My favorite moments with you are when we’re rolling on the carpet and laughing. Your blonde hair catches sunlight from the window and shines like a holy corona. I cradle these memories for later use—an essay, a poem, or in this case, a letter to the beauty of your existence.
I divorced your mom on May 23rd at 2:30 pm. You should know that this change doesn’t have to define you, and despite your autism, despite the inability of your brain and mouth to communicate, you can always tell me how pissed or confused or happy you are. Just stare straight into me. Put your forehead against mine as you so often do when I’m at my lowest. Know that this is not a closing chapter for our family.
You’ve just turned five years old. I know these words won’t reach you for a long, long time. But someday you’ll ask questions and I’ll try to answer, knowing my mouth will fail my heart.
When that day comes, I’ll just ask you to picture windows, to imagine peering through windows, gumming up windows with your sticky hands. This seems to be the way your mom and I participate in each other’s lives. We offer glimpses to one another of our thoughts and feelings, but they’re fleeting. We project what we want each other to see, what we ourselves want to see, and then hide the rest inside of ourselves like locking the door to a secluded room. Our windows let in little light. This is no way to conduct a relationship.
I remember standing in the hallway one evening. I was fighting with your mom. You were in bed, sick with cold. We’d rubbed Vicks on your chest and ticked the seconds in between each of your raspy breaths. Standing by that window I saw geese fly a V by night. We tried not to disturb you, but I confused the blood in my mouth with righteousness and let forth a bellowing roar. In that moment, Harper, I was sick, too. I chewed through my tongue with fever, made crazy by hate.
You’ve grown in a home with tired eyes that’s seen transgressions beyond words. I’m glad the walls are voiceless and can’t lament the transgressions no toddler should see. I know change is hard, but if we’d stayed there, we’d have suffocated. With doors shut and blinds drawn, our house welled up with an electric anger that set the walls aflame.
You’ll someday learn that we build structures inside ourselves. Some are impenetrable. Inside of me are walls only you’ve been able to scale. They’re made of strong brick I no longer want. I want to dig into mortar and punch holes in plaster. I want a wind to carry away the debris. I don’t want windows anymore—no more filtered glimpses. I want to fill my foundation and plant a garden because this is the change we both need.
You’re our crowning achievement. We love you and hate what you’ve been born into. I’ve seen your brain and love your brain, and I know we can break its resistance to change. When we left that house, we left behind ghosts caught from the corners of our eyes—peripheral dads and moms, versions of ourselves no longer alive but still lingering.
Aaron White is an impassioned nerd and writer from southeastern Illinois. His fiction, essays, and poems have appeared in Brain, Child Magazine; Mothers Always Write; 13th Dimension; Bluestem Magazine; Flash Fiction Magazine; The Commonline Journal; Heart Literary Journal; and others. His days are spent raising a toddler, navigating academia, trying to sell a novel, and wallowing in obscurity. Connect with him at amwhite90.tumblr.com and on Twitter @amwhite90.