With Walker we began in a darkened room. No matter how one altered his position, his head had always moved like the needle of a compass to the light. Light was his true north. But in dim light, with shades drawn, Walker slowly moved his head away from the window. Still, what he looked at then was not us but objects. Toys.
From the moment our son, Walker, was born, in 1996, we knew something was different about him. Friends and doctors tried to convince us we were wrong, that all newborns were that way. Even when his problems became more obvious, no one at our HMO would believe us. But we weren’t wrong. By the time he was six months old, we had no doubt. Walker was covered with eczema; he struggled to breathe at night; he could barely grab a toy. More difficult to describe, but just as compelling, was the sense that he was suffering some disturbance of the soul—he flailed in space. Somehow, mysteriously, he would look at us only when we were standing far above him, or across the room.
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It’s joy, it’s misery, it’s an ache that you miss when it’s gone—what is it about desire that has such a hold on us? Patricia Stacey takes a tutorial on a subject as old, knotty, delicious, and confusing as love itself—though love has nothing to do with it—and discovers the real laws of attraction.
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By the time the scabies entered our house, my husband, Cliff, and I were already occupying two separate orbits, rarely intersecting. A few months earlier he had stopped saying goodbye when he left for work, and I tended to look away when he came home. I couldn’t stand to see the disdain — imagined or not — that colored his face when he looked at me.
After we determined that the scabies had come from my visits to care for my mother, Cliff blamed me for their arrival, and I blamed him for our inability to get rid of them. The scabies didn’t seem to care who was right. They seeped out of our clothes, burrowed into our skin, and woke us in the night to fits of scratching. I didn’t go out much, only to buy groceries or plastic sheeting for our furniture.
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In 2003, I was invited on a radio show to talk about a book I had written about parenting. During a commercial break, the host asked me if I wanted to read a passage. Sitting across from me, tall and stately in front of a large microphone, Diane Rehm, the celebrity I had known for years, (though only through her voice), pierced me with her elegant eyes and I knew something about myself in that moment that I hadn’t understood before. While my book was about helping my young son Ian* recover from autism, the passage I wanted to read had nothing to do with him. Or, everything, depending on how you look at it. What I wanted to read was about the most intimate aspect of my life—my marriage. While Rehm waited for my reply, I realized something even more surprising about myself. I didn’t just want to read the passage about my marriage on national radio; I had to.
If there was any truth to my life as I raised a child at risk for autism, it lay in one ridiculously obvious “secret.” My husband Dave* and I were unhappy. For months we had been like two dogs tied together to the same pole, circling it, around and around, while our chains clanked and strained. We were caught in our certain knowledge that the problem with our lives was each other. Why would I want anyone to know that?
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* Names in this story have been changed