The hits just keep comin’ tonight, and each one has completely blindsided me. Joshua’s excitement about our visitors is mounting as the hours tick down, but it’s also prompted questions I wasn’t prepared to answer.
I try really hard to be completely candid and natural with him when our conversation lends itself to a mention of my ex who lived with us last spring/summer. She and Joshua had a really good bond for several months before she moved back to Maine, and while I know he felt the shift in her as time passed with us all living together, I know he held out hope even after she bailed without so much as a goodbye to him, that she would call to say hi someday. While I initiated the breakup and know it came far later than it should have (and really, there never should have been a second chance for this relationship to begin with), I too had hoped that the part of her that had broken down on the phone with me the day mom and I filed the guardianship papers, the part that claimed to long for us to be a real family, the part that put Joshua to bed over the phone every night for two months, would show up for long enough to reassure him that what I’d said was true, that she didn’t leave because of him, that she loved him and always would. Even if it was a lie. But instead, she said she didn’t see how that was her responsibility, and left me to comfort a confused and hurt 13 year old Aspie whose hero had walked away while he was at camp without so much as a note.
It took a lot for me to maintain a neutral position when the topic came up now and again over the months following the breakup. I cried harder telling him she was gone than I had at any point of my own process around it – for me, her moving out was just a formality, a finality. But he didn’t see it coming, and how could he? Just days before he left for camp, she was talking to him about what kind of dog would be best for us to get when we moved into a house.
I felt like the bad guy then, because I elected, one last time, to protect her – to say to Joshua all the things she should have, but didn’t. But this time, I covered her ass for his sake, not for hers. And tonight, when he asked me how she’s doing, and said he wished she would call sometime, all I could do was tell him I wasn’t sure, but that I think she’s doing really well, and that I was sure she would want to hang out with him and still cares, but it’d be hard because of the differences she and I had. I know they say people with Asperger’s lack empathy, but I’m here to tell you they just experience and express it differently than most of us do, because it was clear that he could read my discomfort; I only hoped that he thought it was sadness about the relationship ending and not at having to tell him what I wished, as opposed to what I believed to be the truth. To save him from the awkwardness of having to comfort me and not even knowing the real reason, I apologized and said, “Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and I’ll date someone cool again someday. Hey, it could happen!” And he laughed and I smiled, and it was done.
Then, unrelated conversation later prompted him to ask if we’d be going to Salisbury beach this year. Our family has camped there every summer for 30+ years, and Joshua looks forward to it (as long as he can bring or use someone’s handheld electronics while we’re there). I had to tell him I really don’t know, and then realized I’d not yet told him of our aunt and uncle’s very recent divorce. While my grandmother started and has maintained the beach/camping tradition all these years, my aunt and uncle have been the anchor site and the ones to take care of everyone and everything for a decade or more. I don’t know who’s going. I don’t know if this family trip has come to the end of the line. But I do know that once again, I felt like I’d failed Joshua for not being able to protect him from the painful realities life throws at us.
I know I can’t protect him from everything, and eventually I won’t be here to be a buffer at all. I know I need to prepare him to manage his feelings around these sorts of things and not try to keep him from feeling sadness or confusion. But I also know that this kid has been abandoned and neglected so often and for so long that I’m just not ready to throw him to the wolves just yet. So maybe my rules around me having company are a little too stringent, or maybe I don’t introduce him to as many people as I should. But I’ll be damned if he’s going to be hurt by one more person in a situation I could have prevented. The time will come when he will have to decide for himself if the benefits outweigh the potential hurts. This isn’t that time. Not yet.