
I went upstairs after that and got under the covers. It was only 7pm. Ned let me sleep and came up as soon as I called for him. He laid down with me, on his back, while gathering me in the crook of his shoulder. He made me laugh at something, and we started talking about dinner. I threw back the covers and went downstairs to the dark cold kitchen, and made some soup. We ate together alone, in the living room, each doing our own thing but talking. Always connected. It’s a new life for us, and yet it’s an old one, too.