let(From my Series She Listened With Her Eyes. This is fiction.)
I had come to Simon’s house to ask for advice. I had been thinking about my relationship with Yasmin and about the big decisions we would need to make as things progressed, and boy were things progressing. I wanted to talk to him about the practicalities of being in a relationship, of starting a family, of the money issues basically. I wanted to ask, “How in the world do you afford everything???”
I was standing in the living room of his apartment, looking at a row of frames featuring photos of his family. Mat his eldest son, a future scientist; Josh, the most magnetic little boy you’ve ever met; Diane, the sweet princess; and William. I nearly forgot about William. Born next to Mat, William was the second born, though it seemed like he was the youngest, his autism stunting much of his natural processes. I fixed on a photo of Simon cradling William, both their faces beaming with unadulterated happiness.
“Hey David. Sorry to keep you waiting. I had to get the kids to bed.” Simon called to me as he walked into the room, carrying a sleeping William in his arms, covering nearly his whole torso. I had forgotten that he was no longer a toddler but a growing boy.
“Hi Simon.” I shook his hand. “Thanks for making time for me.”
“Of course, David. Did you bring drinks?”
“Right here.” I said, holding up a bottle of Soylent.
“What the heck is that?” he said, with a suspicious look.
“It’s a meal replacement.”
“Get a wife, David. You’re becoming even more abnormal. Do us both a favor and grab two beers from the fridge. The kitchen is at the door to your right.”
I grabbed two bottles. “Where’s your bottle opener?” I called out.
“It’s somewhere there.” he answered, not being very helpful. I found it anyway after opening a third drawer.
I went back to the living room, put our beers on the coffee table, using old magazines as makeshift coasters. He told me to take the master’s seat while he sat on a long sofa. “I prefer sitting here. Lets me lay William down beside me and still have space. He’s gotten quite heavy now. Carrying an 8 year old is a whole lot heavier than a baby.” he explained without insecurity or the self-righteousness common to people aware of their sacrifices.
Carefully laying William down with his head on his lap, he caressed his son’s hair, smiled, looked at me, and said, “So what’s up? What brings the hermit to my home?”
“I’m not that bad.”
“You’re worse. How can I help you?”
“Can I ask you something? Is it hard to have a special child?”
“All children are special, David.” He replied dryly
“You know what I mean.”
“No I don’t know what you mean.” He said, not making it easy for me.
“I mean a child with a condition.”
“You mean an autistic child?” he said.
“If you put it that way…”
“It’s not how I put it. It is what it is. Don’t worry. I’m not offended. We’ve been friends long enough to know you’re good with words when you have the luxury of drafts, but terrible on the spot.”
“It’s true. And that’s what’s important right?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked him a bit confused.
“You asked me a question. You asked me what it’s like to have William. I’m answering you. To have William is a challenge. It’s true. It is what it is. I was featured in our community newsletter once. They interviewed Susan and I about what it’s like to raise a child with autism. For a few months after, we were overwhelmed with support and encouragement. Letters came in, people even sent gifts and money. That was a few years ago. These days, there’s not much encouragement, no letters about on how much we’ve inspired others, no ‘praise Gods’ or ‘God bless yous’. What we do have is an early morning every day, 4:00am to be exact, when William wakes up crying. We wake up to piss on sheets, and piss on me as I carry him to calm him. What we do have are never ending medical bills with no end in sight. What we do have is a responsibility to make daily sacrifices of time, money, energy for him.” He said the last sentence looking down at his son, he smiled, and looked back at me. “But after 8 years, here’s what I’ve learned, more than the things I just mentioned, what we have now, what we’ve always had, is William. We don’t have a special case or lifetime of sacrifice. We have our son. And that’s as beautiful as it gets.”
“I can’t say I completely understand.” I admitted.
“I don’t blame you. You single guys can be efficiently selfish. But you will someday. You’ll understand when you truly fall in love. When the joy of holding someone overwhelms the weight the of the responsibility.
“We have to be realistic Simon. There are responsibilities in the real world.” I cut him.
“I never said there weren’t any. Why do you think I work so hard? There are bills to pay! A lot of bills!” he said with a laugh. “And it’s tough” he said in contrastingly subdued voice. “It can get really hard. Especially during bad days. There’s quite a few of them to be honest. But I like how my wife put it in a prayer once, during a particularly trying period, she said, ‘Father, give us beautiful eyes that we may always see Your beauty even though we face dark times.’ It’s when we lose sight of God’s beauty that things get really dark. It’s not the circumstance. It’s our perspective. It’s not William that makes my load heavy. It’s my selfish heart that forgets that to change his sheets is to love him, and to love him daily, to love others daily, is to truly live. Because of William I truly live. It’s not our lack of money that causes me to worry. It’s because I have been conditioned to trust in money too much. It’s not the medical bills that makes me feel deprived. It’s my lack of contentment. We always think a change in circumstances will make all the difference, that a beautiful life is made up of beautiful circumstances. I’ve learned that a beautiful life is a life lived with beautiful eyes.”
As he was speaking, I remembered my conversation with Yasmin just a few hours earlier, “David, promise me that you won’t do bad things to others.” she started. “Even if it will give us more stuff. I’d rather we sleep in sleeping bags than we do anything bad to others. I’d be happier, and I know God will be happier too.”
“It’s not our circumstances that make life beautiful” I caught Simon saying again, clicking back to our conversation, “It’s how we see our circumstances that determine the beauty we recognize. Too many of us are praying for beautiful circumstances when we really should be praying for beautiful eyes.”
I thought about Yasmin’s eyes. She has beautiful eyes. The most beautiful I’ve ever seen. They’re dark sharp, they’re dark brown, and they look like kindness, with no malice through to her soul.
“David.” I heard Simon’s voice call me.
“Sorry. I was thinking about what you were saying.”
“I’m sorry for rambling. You asked.”
“No, don’t be. I liked what you said.”
“So, you still haven’t told me why we’re here. I’m sure it wasn’t to hear me talk about William.”
“How do you afford everything? I know where you work. I have a pretty good idea of how much you make. Yet you never seem stressed.”
“Haha!” He laughed. “Seem is the key word. I definitely get stressed. But that’s why I’m so grateful, despite not being able to afford much, I have Susan, Matt, William, Josh, Diane. I know I’ll never truly be able to afford them, but the good news is this: I don’t have to. They’re gifts. You never have to afford gifts. They’re given to you. To have them, you simply need to receive them.” he winked at me with that last sentence.
I thought about what he said.
“Is there anything else you want to talk about?” he asked, still brushing the sleeping William’s hair.
“No. This was good. Thanks. This was good.”
He smiled. “Come by anytime. Thanks for the beer.”
“The beer was yours.” I reminded him.
“Thanks for giving me a great reason to have one.”
I looked at my friend. How did a foolish guy like me end up with such a wise friend?
“Thanks Simon.” I said as I walked out the door of his place. “I’ll remember what you told me. Beautiful eyes.”
“Beautiful eyes my friend.” he said nodding, carrying William once more. “Oh crap.” He said, as a darker shade of his blue shirt spread across his chest and stomach. “William just peed. Have to go change him.” he offered his hand and I shook it, feeling something warm and wet.
“Is that pee?” I asked more than a little grossed out.
“Haha!” Simon laughed. “Don’t be such a wuss. Welcome to my world. Come back in, wash your hands. It’s not the end of the world.”