Sundays too my father got up earlyand put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,then with cracked hands that achedfrom labor in the weekday weather madebanked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.When the rooms were warm, he’d call,and slowly I would rise and dress,Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the coldand polished my good shoes as well.What did I know, what did I knowof love’s austere and lonely offices?– “Those Winter Sundays,” Robert Hayden
I woke up at 4:45 a.m. to the sound of my cat having what is either an epileptic seizure or a transient ischemic attack, and ever since then, I have had no intention of writing for Autistics Speaking Day today. My day seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the annual festival of Autistic people speaking for ourselves, a festival founded in direct response to the theories and rhetoric that insist that to be unable to speak for oneself is autism.
But then. I’m autistic; this is my day; why not speak? Sufficient unto each day is the relevance thereof, and all that.
Speaking isn’t the only thing Autistic people are accused of being incapable of doing. Love is another. In her 2015 speech to the Vatican, Autism Speaks founder Suzanne Wright continued to play on this stereotype, claiming that “expressions of love…can be so difficult” for autistic people. At Diary of a Mom, Jess Wilson has written extensively about how clinicians told her that her autistic daughter Brooke would never display love, make friends, or form affectionate attachments.
It’s not merely that it’s a stereotype, and a harmful one at that – it’s that people think it has an actual basis in reality to the point that there’s an actual syndrome NT people supposedly get based on this “truth.” Not only do we fail to love, the claim goes, we fail at it so hard that we actually cause traumatic stress disorders in “normal” people.
We don’t love other humans, the story goes. Sometimes, maybe, we love objects or animals – usually cats. But if we do, our love becomes a source of curiosity or spectacle, as when this autistic man remodeled the interior of his house for the comfort and joy of his cats.
Loving a cat over the past week has made me spend a great deal of time thinking about what, exactly, love is.
Love is repeating “it’s okay, shh, it’s okay, it’s okay” at 4:45 a.m. as she convulses uncontrollably, her pupils dilated and her fur soaked with urine, terrified of what her own body is doing against her will or desire.
Love is sitting up with her even though you’ve only slept four hours yourself, so that she isn’t in the dark alone.
Love is listening to an emergency veterinarian tell you that she has severe immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, that it’s amazing she did not go into shock and die in the car on the way to the hospital. Love is holding back your tears until you’re in the car, lest she see you cry.
Love is cleaning up pee for the third time today. Love is running two extra loads of laundry just to clean the blankets. Love is having an intense sensory aversion to stickiness, damp fur, and cat pee smell, and pushing it away because she needs to be picked up and moved somewhere safe right now. Love is postponing your fourth change of clothes for the day long enough to take the vet’s phone call.
Love is learning to count platelets.
Love is running to the vet’s office twice and the pharmacy three times so that she can take all her meds as conveniently as possible.
Love is opening five different cans of cat food just to find the one flavor she’ll eat today. Love is scooping poop out of her box like it’s buried treasure.
Love is carrying your other cat around in your arms as you try to make your breakfast and answer an urgent email, because he doesn’t know what is wrong in the house, he only knows something is, and he’s scared.
Love is composing professional emails to people who feel the best way to get you on their side in a business dispute is to question your basic competency as an adult as you sit in the vet’s office waiting to hear whether the blood tests say it is time to let her go.
Love is prying open her jaw despite her growling, because she needs her meds more than you need her to like you.
Love is buying a new blanket for your bed because the old one is officially Hers now.
Love is every attack maybe being the last one.
Love is everything you do so that if you do wake up tomorrow to find her gone, you will have to grieve but you won’t have to do it with the regret that you could have loved her harder and you didn’t. Love is knowing you’ll feel that regret no matter what you do today.
Love is a verb. It’s a thing we do, fiercely, and without reservation, when it is the hardest thing in the world, because the loving is worth it. Yet it is a thing autistic people are told we cannot do, that we do not do, that we are harming the rest of you by not doing.
Right now, I can’t find that bloviating relevant.
Right now, I have someone who needs my love.