“We Carry the Homelands”
In Autism Land, there’s never really a good time to go on a trip. We just take a deep breath and make a run for it. It isn’t something my husband or I undertake lightly because it leaves the other spouse to carry the whole daily routine on his or her own. So we consider the trip from every angle before we commit.
But here I sit, on a long flight home to Southeast Asia, to attend a family wedding. G is sitting next to me gawping at an incredible, almost simulated-looking sunset, excited to be away from the stultifying rhythms of the school year.
I’ve worked hard to get here. As the great enabler, I know how much A loves my cooking, so I have cooked until I’m sick of my kitchen, and have a freezer hoard worthy of a rural family in deer hunting season. I was still cooking this morning. It’s a good thing I didn’t board the plane with a spatula.
Every time I make this trip, I leave half my family behind, so I leave half of my heart behind too. A just isn’t ready for long flights, so this is how it has to be. The heart-ripping-in-two sensation just has to be endured each time. With each cooked dish I leave behind for A to enjoy while I’m away, I build a little bridge between him and me. Since he is a man of moment to moment sensory experiences, I imagine I’m leaving a Proustian flare that lights up the messy, tummy to brain to heart connection that flows between mothers and young children.
It may not be a popular thing to say, but until we became autism parents, I really did not feel all that much at home in the US. And maybe, even now, it’s just that A shares an (exaggerated) sense of otherness with me, so we bask in it together. I never feel lonely when I’m with him. There’s always something cooking in his head, and he always finds something to laugh about. He built the bridge for me. Not a food bridge, but a reason I could fathom and accept and think of as a purpose for putting down roots here. Finally, with no more trepidation or soul sickness or fear of dying in a strange land, I began to open my heart. And what I have gained is much more meaningful to me than citizenship status or material gain (though those are not trivial things).
So every time I make this trip, I invariably unpack all the emotions that come with being an immigrant, plus what it means to abscond from my duties for a while. Some day, some day, my husband will be able to fly with me, so that leaving doesn’t mean I am always away from him.
Sitting all squashed up on this bumpy, endless journey, I am feeling the unfurling of baby bamboo shoots of excitement. To get there and feast my eyes on my beloved parents; we don’t get enough time together and I have to make it count. To laugh and cry with my dearest sisters, whom my soul would recognize even if we space and time traveled and bumped into one another on some other planet. To rebuild connections with school and college friends, who form such a large part of my early identity, and whom I am blessed to have in my life even now. To breathe in the dear, familiar sights, the sluggish heat, and to feel those aching places in my homesick heart made light again.
Because every time I make this trip, I am broken by leaving half my family, but I am made whole again by fixing the links to my earlier life. The first generation of immigrants in any family is never going to be the model picture of assimilation. We have a lot of bridges to build, and we don’t occupy one country in our heads.
But we are made stronger by these journeys. Every time, we accept that what we break, we cannot always fix. We make new lands in our hearts with the shards.
Blessed am I, that every time I make this trip, so many beloved people are overjoyed to greet me. And I carry in my mind’s eye the picture of a precious boy, sitting on his couch with his dad, stimming on his mop, humming to himself, waiting patiently for me to come back and slide the pieces back together. The pieces that say “Hello, I love you.”
Happy Thanksgiving to my dear readers. I am infinitely blessed to occupy this country of words with you.