As she got down from the train she felt her heart picking up speed. This station was so familiar to her. The signage, the trains, their hallmark fog and the open blue sky above. She stood for sometime trying to inhale the familiar smell of this place. Memories came rushing back vividly. No other place in this world held the type of attraction that this place had. No other place felt so much like home. After all, this was where she had first met him.
As she entered the family room she heard the familiar whispering. Her mother-in-law and husband were sitting huddled on the couch. She felt an unease in her stomach. She couldn’t hear them but knew what they were talking about. They both looked up at the same time and smiled broadly at her. She was again reminded of how much Andrew looked like his mother. From the high cheekbones up to the receding hairline, he was his mother’s son in looks. He walked like her too. He also had a loud and hurried manner of speaking. He was quick with jokes that he didn’t think too much about before cracking. He was always ready with a laugh. He lost his temper quickly .
“Hi Sandra! I didn’t know you were here”.
As soon as the words left her mouth she realized she had offended her.
“Andrew was lonely”, Sandra replied in an uptight and slightly high voice.
Lonely? She wondered. What’s lonely when you’re 41 years old? If truth be told she would’ve liked to be left alone sometimes . But the noise followed her wherever she went.
“Mom! I wasn’t lonely. I knew Cassie was going to be home anytime”. Andrew laughed. He winked at her.
She took a deep breath and smiled a fake smile.
“I’m glad you could come over, Sandra. Did you bring something for us too?”
She knew Sandra liked to feed her son all home-cooked meals.
Sandra immediately brightened up. Food was her strength. Kitchen was her territory. Men and their appetites and their gustatory delights were her guilty pleasure. To her, life was best spent either eating or cooking. She didn’t think there was much else to life than that.
“Of course, dear! Why don’t you change into a more comfortable outfit? I’ll set the table”.
She kept running the brush through her hair. She continued to mull over her chat with her best friend yesterday. She wanted to talk to Andrew about it but she couldn’t. She knew how he felt about it and she wasn’t going to start another argument.
“Miriam doesn’t get it. She’s not married yet. Marriage is about both of us making the same decisions.”
Is it? A tiny voice spoke up in her head.
She sighed and set the brush aside. Tuesdays were her days off from work. She loved her work but looked forward to Tuesdays. Today was all hers. She could do whatever she wanted to.
Thirty minutes later she was at her favorite spot at the park, lost in thought, watching kids play, trying to hear her mind talk, but getting distracted by the chatter around her.
She again tried to reorganize her thoughts. She had to talk to Andrew about this. It wasn’t fair that her husband couldn’t deal with a conversation. It wasn’t fair that she had to tread so lightly around him. It wasn’t fair that her mother-in-law had openly shown her distaste for her alternative plans. She cringed at how Sandra had yelled and screamed at the mention of this idea.
“But Sandra doesn’t control me. Andrew is my husband. Sandra has no right to tell us what to do. Andrew will have to put a stop to it”.
Will he? The tiny voice spoke up again. She got up to leave for home.
She could feel Andrew’s body tensing up beside her. His breathing quickened. The silence in the room got thicker. She waited with baited breath but no words came from him.
“Think about it, Andrew! May be that’s our path. We have endured so much. Why don’t we at least think about it? Talk about it? Do you not want me to be happy?”
“I don’t know why you’re so ungrateful. You have never said a word of thanks in your life. You don’t realize that what you have all made for you is so many women’s dream. You live a life that no one in your family ever imagined. What is it, Cassie? You work a measly job at the super market to prove what? That I can’t provide for you or that you’re too independent for me? And it’s okay that you do that. It’s okay that you like to go out and find something to do with your time. But please change your cavalier views about our life and our future. We are not kids anymore. You’re almost 40. I’ve known you for twenty years. You haven’t changed at all”.
“What do you mean I haven’t changed?”
“How have you changed?”
“Why do you want me to change?”
He turned to her, his expression soft. His eyes were his best feature. He had the deepest brown eyes, that had an openness and honesty in them. She felt like staring into them forever. May be that’ll take the edge off.
“Cassie! You can’t go through IVF again. You have had eight miscarriages. Eight. I can’t do this anymore. Each time you lose a baby, I lose a baby too. I don’t know how you do it but I can’t”.
“Can we adopt, Andrew?”
She felt the tension building up in his body.
“I won’t have an adopted kid become a part of my life. I can’t leave my hard-earned money to an adopted kid. I can’t ever love someone else’s kid”.
“But he’ll be ours when we will raise him. He will become a part of…..”
Andrew left the room. She wondered why the room was warmer now.
” I don’t think you have any place in this, Sandra! I would stay away if I were you”.
Sandra looked at her incredulously. She stared at her. She didn’t like people standing up to her. She couldn’t let Cassie get away with it.
“I don’t like the tone of your voice, dear”.
She bit her lip. Andrew looked tense again. He seemed to be distant, neutral, non confrontational. Exactly how he was each time she and his mother got into an argument.
She wondered if Sandra thought bossing her was okay. She took a deep breath and said,
“I understand that you want to be involved. But I feel suffocated by it. This is a child that I have a chance at having. Why would you not let me be happy? It’s between Andrew and I. I don’t see how you’re getting affected by it. I won’t discuss this with you”.
Sandra’s nostrils flared. Her entire body shook a little before she stomped out of the family room.
Cassie watched her cross the street and go into her home, slamming the door behind her.
Andrew looked slightly belligerent.
“How dare you speak with my mother like that? She and I are saying the same thing. Cassie! You can’t do IVF again. I won’t pay for it and you will certainly not use my sperm for it. As for adopting a child? No way!”
She felt her stomach sinking again.
Cassie looked up and saw her best friend, Miriam.
“When did you sneak in here?”
“Just now when you were thinking of kids.”
“How do you know I was thinking of kids?” She laughed.
“That’s all you think about, Cass! I can tell. You’re always thinking about kids”.
“Andrew won’t agree, Miriam. I’m dying inside.”
“Hmm. Well may be you have to make a decision”.
She heaved a sigh. Miriam always made everything so simple and straightforward. She liked this quality of hers but also hated her for having a life that couldn’t be touched by anyone.
“Cassie! This is your one shot at it. You should take it. Leave Andrew! You yearn for a kid a lot more than you yearn for your husband. Leave Andrew and get your kid. They will give him to someone else.”
Cassie had the same feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“I’m thinking of convincing Andrew for one more IVF. If that doesn’t work I’ll bring him home. ”
“They won’t wait for your IVF. They’ll give him to someone else. You’ve had eight IVFs. Eight miscarriages. Eight heart breaks. Eight times you lost a child”.
“I know, Miriam. I remember.”
She started her favorite chant in her heart.
Grace, Jonathan, Emily, Emma, Sophia, Lamar, Abigail, Jeremiah.
She didn’t notice Miriam leaving.
She entered the small apartment. It felt weird to enter a place after work that wasn’t home. It didn’t feel like home. “But this is my home now and whether I like it or not, I have to like it”, she thought bitterly.
Her divorce was filed, Andrew had kicked her out and she had had to take another job to pay the rent until the settlement . She didn’t like being on her own at all. She didn’t like that the night was so quiet, that the sun lasted for so little, and that her husband of fifteen years had kicked her out because she wanted to adopt a child.
Her cell phone rang.
“Hi Sandra! How’re you?”
“I’m okay. Just wanted to check in”.
“I’m okay. Thanks.”
“Did you eat?”
“No. I’ve ordered some food. It’ll be here soon”.
“You can cancel that order. I made some lasagna. There’s some left. I’m bringing it over”.
Cassie hung up. She quickly showered and changed into clean clothes. She felt embarrassed that all she could qualify for was a position as a nanny at someone’s swanky mansion. She worried about the bills. She felt that she had so much growing up to do without Andrew. She knew Andrew had been her rock.
“Did I make a mistake?”
The question took her back twenty years.
They were introduced by mutual friends. Andrew liked her for her unassuming nature. She liked him for how he could read her mind.
He loved the way she was amazed at tiny details of the corporate world. She loved being able to show him how to put a band-aid right.
He fell in love with her eyes and her perfect body. She didn’t fall in love but knew that she could see a husband in him.
They got married after dating for five years. She was 25, he was 27.
And then it happened.
The planning, the timing, the tracking, the waiting, the checking, the two blue lines, the hope, the butterflies, the euphoria, the praying, and then, no heartbeat.
Cassie conceived naturally four times. She lost all four babies in early second trimester. They decided to take a break. The break got longer than they had planned. Andrew’s father passed away after battling with cancer for months. It took a few years to get used to his absence. When they finally thought of a baby again, Cassie was 35 years old.
“You must think about invitro fertilization.” Her OB, Dr. Smith, said with a serious face.
Cassie looked at Andrew. He wasn’t looking at her. He kept staring at the wall behind Dr. Smith.
“Honey! Do you think we should do IVF?”
“I don’t know, Cass! Do you feel like you should do it?”
Cassie wanted to scream. Why wasn’t he more involved? Why had he given up before her? Why was he always so noncommittal? Why did he think he could burden her with every decision of their life?
“Yes I feel I should do it”.
Dr Smith smiled broadly.
She had heard of how painful IVF is. She hated injecting herself. She hated every part of the procedure. She hated that Andrew was more distant. He didn’t come to any appointments. He made faces when she gave herself the shots in his presence.
Cassie was pregnant, finally.
She was happy. Very happy. It was like the clouds had lifted and there was a pink sunshine everywhere. Everywhere she turned she saw a tiny baby in a woman’s arms. Everywhere she went she saw a baby smiling . She became obsessed with shopping when she found out that she was five months pregnant and out of what OBs normally consider the high-risk period. She stayed up every night talking to her baby and trying to feel the kicks. She would sometimes look for hours at Andrew’s face as he slept next to her. She felt an overwhelming love for him. He was the father of her child. She wondered what type of father he would be. She talked to Sandra all day long about babies. She laughed without reason. She had no blues or depression. She was happy and her happiness had become contagious.
She lost the baby at twenty four weeks.
Sandra was an amazing cook. As Cassie opened the casserole she realized that it looked like it had just come out of the oven.
“This isn’t left-overs, Sandra”, she said slyly. Sandra laughed.
“No, dear. I made it for you”.
She was grateful for Sandra. Some days. Some days she reminded her of the life she didn’t have anymore.
She often wondered why it took growing a spine and a divorce to get Sandra on her side. Did Sandra regret being so nasty to her throughout her marriage? She never extended her support or love through the miscarriages. Each time Sandra heard the news of the pregnancy after the first two miscarriages, she would assume a skeptical air, which clouded everything. As the pregnancy proceeded Sandra dropped the air and tried to become more involved. Each time her pregnancy ended, Sandra disappeared for days.
Cassie wondered if Andrew sent Sandra over. She wished herself to stop thinking about him. She never deeply loved him. She loved him in the way two friends love each other. She had no tender feelings for him ever. Come to think of it, she had never had a deeply romantic relationship with anyone in her life. When she heard her friends talking about true love and soul mates, she couldn’t help feeling having missed out on something that might have been there for her if Andrew hadn’t been.
“Cassandra! I think you should move closer to your mom”, Sandra said in a concerned voice.
Cassie stopped eating. She felt full. The mention of her mother wasn’t what she was expecting. She wondered why Sandra said that.
“Don’t think I’m interfering where I shouldn’t, dear. You’re by yourself and once he gets here, you will need help.”
“You know my mom is very busy herself. How can she help me?”
“She’ll help you. She’ll be there for you. When you’ll become a mom you’ll know what we can do for our children. Nothing stops us from giving our kids what they need”.
Cassie smiled broadly. Her grin continued to widen until Sandra said,
“I hope you’re always smiling, Cassie! Adopted kids! I don’t know. They’re not your own”.
The grin was magically wiped from her face.
She couldn’t sleep the whole night. She turned and tossed and then turned some more. Then she decided to call Miriam.
“I can come with you, Cass!”, Miriam offered.
Cassie thought about it. Miriam was the closest person to her. She had been a sister, a friend, sometimes even like a mother. She loved Miriam because Miriam didn’t care about much else besides her haircut and her clothes. She had an active social media presence and she was followed by thousands. In some places, within some circles, where people had better sensibilities, Miriam was known as an influencer.
Cassie thought about it. She had always thought of today as a bright day. When the sun would be out and the flowers would be in full bloom. When birds would sing new songs. When she’d wear her best outfit, feel her best and walk with a spring in her foot. Then why was the sky overcast? Why did she feel like her legs were heavy? There was something that she was missing. Someone she was missing.
She was missing Andrew. She had never wanted to share this moment with anyone but Andrew. Andrew, her husband whom she never loved. Andrew, her husband whom she felt committed to still. Andrew, now her ex-husband.
Ex-husband? That’s a strange term. Why isn’t he just another man? He had always been just another man. He had never been hers. She wished for him to be there when she had her embryo transfer. She had never thought that she would be getting pregnant without her husband in the room. But she did get pregnant without him. Just another Monday afternoon after work. Just another chore that she made sure was done before he was home.
“I’ll have to do this one on my own. This one time I’ll have to accompany me”.
She got down at the station. She was always fascinated by the New York City railroad. Some of it was underground but a lot of it was still above the ground. As she stepped out from the train, people scrambling to get in and out around her, she couldn’t help notice the Dumbo and the Brooklyn skyline.
She scanned the station quickly. No one was here. Why would they be? She was two hours early. She had left home early in anticipation and had arrived two hours early. It was a cold day in February. The sky was gray and the air was moist. It wasn’t a nice day. It was one of those dreary days that cast a chill in the bones. There was still a lone star here and there. It was depressing to see so much gray. The clouds looked like they’d roar any minute. She kept wrapping her coat around her but there was a chill inside her. Deep and painful.
She thought of her divorce and Andrew’s indifference. She thought of the last few days of her marriage when he assumed a silence so loud that she had to run away from it. Andrew could be cruel in his execution of his disagreement. She had come to fear his silence more than overt anger. She tried to break his silence as soon as possible. The longer it lingered, the more fearful it became.
She suddenly realized that the sun was on the horizon. She had never really seen sunrise. She watched the gold and the pink and the red and the orange and the little bit of green and some blue and a lot of yellow make the sky turn a beautiful opulent white. She marveled at how the sky , that just an hour ago looked bleak and sad, now looked like it had breathed its first.
She watched the sky change many colors before she heard her. She thought of convincing Andrew a thousand ways before she heard her. She lamented her divorce and celebrated her tenacity a few times before she heard her. And it felt like a lifetime of waiting before she felt him.
A small, friendly-looking woman was standing before her. Cassie looked up. She wondered where she had appeared from. She thought of how different from her voice on the phone she looked. She had expected to see a tall, impressive looking woman but this one was so small. She had a knee-length skirt on with a loose flowing top. On her shoulders was a short coat that was much too large for her. She had tiny bones and looked like a little glass doll. Cassie couldn’t tell how old she was. May be in her thirties or may be…….. seventies?
“Hello! Are you Mrs. Cohen? Nice to meet you.”
Nice to meet you? I’ve been waiting for you since I was eighteen and first wanted a baby.
“Yes. Nice to meet you too. Looks like you’ve been here a while”.
A while? How about a lifetime?
“No. Not that long actually. I was afraid that you’d have to wait here. I also haven’t been to Brooklyn in a long time so didn’t want to miss the train and……”
She trailed off. She realized that she was avoiding looking at the bundle in Sarah Cohen’s arms. She couldn’t directly look at it. She couldn’t look at the bundle which looked like it was sleeping. She couldn’t look at an unmoving bundle of what Sarah was holding proudly. She kept stealing glances at it, making sure to not look for too long. That won’t be good. Something bad could happen if l looked too closely. What are you talking about, Cassie?
Sarah was extending the bundle to her. Cassie started to feel panic take over.
What had she been thinking? That she could be a mother? All her life she couldn’t be a mother. Her natural pregnancies were a failure and so were her IVFs. She had lost eight babies. Eight tiny babies. She carried sonographic pictures of them in her purse. She chanted their names in her head all the time, afraid she’d forget them. She talked to them and resolved their arguments with each other. Grace broke a cup yesterday and it took ages to make sure she had picked up all the glass pieces because she didn’t want the other kids to step on the shards. Eight kids isn’t easy. Eight kids. Eight pregnancies. Eight times she lost it. Eight times they left her. Eight ways they came into her life. Eight times she lived a short life as a mother. Her head started to hurt. She wanted to tell Sarah to come another day.
He was closer to her now. She could see a head of dark brown hair showing from under the blankets. She could smell him. He didn’t smell funny like most babies. He smelled of all things good. He smelled exactly like Sarah. Would he start smelling like her if she held him long enough?
She reached out awkwardly and took him. She had expected a huge explosion to happen inside her but it didn’t. She was surprised at how small he was and how light! How do you feed him?
“Judy told me you signed the paperwork yesterday. So you know where we are, right? If ever you need us. We won’t abandon you like this. We are family now”.
She looked up and saw tears in Sarah’s eyes but she was smiling.
“I need a family, Mrs. Cohen. I don’t have one”.
Sarah smiled a sad smile and bent over to pick up the bag she had.
“I’m going to hand this over to you now. These are just some things that he has been using for the last four months. We have many kids who wear our finances thin sometimes but we try to get them all we can”, Sarah chuckled at herself.
“Do you not want to look at him?” , Sarah asked gently.
“Do I?”, she thought. “I’m afraid I’ll kill him if I looked at him. I’m afraid he’ll hate me if I looked at him. I’m afraid he’ll never be the child I wanted. I’m afraid I’ll never be the mother who………”
She pulled herself out of the hamster wheel of thoughts that her mind was on and bravely pulled back a bit of the blanket.
He was still sleeping. But he had started to stir and his eyes were fluttering.
Suddenly the sky changed color again. This time it was a dazzling blue. The clouds had parted. There was a single ray of sunshine that enveloped both him and her. A single ray of sunshine that she shared with him. A single ray of sunshine was all she needed. A single ray of sunshine separated Andrew and her lives forever. A single ray of sunshine gave her the courage to lean forward, put her lips to his forehead and say,
Her apartment felt and looked like a home now. Joshua’s tiny clothes were usually strewn on the floor and her washing machine was working overtime. She had bought many toys for him, most approved by his pediatrician. She never left him alone. She didn’t spend a dime on herself except for food. Her job three times a week and her alimony took care of most expenses. When she went to work, she brought him with her.
Sandra had come to see him as soon as she had gotten home. It surprised her and perplexed her. They had never been close so Sandra’s involvement in her post-divorce life had been met with skepticism from Cassie. However, she welcomed company and Sandra was the only person who maintained contact with her, besides Miriam.
“He’s beautiful, Cassandra!”, Sandra had exclaimed.
Cassie beamed. She had never felt happier. She didn’t quite know how much she loved him yet but she felt strangely protective about him. She had expected Sandra to say something snarky but surprisingly, she had been positive.
They had lunch together. Cassie had already bought loads of formula and fed Joshua twice before Sandra got there. He had been sleeping since she had brought him from Brooklyn.
Cassie enjoyed Sandra’s company today. They talked about Andrew’s childhood and Cassie didn’t feel any pangs that she had felt before upon the mention of Andrew’s name. She thought fondly of him and wondered if he would ever come to see Joshua.
When it was time to leave, Sandra bent over Joshua and insisted on leaving some money for him.
Cassie stopped her.
“No, Sandra! I can’t take that. Get a toy or something the next time you’re here”.
Sandra withdrew the money and smiled. She had been very nice. Cassie wasn’t used to this side of her but it heartened her to see that Sandra had an open mind about Joshua.
As Sandra was leaving Cassie thanked her profusely for visiting. She became a little emotional. Sandra cried a little too. Then,
“Cassandra! I wish for you to have a child of your own too someday. Andrew is getting married this weekend. I’m hopeful he’ll have a child soon. I trusted his fate in this a lot more than I trusted yours. This is why I think you did an honorable thing by removing yourself from his life. May be with another woman he’ll have what you couldn’t give him”.
She suddenly felt her heart drop in an ocean.
Cassie watched Joshua as he slept. She counted the number of times he breathed in a minute. She bought a stethoscope, an otoscope and four thermometers. She had never been a clothes person but somehow had become overwhelmingly attached to burp cloths. She had started to baby-talk all the time and her clothes smelled mysteriously of milk, even though she wasn’t breastfeeding.
She couldn’t mourn Andrew moving on because Joshua kept her so busy. She sometimes wondered if Andrew had moved on before their divorce. She analyzed her marriage more now than she did when they were together. Pain, sadness, a sense of loss, grief and sorrow made up most of her thoughts about Andrew now. But each time her thoughts got too deep for her, it was time to feed Joshua or bathe Joshua or burp Joshua or take him out for a walk.
Some nights when Joshua didn’t sleep, Cassie got bitter. “My life is revolving around a different man now. A more demanding man. A less forgiving man”. Then she’d look at Joshua and hold him and forget all about her loneliness. Joshua was enough.
Cassie made friends with other moms in the apartment complex where she lived. She loved the camaraderie. She had never had any close friends except Miriam and this was all new. She loved hanging out with them, swapping stories about sleeplessness and tiredness. No one knew Joshua was adopted. She told people that she was divorced from his father.
Every night after putting Joshua to sleep Cassie stayed up and looked at him. He wasn’t his but he reminded her of Andrew a lot. Particularly his eyes. Sometimes he would wake up as she was staring at him and take a big yawn and then open his eyes. Her heart stopped more than once looking into his eyes. His eyes reflected the stars and Cassie’s dreams. Sometimes they reflected Cassie.
Since her divorce, Cassie hadn’t been to the city. She avoided it. She couldn’t believe her abhorrence for the city. She loved New York City and Manhattan was her favorite place. She could walk for hours, up and down the east side, walking in a crowd, occasionally stepping on someone’s foot or someone’s exceptionally long coat. She was never into style and fashion but living in the city had changed it a little. She had owned a few nice outfits to wear to Andrew’s office parties. She had a pair of Valentino’s for some swanky occasions. Andrew had given her a Cartier ring on their first anniversary. Sandra had given her a Hermès bag that she had owned for years. She now looked at these possessions hanging in her closet like things in a museum. They seemed cold to her.
Cassie had moved to the Bronx after her divorce. There was so much to consider. Not only did she not have the type of cash flow that came while being Andrew’s wife, her work was in the Bronx too. Also, she had found a wonderful pediatrician in the Bronx and wanted to stay close.
Cassie was born on Long Island. She had went to school there and had met Andrew there too. She loved Long Island but living close to her own mother hadn’t ever been a comfortable thought for her.
Her mother was Emilia Stevenson, one of the most powerful people of the New York glitterati.
Joshua woke up in the middle of the night. Cassie had been watching Law and Order and was totally immersed. She didn’t hear him and he didn’t like that. He started wailing at the top of his lungs and she ran to him.
She picked him up and crooned. He continued to cry. Cassie wasn’t much of a singer but could carry a tune. She sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and saw his eyes widening. She laughed at the look on his face. He was the most gorgeous baby. He had the deepest, darkest, dark brown eyes that had the biggest pupils. His eyes were very expressive. When he laughed his eyes became slits. When he smiled she could see his pupils becoming rounder, larger, the excitement shining through his beautiful eyes.
May be all mothers love their children like Cassie loved Joshua but Cassie didn’t think she had just a motherly love for him. She had a deeper love for him. A deeper soul connection. She felt that Joshua and she shared the pain of being abandoned. They had both been deceived by relations that were supposed to protect them. They had both faced a loss and had found each other through it. They had both loved each other long before they knew each other. They both had no one else to live for. They both had no one else to love.
Joshua reciprocated her love. When she leaned over to talk to him, he would grab a stray strand of hair and play with it. He would roll it between his fingers, sometimes try to take it in his mouth and sometimes just pulled at it. There were times when he looked at her seriously as if saying “We are so alone in this, Cassie!”
Just then she heard a subtle knock on the door.
“Who could it be?”, she thought.
The Bronx was a safer place to live now but occasional tales of someone snatching someone’s phone still circulated. Cassie’s friends were all working moms and dads who went to bed at 9. Who could this be?
“Who is it?”
“Open the door, Cass! It’s me.”
It’s me? How could someone just knock on your door after eight months of being apart? How could they walk back through your life without explaining themselves? How could they still say “it’s me” and expect her to know who it was? How was it fair to her to have abandoned all hope for any closure and then to have closure walk through the door, forcing itself on her?
She opened the door. Standing in the dim light of the hallway stood her husband of fifteen years, the man who couldn’t give her a child, the man whom she had met in a sea of eligible bachelors and had never loved, the man who made love to her like a chore and provided for her with a benevolent air, the man who watched her grow into the woman she was, the man whom she had eight children with, the man who was already in love with his mother when he married her, the man who asked her to leave his place ruthlessly because he couldn’t adopt a child with her, the man whose integrity she had questioned when he haggled over alimony, the man who took away every chance she had ever had at love. Next to him stood his new bride……………………..Miriam.
Cassie froze. Miriam and Andrew looked awkward but broke into an embarrassed smile when Joshua wailed some more from inside.
It might have been ages before she said
“Joshua needs me”.
She slammed the door in their faces and went back inside to see Joshua.
He looked hungry. She could tell by how he was looking at her. His little tongue kept darting around his mouth in search of the bottle. She laughed at how hungry he was and thought he looked adorable. She brought the bottle and picked him up in her arms. Predictably, Joshua’s left hand shot out and grabbed a lock of hair that was grazing her left cheek. He tugged at it, trying to see her reaction. She let him and smiled at him. He tugged some more and she laughed.
“I love you, Joshua”.
Joshua smiled . Cassie felt her world was complete. She wanted to sit like this forever. Just the two of them. In this cozy little apartment where there was love and laughter and TV and food and her favorite people in the whole world, Joshua and the eight siblings he had never met.
Cassie looked up to see the small nightstand crowded with her favorite pictures. The day she got married to Andrew. The day she brought home their puppy. The day Miriam got her dream job and both of them celebrated at the bar where they had been going since their first drink. The day she got Joshua. And then all the sonographs of her unborn children, meticulously put in expensive frames, each one surrounded with a little prayer that she had made for each one of them specifically. And then the largest picture of all, of her mother, Emilia, looking beautiful and intimidating and powerful and rich. Right next to this was the most inconspicuous of all pictures. A picture of her and Sandra, walking through Sandra’s new home. Sandra’s home was the home right across from her marital home. Sandra had been her neighbor all her married life.
Andrew had taken this picture. It didn’t have her or Sandra directly looking at the camera. They were deep in thought, walking together but physically far from each other. Her shoulders were slightly drooped and even though she was several inches taller than Sandra, Sandra looked taller in this picture.
“Why do I look so defeated in this picture? Is that how people see me too? Is that why Andrew grew tired of me? I look like a meek, defeated, inconsequential person. Did that have something to do with Andrew having an affair with Miriam?”
Cassie wasn’t so naive. She could tell during the last few months of her marriage that there was someone else. She hadn’t really thought it was Miriam until after her divorce when Miriam disappeared for days and miraculously materialized when she adopted Joshua. She now understood how Sandra knew so much about the adoption process. She shook her head. They were crooks. All of them.
But….. Miriam is older than me. Is Andrew hoping to have a child with her? If he couldn’t have a child with me in the prime of our lives, what makes him think they’ll have a child now?
No! He didn’t want a child. He had never wanted a child. A child would’ve been another beneficiary of his pie of love, the pie that Sandra refused to share with anyone but reluctantly shared with Cassie.
Things had started to make sense weeks ago when Sandra told her about his marriage. Sandra liked that he married a woman who was closer to menopause than Cassie was. This removed all possibility of another owner of Andrew’s affections.
She knew Miriam wasn’t a threat to Sandra. Sandra won’t feel the same way towards Miriam as she did towards Cassie. She didn’t like Cassie because Andrew had truly loved her when he had married her. Miriam was just someone different. Someone who won’t remind him of Cassie. But, won’t she?
“Looks like you settled in nicely”, Emilia said with a smile.
“Yes! I think so. We have to get a few more things but I think this will do for now”, Cassie smiled too as she scanned her own living room one more time.
“I’m very proud of you, Cassie.”
Cassie didn’t know what to say. Was she proud of her mother being proud of her? Her mother wasn’t a warm person so this was probably the biggest compliment that she was ever going to give her. Cassie didn’t know how to feel. She sensed Emilia becoming distant again. She knew she had to give a reaction.
“I had to bring my Camry because I couldn’t risk bringing my other car. This neighborhood isn’t exactly safe”.
“That’s not true. The Bronx has a bad reputation from what it was years ago but it’s much safer now. Joshua and I have no complaints. Right, Joshua?”
Joshua cooed. Emilia laughed.
“Can’t believe I have a grandson now”.
How could you believe it, Mom? You were never there. Through all the miscarriages and my divorce, you weren’t there. I was alone. I had no one. You don’t know anyone of my kids. Didn’t you want to know them?
“Don’t mind my saying this Cassie but I couldn’t stand Andrew’s mother. That woman had some control problem that she moved right across from you”.
Cassie laughed in spite of herself. Her mother rarely gave her opinion of anyone and when she did, it was usually measured and politically tailored. To hear her being so outspoken was refreshing.
Emilia smiled at herself too. She liked the new Cassie. She had never loved her daughter. She was the reminder of a man she hated. But today, she liked Cassie. Today she felt Cassie proved she was Emilia’s daughter.
Joshua’s first birthday was fast approaching. Cassie was somewhat conflicted about what to do for his first big day. Coincidentally the kids that she babysat for were going away with their parents. Cassie didn’t know what to do for a full month. She was paid in full for that month by her lovely employer and she couldn’t be more thankful. She had never had a birthday party when she was little and wanted to do something that would mark the occasion momentously.
She finally decided to go on a trip . She had always wanted to go to Disney. She had begged Andrew so many times but he never listened. They never went away on their own unless it was an office thing and four other families were with her. She felt out of place at most places. When she told Sandra once that her favorite place was Disney, Sandra asked why she wanted to go when she didn’t have any kids. Cassie didn’t know what to say. She stopped talking about it.
She started hunting for a cheap resort. She booked inexpensive tickets. She packed a suitcase full of clothes for herself and Joshua to last them a full month. She was excited and slightly scared. She had never been on a big trip before and she was always nervous that she’d forget something important and will have to scramble for it in Florida.
She arrived in Florida on a beautiful Monday morning. She had bought the park tickets for the first four day and then had planned to spend her time in the surrounding area. Joshua had been so good on the plane. She got compliments from everyone about how gorgeous he was or how quiet he was or how much he looked like her.
She checked into her hotel. The resort was beautiful. She had thought Disney would be overwhelming but it was magical. Everywhere she looked there with families with little kids and aging parents. Everyone seemed to be having a great time.
Right outside her room was the pool. She thanked the stars for it. She loved swimming and had competitively swam in college. She had been accepted at NYU because of her swimming credentials. She had been proud until her mother said “I’m glad you made it in. Just don’t tell anyone swimming got you in”.
They were there for a month and Cassie hoped to swim everyday and introduce Joshua to the water too. She continued to make plans until she realized that she was very hungry. She went to the restaurant at the resort.
She fed Joshua while waiting for her pizza to get ready. She had the whole day to herself and had rented a car to explore the surrounding area. She quickly ate the pizza and decided to explore Disney Springs.
Cassie had a great time exploring Disney Springs. There were rows and rows of stores lined with Disney stuff. She wanted to get some souvenirs but didn’t want to get ahead of herself. She knew she’d find something better at the parks.
They came back to the resort late at night. Cassie was tired. She hadn’t had anything to eat since morning and was starving. She ate the remaining pizza, fed Joshua and went to take a dip in the pool.
The pool was crowded. Children dominated the shallow end of the pool. She made some space for herself and Joshua and just stood in water, Joshua perched on the surface of water. Cassie laughed when she thought that Joshua was going to cry. She had anticipated it. But surprisingly, he didn’t cry. He didn’t even seem to mind the water all that much. Cassie was happy. She had a readymade swimming buddy right here. She hugged Joshua and thanked God that Joshua was so perfect. Soon Joshua was getting sleepy. She came back to her room, put him to sleep and promptly fell asleep herself.
Magic Kingdom was everything and more than she had thought. Cassie had timed everything and made sure to be there for the Mickey Mouse parade. She was thrilled and enjoyed taking pictures and having her pictures taken. She knew she won’t be getting on the rides because of Joshua. He wasn’t allowed on most rides and therefore she had to content herself with watching people and taking some low-intensity rides with Joshua.
Cassie loved little train rides and swimming ponds. She loved the underground ride through the Magic Kingdom. There was a lot of sensory input from this place and many kids were either getting overwhelmed or entertained. She marveled at the sensory system. How easy it was to affect the sensory system. A kid cried when he saw the genie and everyone laughed. Cassie couldn’t help but feel very affectionate towards Joshua who was being such a good baby. He was quietly looking at everything and she kissed him many times during her walk through the Magic Kingdom.
Cassie and Joshua boarded a little Choo-Choo Train at the end of their day. She loved squeezing in with the other kids with Joshua in her lap. A young woman with three kids was sitting next to her. They got to talking and the woman asked if she could hold Joshua. She held Joshua high in her arms, trying to get his attention, baby-talked for several minutes with him and laughed. She jokingly observed,
“Why’re you trying to avoid making eye contact with me, Joshua?”
Cassie didn’t hear her.
Winter came soon and Cassie found herself craving more and more time with Joshua. She was taking care of three kids and being young, they took a lot of her time. Even though Joshua was with her all the time at work too, she hardly got much time to spend with him. He either crawled aimlessly or chewed on one of his toys. At mealtimes he raised hell if she tried to feed solids instead of milk from the bottle. As a result, she exclusively bottle fed him while at work. It was a good thing that she worked only three days a week.
Cassie worried about him not walking still but her pediatrician reassured her. She said kids meet milestones at different times and she shouldn’t be worried. Her pediatrician thought Joshua was developing fine. At the one year visit, Dr. Rojas asked if he was talking yet.
“Talking?”, Cassie asked blankly.
“Not really talking, Mrs. Parker”, Dr. Rojas laughed. “Is he babbling more? Does he point? Is he saying “Mama?”
No. No. No.
“He’s babbling but I’m not sure if more than before . He does babble the most during bath time”, Cassie said.
“He should be starting to point at objects that he wants and say Mama. He’s twelve months exactly right now but if he doesn’t start walking by fourteen months we should have him evaluated by Early Intervention. They’re amazing with this type of thing.”
What type of thing?
Cassie didn’t ask any questions. She started feeling resentful towards Dr. Rojas. Is she saying something’s wrong with Joshua? My Joshua? The Joshua I got after so many years as a reward for putting up with crap all my life? Is she crazy?
But to Dr. Rojas she calmly replied
“Can I have their number now? Just may be to introduce myself and see if they’d like to see him sooner?”
Dr. Rojas gave her a handout that was sitting on her desk.
“Probably gives it to parents all the time, heartless animal!” Cassie thought vindictively.
“Mrs. Parker! Does tomorrow work?” Linda Stewart from Early Intervention was on the line.
I’m working tomorrow. Mrs. Walters has to be at a meeting the whole day. She’s not available to give me a day off.
“Yes! Tomorrow works”.
Cassie put down the phone and looked over at Joshua. He was crawling aimlessly on the floor again. Next to him was a pile of toys that he was oblivious to. Her head started to hurt.
She turned on the TV and started watching a reality show. When it was dinner time she fought her daily battle of feeding Joshua. Joshua hated solids. He threw up, flailed his arms in her direction to spill it, turned his head from side to side, and eventually succeeded in getting the bottle again. Cassie always gave up.
Linda came early the next morning. Cassie was surprised to see a much older woman than she had thought. She had a kind face and very gentle manners. She was about six feet tall and smelled of oranges.
Linda was a child psychologist. Cassie had no idea what she was doing here. She had hoped to see a physical therapist. In her efforts to avoid dealing with Joshua’s developmental delay she had been deliberately asking less questions than she had. Her head was always teeming with questions but she didn’t ask them. She was afraid to hear something that would make her feel lonely and hopeless again.
Linda asked random questions. She asked how Joshua was born, if Cassie knew his biological parents, if Cassie could get that information, if he had always been a little disconnected, and if Cassie was okay with Linda playing with him for a bit.
Cassie realized that she was nodding her head throughout the conversation. She didn’t say or ask much. She looked frightened to Linda who gently asked her if she would may be get some coffee for them both. Cassie lied and said she was out of coffee. She wanted to see how Linda would play with him. She knew she wasn’t playing with Joshua right.
Linda tried to engage Joshua. It was tough work. Joshua didn’t respond to his name and continued to ignore them both. Linda finally picked him up and stared into his eyes. He averted his face. Linda had brought new toys with her but Joshua wasn’t interested. He kept crawling around and finally came to Cassie and jumped into her lap. Linda sighed,
“I didn’t get to do much but I think he should be seen by an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and a speech therapist. I like to see children in their environment because then I can assess them accurately but I don’t think he’s having it today”.
She chuckled at the look on Cassie’s face.
“Mrs. Parker! You look worried. He’s very young. Twelve months isn’t the age where we are even able to do a full evaluation. Some kids are late bloomers”.
Then why are you here?
Cassie forced a smile and said
“I know, Linda! I know he’s a late bloomer. I was too”.
Linda looked at her kindly and sadly,
“You may very well be, Mrs. Parker, but….. he’s adopted. I would appreciate it if you could get some background information from the family you adopted him from”.
Sarah Cohen sat opposite her. Judy Shapiro who had completed paperwork with Cassie was sitting there as well.
“All we know is that his mother couldn’t afford another child. I don’t know how her other kids are doing.”
“Do you know where she lives?”
“Mrs. Parker! That’s classified information and we don’t share it with anyone. His mother asked us to not give that information to you. She doesn’t want much to do with him”.
“Please! It’s important. Joshua isn’t developing right. The doctors and therapists have many questions about his family history. I have no answers. How can I help him?”
Sarah and Judy looked small and timid in this moment to her. They were helpless. They couldn’t help her even if they wanted to. How could she convince them?
“Mrs. Parker! I’m sure the mother won’t object to helping you regarding family history. But I’ll have to talk to her first. Chances are that she’ll communicate through us”.
Cassie could’ve kissed Judy Shapiro.
She received a call from Judy the next day.
“Please call me Cassie, Judy”.
“Thanks, Cassie! Joshua’s mother is willing to see you. When she heard that he may be facing problems with development, she opened up to seeing you in person. Are you available now?”
Now? Now I’ll meet his mother? The woman who made all my dreams true? The woman who abandoned Joshua like Andrew abandoned me? The woman who hasn’t seen her own flesh and blood in a full year? The woman who doesn’t know me but I have her son? Whose son is Joshua? Is he her son or mine? Surely no one has two mothers. Surely only one of us is his mother. May be Joshua knows I’m not his mother so he doesn’t respond to his name when I call him. May be he’ll respond to her. What’s going on? Are Andrew and Miriam still together? Does my mom love me? Will Joshua ever love me? Can he love me? Can he understand that I need him more than he needs me?
“I’m available now.”
Cassie was walking in a daze. She had no idea where she was going. She just followed Judy, her hands pushing the stroller clumsily.
New Rochelle is a relatively old, relatively new area of NYC. Its proximity to the Bronx makes it somewhat suspect regarding law and order situation. But it is a beautiful city and according to some people, one of the best places in the country to raise children.
Cassie wondered why Joshua was given up for adoption. Was he born out of wedlock? No, that can’t be! Judy and Sarah told her that his mother couldn’t care for him. May be that was a way of saying that she couldn’t keep him. May be she had financial constraints. But she lives in New Rochelle. This isn’t an inexpensive place.
The neighborhood that they were walking through had dense, tall trees on both sides. The foliage was dark green with thickets of smaller plants every few feet. It was beautiful. She had wanted many a time to raise Joshua in a neighborhood with a small house and a street full of children whom Joshua could ride his bike with.
Judy rang the front door bell of a small house.
She was waiting for them. She had heard them. She opened the door with a half-smile. She had a little consternation in her small features but she looked at them pleasantly. Cassie felt she couldn’t breathe. This woman was Joshua’s mother. There was no mistaking those eyes. Joshua was a replica of his young and gorgeous mother, Nadia Hijazi. Standing behind her, at a distance, was a young man who had a perplexed and stern look on his face. This man was Amir Hijazi, Joshua’s father.
Cassie had never been good at situations which required for her to be polite and personable. She couldn’t manufacture niceness. She usually clammed up in a situation that was emotionally and socially demanding. Andrew hated her for this. He was himself so good at social niceties. He had managed to climb the ladder at the highly competitive corporate offices where he worked by sheer networking and personal relations. Miriam was very similar too. There was no one in this world that she couldn’t find something to chat with. She was never bored or boring. She was a striking woman in personality.
Then why did she marry Andrew? Andrew, really? Is that what she wanted for herself?
Amir was watching her face closely. Nadia was standing next to her. She was a petite woman with alabaster skin. She spoke in a soft, Southern accent.
Her husband, however, looked like he had spent a good amount of time in New York.
There was something that fellow New York folks attracted Cassie for. May be this was why she could never keep up with her ex-husband who was originally from Connecticut. She liked the hurried manner, the brash laughter and the confidence of New York City and its people. She had come to consider herself as an aberration. She thought she looked and talked a lot like her aunts who lived in Georgia. She had a slow, melodious voice and she talked very little. She also had been told that she smiled a lot. People were usually surprised when they heard that she had lived on Long Island almost her whole life.
“Mrs. Parker, would you like to come inside? We can sit and talk”.
“Yes, yes, thanks”. She said a little flustered.
Nadia smiled and her eyes locked with Cassie’s. Cassie wondered why she hadn’t asked to hold Joshua still. Didn’t she want to hold him?
She walked into their home. It was a lovely home with the mark of money everywhere. There was an elaborate hallway that had pictures of the family on both sides. Cassie was amazed to see that the Hijazis had many kids. Then why did they give up Joshua?
Sarah and Judy chatted with the Hijazis like old friends. Every now and then Nadia would turn around and look at Joshua. Joshua was his usual self. Disconnected, disinterested, thumb in mouth, his head on Cassie’s shoulder, his eyes fixed on her neck.
They came to the living room. Cassie had only ever been to another home that was better than this; her mother’s! She was impressed by Nadia’s taste in decor and immediately regretted never going to school for something worthwhile so she could have a comfortable lifestyle too. She could’ve been able to give Joshua so much more then.
The living room was a masterpiece of style. Cassie saw a large Victorian couch on one end with marble end-tables. There was a matching center table. In the middle of the center table was a beautiful glass piece that reflected light like a diamond. May be it is a diamond, Cassie thought! On the walls was expensive, original-looking art. The carpet looked like a thing from another world. Cassie felt like she was walking on clouds, it was so soft. Suddenly, Cassie’s attention was taken by a huge painting on the largest wall. This was an exquisite piece . She had never seen anything like it before. It looked like a mother, surrounded by many kids, with her hands behind her like she was hiding something from them. Cassie continued to move towards the painting. There was something familiar about it. Something oddly familiar. Disturbingly familiar. It was like she had painted it or lived it or watched it. The woman looked familiar. The children looked familiar too. She continued to watch the painting and faces stood out to her. There were eight children around their mother. She laughed at them. She teased them. They wanted what she had in her hands. She wouldn’t give it. Why, they had to finish their homework first! This was a fun game they played each evening before dinner. Cassie got closer. There was a crib in the far corner of the room. There was a baby in it. He was standing in the crib. He didn’t laugh. Whereas the other eight children had laughter clearly in their faces, the baby was expressionless. His mouth was slightly open, like it was time for the bottle. He was not a part of the family. He stood in his loneliness, neglected by the mother and forgotten by his siblings. Joshua looked sad. Why weren’t they looking at him? He needed them. He was calling for them. Did they not hear him? She started to get angry. But Grace should go get him. She’s his oldest sister. Why isn’t she being more responsible? I can’t do everything. I’ll have to make her in charge of Joshua. They always leave him alone. I’ll get Joshua. They can have the candy.
As she reached out to pick up Joshua, Amir said
“It looks almost real. One of our favorites.”
Cassie withdrew her hand. She felt foolish.
Amir extended his arms and took Joshua. He kissed him tenderly. Cassie could feel her eyes welling up. This was the man who fathered Joshua and yet, Joshua was a fatherless child.
Amir said, while settling himself in a comfortable-looking couch and planting Joshua on his knee,
“Mrs. Parker! Ask us anything”.
Two hours talking to the Hijazis and Cassie was starting to feel the familiar heaviness in her head coming back.
She found out that Joshua was put up for adoption because they already had four kids and he was an unplanned child. Initially Amir’s cousin was going to adopt him but because it would’ve been very complicated to adopt within family they had decided to contact Sarah and her sister, Rebecca, to look for someone. The Cohen sisters had been doing it for ages. They had placed many kids with very loving families and their reputation as a selfless family that committed itself to wonderful adoptions was legendary.
Cassie also found out that all of Joshua’s siblings were typically developing. Nadia or Amir didn’t remember any delay in any of their other children’s development. They didn’t have any history of developmental delay in the family.
Cassie could see Nadia avoiding looking at Joshua. Amir had continued to hold Joshua throughout their visit but Nadia had been afraid to hold him almost. Her eyes darted in his direction. Several times Cassie felt her eyes on Cassie and she became uncomfortable with her scrutiny.
As Cassie, Sarah and Judy were saying good-bye, Nadia abruptly came up to Cassie and handed her an envelope.
“What’s this?” Cassie said, puzzled.
“Just something for him to spend on whatever he likes”, Nadia smiled.
Cassie looked at the young woman in front of her. Did she understand that money didn’t buy anything? Not the important things, anyway. May be she was too young to have seen betrayal,infidelity, loss and devastation. May be she was too sheltered. She had the whole universe working to shelter her. How could any harm come her way?
“He doesn’t need that. If you can do anything for him, please pray for him”.
Nadia’s big brown eyes, so much like Joshua’s, filled with clear tears.
“I pray for him. Every night I pray for him. He’s the one person I never forget to pray for. He’s the only one I live for. May be you don’t understand it because I abandoned him. But if I could, I would give him my life. I haven’t slept in a year. I can’t sleep. My child is away from me.”
Cassie stared at her. She thought ” If you loved him so much, why did you give him up?”
She hugged Nadia and left. There wasn’t much else to say.
Cassie found her anxiety growing as she waited for Joshua’s evaluation with the developmental pediatrician. This appointment was particularly hard to come by. She had asked around for the best doctor and finally had gotten an appointment with Dr. Merkel. She waited patiently in her office while she watched many kids lounging there. Many kids looked like Joshua. Disconnected, in their own world, repeatedly rearranging the toys in the room.
Dr. Merkel turned out to be a woman in her sixties. Janet Merkel had been in practice for thirty years and was a well-known name in the world of developmental pediatrics. She had an open mind to neurodiverstiy and had many published articles regarding advocacy for more research in the field of developmental delays and other related disorders. She had a way with kids and was loved by their parents.
She was a woman with a medium build, gentle face and an easy laugh. Cassie liked her immediately.
“I got the evaluations from Early Intervention. Funny fact! Linda Davis and I went to college together. And remained friends for years afterwards. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. May be because Linda really liked meeting you and Joshua”.
Cassie smiled. Everyone always liked her. No one had ever had anything different to say. Andrew had once jokingly said while they were dating that she was too “vanilla” and that everyone liked vanilla but no one absolutely loved it. For some reason that comment told her what Andrew thought of her. Then why did I marry him?
“Dr. Merkel! I’ve heard great things about you. And Linda was awesome. I have many questions”.
“I know. But first, let’s start with my questions. Then I can may be answer yours”.
Cassie sat back in her chair.
Two hours later it seemed like Cassie had told Janet Merkel her whole life story. From her miscarriages to her divorce to Joshua’s adoption to people saying he was delayed. Dr. Merkel didn’t interrupt her. She asked questions here and there but she let Cassie talk mostly. For some reason, Cassie talked about Miriam too and even cried a little.
After Cassie was done they both sat in silence as Dr. Merkel’s office window showed a setting sun. Cassie suddenly realized that there were other patients.
“Sorry, Dr. Merkel. I took so much time. I didn’t realize that you must have other patients too”.
“They’re my partner’s. I see only five children a day. You’re my last parent for the day. We have to talk a lot more but first let me ask you this. Have you heard of autism?”
Cassie felt the ground slipping. It was like there was a gaping hole in the sky that she was getting sucked into. She had a big knot in her stomach. Faces flashed in front of her. Emilia, Miriam, Sandra, Andrew, Joshua, the woman in the train ride at Disney, Linda Davis, Sarah Cohen, Judy Shapiro, Nadia Hijazi. And finally Amir Hijazi, the man who was Joshua’s father. The man who had abandoned him. The man who probably suspected something and asked his wife to give Joshua up. The man who had played with Joshua like a father during their visit. The man who looked like he didn’t like anyone upsetting his life. The man who had looked at her with a strange emotion in his eyes. Was it fear or gratitude or forgiveness or may be, sympathy?
“I’ve heard of it. I don’t know much about it.”
“What would you want to know?”
“I would like to know everything that you know about autism”.
Dr. Merkel laughed. Cassie smiled in-spite of herself. She had never said anything so forcefully. It felt good to get her message across in one fluid sentence. She wondered how she could say something so directly, without any regard to how arrogant or pushy or stupid she sounded.
“Everything that I know about autism? Well for that, my dear, I’m glad you and Joshua are my last patients for the day. And for that, let’s make a cup of coffee, get Joshua his bottle and settle down comfortably. This is going to be a LONG talk”.
Cassie wished she had made notes of that visit. She wished she had recorded it. But surprisingly, she remembered every word that had ever come out of Janet Merkel’s mouth that day.
In the ensuing months Cassie became a maven in autism and its many faces. Joshua was being evaluated by people almost every week and even though they hadn’t decided what the problem could be, she knew in her heart that he was different from the kids she always saw at the park. She also had started to crave for more scientific literature on autism, which was hard to come by.
Thankfully in the last two months, Joshua had started to walk. He was initially shaky but quickly picked up enough confidence to do it on his own. He was now running around the house and Cassie couldn’t believe she had once prayed for him to walk. He absolutely refused to sit down for more than a minute.
Joshua developed poor sleep pattern. He would stay awake until she cradled and rocked him. He would scream if she didn’t give him the bottle. He would wake up several times a night.
Cassie quit her work. She realized that her job wasn’t a great idea given how much Joshua needed her. She wanted to invest every awake moment into Joshua and when she resigned, the children cried. Cassie cried too. She couldn’t believe she was going to leave them like that. Sometimes life asked so much of her.
But Cassie was also relieved that she didn’t have to go to work everyday. She had recently inherited some of her dad’s money and even though it wasn’t much, it was enough for her to spend a few months in comfort along with her alimony. She had planned to spend a lot of time with Joshua, take him to parks, make play dates for him, play with him herself and read books to him.
Cassie quit work on a Friday. By Monday, she was exhausted with dealing with autism all day long.
May be it was because Joshua’s schedule had changed as he used to go with her to her work or may be because he was going through a growth spurt or may be because it was the notorious terrible twos but Joshua had become one of those kids who make their parents cry. He didn’t sleep, threw huge tantrums at meal times, was always running away from her in public places, was a nightmare to deal with if he had a meltdown in the grocery store. Cassie started dreading going out with him. She particularly dreaded getting his hair cut. She didn’t like to take him to the park because he refused to get down from the swing and she couldn’t deal with judgmental parents thinking that she wasn’t being a good parent by not asking her kid to get down and share the swing with other kids.
Cassie’s life was miserable for a few weeks. She hated going to the park and hated how she was judged by most people. She hated it until she saw her.
She could be picked out in a sea of a thousand women. She had long, straight black hair which she braided usually. She had an upturned nose and a full mouth. Her smile revealed white, even teeth. She had the lightest figure but somehow she was curvy and attractive. She wore loose fitting tunics and capris usually. She was always accompanied by a young girl who was her in miniature.
Cassie found herself staring at her for many minutes at a time most days. How could someone be so beautiful? She marveled at the amazing specimen that nature had created in this woman and she thought of making friends with her several times. For some reason she felt like that wouldn’t be right.
Cassie started looking forward to going to the park again. When she didn’t see her, she’d feel an emptiness inside. There was so much that she could talk to this woman about. Would she want to listen? Cassie wondered.
Cassie had never been a forward person. She had lived an unusually protected life with her parents and then Andrew. She had never explored her feelings for anyone unless they expressed theirs to her. Miriam and Cassie had been friends since elementary school and Cassie knew that had it not been for Miriam’s outgoing personality , their friendship wouldn’t have grown over decades. As much as she resented Miriam now, she had once loved her like a sister. But the feelings that she had for this woman weren’t sisterly. They were the type of feelings that people get when they see a kindred soul. She felt a connection with this woman. Deep, electrifying, whole and old. She felt that this woman meant everything to her even though they had never spoken one word to each other. She knew that this woman had the answers to many of her questions. This woman excited her and scared her. She invited her and pushed her away. For the first time in her life, Cassie wanted a moment with another human being where they were alone. Where time stopped. Where that moment spanned over centuries and didn’t stop even then. All she wanted was to ask this woman if she had ever felt that way too.
All Cassie wanted to do was ask her where she went after her time at the park. All Cassie wanted to do was to follow her. All Cassie wanted was for this woman to know she was here.
All Cassie wanted was Jaya.
It was hard to believe that Joshua got the diagnosis finally. Cassie had come to realize that in order to have the services and therapies for autism, she had to have a piece of paper to endorse it. She fought tooth and nail to get the best ABA agency in NYC. She was given a social worker who made searching for agencies easier. But as Cassie was finding out, the social worker didn’t care what Cassie’s vision was for Joshua. All she cared about was hooking people up to therapists and agencies and she didn’t quite care what any agency had to offer in terms of professionalism, expertise and commitment to autism.
Cassie soon became THAT mom. The mom who questioned therapists and the data they were collecting for Joshua. She sat through every ABA session that Joshua had. He was getting twenty hours a week of ABA and it wasn’t easy sitting through that everyday but she did it. She did it and more. The state had given her a speech therapist who couldn’t engage Joshua and insisted that Joshua call her Ms. Patty. Cassie had no patience for people who didn’t understand her nonverbal son’s limitations and fired her.
She was given another speech therapist by the state, this time a young and gregarious woman. Cassie initially liked her and thought she had great potential. But then she started missing days from therapy. For some reason, even though Joshua was nonverbal and had significant struggles with receptive language, he was only given a half hour of speech therapy a week by the state. Cassie didn’t think it was enough but there wasn’t much she could do.
But the speech therapist left. She didn’t give a reason. Cassie waited for her for two weeks in a row but she didn’t show up. Cassie called Melinda, her social worker and case manager, and she was told that the therapist had left.
“Without informing me? This is for a nonverbal child. Her role is so important. She just quit without informing me. And why didn’t Melinda inform me herself?”
Professionalism wasn’t a reasonable ask in a sea of unprofessional people, most of whom were out to make a buck out of the desperation that parents of autistic children face, Cassie soon realized. She observed a lack of commitment amongst the therapists. Her ABA team was led by a behavioral expert who was usually missing from meetings and did not train her team at work like she was supposed to. Cassie’s medical insurance was being billed for these services so the insincerity was beyond her comprehension. They were getting paid. Why weren’t they more into it? Didn’t they see they could change the future of her child by dedicating themselves more? Did they not trust the very therapy that everyone said had data behind it? Did they not trust their own selves that they acted so disconnected? Why did she smell insincerity? Why did she feel a lack of interest?
“Hi”, Jaya said.
Cassie looked up. She had been pushing the swing for the last fifteen minutes without noticing her surroundings much. She didn’t realize that someone had come up to her, that someone had been watching her. She looked at Jaya with her mouth half-open.
“Hi”, Jaya said again.
Her voice was a little husky, a little sweet. She smelled of flowers. She had a pink kaftan on with short shorts. Cassie had never seen her dressed like this. She looked like a pink cloud that courses through the night sky, gliding slowly, ethereal and glowing.
“Hi”, Cassie smiled.
Jaya smiled too. She had a shy, bashful manner. She had the longest lashes. When she looked down, her lashes covered her blush. Why is she blushing? Am I blushing too?
“You’re Cassie, right?”
“Yes! And you’re Jaya?”
Jaya laughed, “we know each other. What were we waiting for?”
Cassie laughed too.
“I’m a turtle”, she said.
Jaya laughed again, that tinkling laugh that made Cassie stare at her more.
“Mom! Can we go home now?” Jaya’s daughter said. She had suddenly materialized next to her mother.
“Sure, Honey! Have you met Cassie before?”
As Arya quietly shook her head, Cassie was struck by how nervous Arya’s smile was. But that was not all that she was struck by. Arya had a familiar quality to her face. It was almost like Cassie knew someone like her. Someone very close to Cassie. Someone who had changed Cassie’s life forever.
She couldn’t understand why but Arya looked just like Joshua.