I cannot help but to speak in these terms because in parenting Sawyer I often found myself questioning what I had once thought was real. For instance, Sawyer hated to take tests. No, this isn’t even accurate. Sawyer declined to participate in any test he was given. Kids like Sawyer are always being tested, and so I had watched many times as this therapist or that expert asked him to do something or answer some question. Usually, Sawyer wouldn’t do the task or answer the question. Instead, he would flap and talk to himself, and the therapist or expert would note the results on her clipboard.
This is the sort of behavior that got him labeled autistic, but it would take me many years to understand that the behavior made its own kind of sense. Sawyer didn’t give a damn about the test. He was not interested in jumping through the hoops these kind and well-intentioned women had set up for him, but the experience of being asked to jump was uncomfortable enough that he did what he always did when he was uncomfortable – he retreated into himself where he could focus on what was interesting to him.
It may seem small, but when I finally understood what was happening it was like seeing reality turned on its head. If someone put a test before me, then by God I was going to pass it. I may not have enjoyed taking the test, I may not have cared about the test, but under no circumstance was I going to fail that test. I was like a trained dog. Show me a hoop and I would jump. Until I saw Sawyer declining to participate in the tests. Why, you don’t have to take a test if you don’t want to. How obvious. Who cares what they write on their clipboards? What would the world look like, I wondered, if I only jumped through those hoops I deemed worth my time and attention?
In this way, my view of tests was an illusion, while Sawyer’s was reality. Within my view was the quiet thought that there was something wrong with me if I did not pass every test. And if there was something wrong with me, then I could not be happy. This describes every broken person in the world: someone who lacks what they require to be happy. It does not matter whether you are broken because you are autistic, or fat, or stupid, or talentless, or addicted to heroin. There are as many reasons to be broken as there are people on the planet. All that matters is that somehow you lost at the roulette wheel of life, you came up short and lack just enough of something to be as happy as you would like to be.
Meanwhile, unhappiness is its own proof. I must be broken because I’m unhappy. If I was good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, normal enough, I wouldn’t be this miserable. Misery defines my reality. What if, however, happiness is the only reality? What if all misery is nothing but humanity believing its own nightmare? These are the questions Sawyer compelled me to ask again and again, and that I am still asking to this day. Happiness, after all, is not some fixed point on a grid. It is a place I must find within myself with every thought I think. To lose all sight of it is to be lost in a dream, and to find it is to awaken to myself.