GREATEST PERSON OF THE DAY
At the Huffington Post there is a contest going on where you nominate someone who is “The Greatest Person of the Day” ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/01/nominate-a-greatest-perso_n_2479942.html ). I was going to nominate someone for it, but then saw that there is a two hundred word limit. I realized it would be an impossible task for the person I have in mind. Besides, they are looking for stories with some excitement and panache involved: saving orphans from a burning building or inventing a solar powered stove for third world villagers, exploits along that vein. I understand their motives and don’t begrudge them. The sponsor is GLAD of trash bag fame, and GLAD wants their name and products associated with innovation and adventure. What company wouldn’t?
So I can’t enter the contest like I wanted. But I still want to tell you about the person who is always “The Greatest Person of the Day” in my life. She is the Greatest Person, Every Day for me and my three children. That person is my wife, Tess.
We’ve been together sixteen years, and as I am so fond of saying: like most men I married much better than I deserved. A lot of women would not be able to do what she does day in and out and still carry themselves with the grace and compassion that are her trademarks. We had dreams when we were a young couple in our twenties. In addition to children they involved furthering our educations and travel and, while we never said it, there was always the understanding that there would be the semi-new cars and luxuries on occasion. Home ownership for sure.
Our dreams were rather modest, now that I look back at them.
After the birth of our second child, Sage, Tess would soon be entering a two year school to be an ultrasound tech. Once she had secured that income I would then do something similar. I had lost my cushy tech job to outsourcing and was working low paying, menial labor gigs to keep the lights on and food in our bellies, but it was OK because we had a plan and there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
All was on track till Sage was diagnosed with autism at age two. I look back at pictures of him before and after that diagnoses, and it is like I am viewing another child. Not a day goes by that his future does not consume our thoughts, fears, and hopes. You learn to temper that last one, hope. With autism it is often two steps back for every step forward, and regression is a sad reality.
Putting Sage, a boy who could not talk, who was prone to fits and tears, in a typical school was out of the question. We had read the horror stories, we knew too well his limitations. The dreams of becoming an ultrasound tech were put on permanent hiatus. Sage would have to stay at home, and Tess would become the one who would take on the Herculean task of guiding him out of the impenetrable and confusing labyrinth that is autism.
I would continue to drive trucks, dig ditches, lay sod, swing a shovel – whatever I could do to bring in money. No matter how hard I worked though, it was never enough. People without a special needs child would be surprised to learn how expensive hope is. Hope comes in many forms, none of them cheap: hand crafted B2 vitamin shots from Georgia. Speech therapy. ABA therapy. Occupational therapy. Horse therapy (about what it sounds like, and you may scoff but desperation has the non-surprising aspect of making one desperate). Flash card upon flash card. More dietary supplements. Special bread ordered online.
Sage responded a little to some, nothing to others. My wife never gave up trying. She still hasn’t. Sage is nearly eight and knows a handful of words. His thoughts and motivations are ever a mystery to us. At times I think I see the long lost child that Sage was before the autism swallowed him: he is glimmering out at us in the twinkling of his eyes or I hear it in his beautiful, innocent and guileless laugh. But those sightings are rare and, like an oasis, I’m not sure if they exist or are just symptomatic of what I would die to see. I don’t dare to hope. Hope is expensive on many levels.
Tess hopes for both of us, but does so much more. She home schools three children (Willow, our oldest, and River, our youngest, are sharp as tacks). She keeps our humble home clean. When I come in from work, aching and down, a hot meal is always waiting me. She massages my screaming muscles to where they can arise the next morning and go out the front door again. She listens to me vent, rant, rage, and yes, cry. Never judging. Never telling me to get over it, to give her a break, to stop being selfish and understand that she, too, is never far from tears.
She drives a sixteen year old car. She buys clothes from Good Will. Our relatives have given up on trying to get her to buy something for herself. They will give her gift certificates to Old Navy, she will cash them out and spend the money on Sage, on the next item in the never ending catalogs that make their trade in Promises of Normalcy for our oldest boy. She needs dental work, refuses to get it. Loves dark chocolate, will not buy it.
She used to love to read. But every waking moment is now spent on us, her family, and our never ceasing bailing of the financial boat that we float through the Sea of Life in. We always fear that the next big wave will drown us, but Tess, she is our life preserver. Somehow we always make it, if barely. But we can always hear the waves.
She is stronger than me. I could not do what she does. I married well indeed.
Tessie Lee McLarty will never win the GLAD contest for “Greatest Person of the Day”. Her achievements and efforts will never be known by most. But she is our world. She is the greatest person I know. The honor is mine.
Ever With Love and Admiration,
Your Loving and Grateful Husband