Friday, March 30, 2012

Parallel and Perpendicular

Amy is a serious, serious Guster fan. That fact is simultaneously the most important and least important thing I can tell you about her. However, the passion she shows for those indie-rock darlings goes some towards helping to understand how she approaches her life. And in truth, I can't say I even know that much about it. We've been acquaintances for several years, since she first stumbled onto this space and dropped me a line. We traded a few notes, and over time I've learned a bit more about her.

The factual stuff is pretty straightforward. Amy lives in the Albany area and works for a media company in marketing. She's a writer, and has a dog and cat named Jack and Almanzo, after the real life dog and husband of one of her favorite authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder. And she has a tattoo which is the logo of Elfquest, a fantasy series which started as a cult comic book, though I confess I don't know where. (Where the tattoo is, not the origin of the comic)

She is also an adoptee. I found that out when I wrote a column about adoption, and Amy wrote me a note. She is close to her parents, and volunteers her time at fairs where prospective parents learn about the process. Many come up to her assuming she is a parent of an adopted child, and are surprised to find she is on the other side of the equation. That sometimes leads to what she describes as a surreal encounter, or as she puts it, one that is both "parallel and perpendicular." She explains it best: "Someone will ask if I have children, and I answer that I have a boy. A few people get confused, thinking Jonah is the adopted child. ‘No,' I explain. ‘I'm adopted. My son is biological.' One lady looked steadily at me, her eyes entering mine with heavy envy. ‘You're so lucky,' she sighed. ‘You're so incredibly lucky.'"

Lucky. It's surreal only if you know the next part of the story. That's because Jonah, whom Amy calls "Boo" and who is now ten, whom she loves "more than the earth and sky," is autistic with severe behavioral issues. And those issues are so extreme that Amy finally felt she had no choice but to place him in a residential facility this past year.

While it was an agonizing decision, it was one she saw coming: "Our bright, amazing, incredible little boy has such violent aggressions," she wrote. When he was smaller, his outbursts were no less disturbing, but were at least manageable. But as he became physically bigger and stronger, they became not only difficult but dangerous. And so she made the gut-wrenching decision, one she has explored in depth in her blog.

Under the current title of "Normal is a Dryer Setting: Autism, sans sugar coating," it's a stream of consciousness posting that Amy began about a year after Jonah was born. In the beginning it chronicled the usual new mother thoughts, issues and activities, along with tidbits that can only be foreshadowing of what was ahead (When Jonah was about a year and a half, in an entry called "Something is Amiss," she wrote "He's a kid with a mind of his own, that's for sure.")

Then came January 12, 2004. The entry is called THE DIAGNOSIS. "I found out today my son Jonah has autism. For those who do so, please pray for us." Later in that post: "There are tears of a kind I've never known before." Still later: "Andy and I are so frightened." Then no posts for 4 months, after which it continues with a description of Jonah's new playgroup. And on it goes through today.

In it, she has let her frustration show through: "Sometimes I get mad. It's like that scene from 'Rainman' with Tom Cruise ranting to his brother, ‘You know what I think, Ray? I think this autism is a bunch of shit! Because you can't tell me that you're not in there somewhere!'" Of course, she has shared her love: "He's my precious little boy, and I want to snatch him up and place kisses all over him." Other entries contain equal parts struggles, triumphs and setbacks.

Amy says that her blog isn't a "triumph-over-autism story." It's an accounting of the messy life she leads, unapologetically bare for all to read. Yes, she's a writer and it's therapeutic. But, beyond that she says, "If I can help just one person feel they are not alone, then the journey will be worth the telling." And by that yardstick, it's hard not to argue that it is a triumph indeed.


You can read Amy's blog at Marc's column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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