April is ‘World Autism Awareness Month’. April 2 is ‘World Autism Awareness Day‘.
And I am proud to announce Kindling has been officially selected as the ‘World Autism Awareness Novel of Awesomeness’.
To commemorate this prestigious achievement, I have pasted below an excerpt from the book, soon to be published in the US and Canada through Exciting Press. The scene describes an epiphany for a grandfather coming to grips with his “lost” grandson. It’s a moment of not just awareness, but of true understanding. It’s my favourite moment in the entire story.
I hope it stays with you throughout April, and beyond.
‘I never told you this.’
I look over at Dad, leaning against the grille of his long-serving ute, maintaining his resolute scrutiny of the target zone.
He re-crosses his feet. The effort seems to cause him some grief. Heaving, hobbled – some rescue team we are. I get a flash of Kieran singing REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts’ in the bath at home then it’s gone with Dad’s words:
‘I thought the little man was lost. Not “lost” like now, but…lost. Yeah. When you guys told us about the diagnosis, I didn’t…I didn’t handle it too well. I was pretty upset for a while. Couple o’ months, I guess. All the talk in my head was “Why us? Why did our only grandchild have to be this way? It’s not fair! It’s not bloody fair!” And all the rest of it. Your mother – God rest her soul – made sure the two of you didn’t know about it. She told me if I so much as pulled a frown during your visits, she’d make me sleep in the campervan for the winter. She meant it too. She always understood things a lot quicker than me. She always seemed to know the best place to have your head and your heart.’
He drops his chin an inch or two, as if his thoughts have reached some sort of tipping point. It hits me just how easily decline can be identified in my father. His hands – so weathered from a career of cutting precious stones. His eyes – so worn from a lifetime of finding flaw with beauty.
‘The anger went away, but I didn’t replace it with anything good. I gave up. The little man was damaged – that’s all there was to it. Okay, we would have him over and we would find things to do. We’d do birthdays and Christmas and everything else. But it would never be the same as our friends with grandkids. He wasn’t going to talk. He wasn’t going to share with others. He wasn’t going to be in a sports team and he wasn’t going to find a nice girl to marry. So long to sitting in the stands with you and me at Sutton Stadium and watching the Eagles get beat. That’s the way it was.
‘Then the two of you showed me different, Nathaniel. Showed me different, no doubt about it. Felicity was…unbelievable. Best mother we’d ever known – Mum and I both agreed. She worked and she studied. She brought the little man so far along, so much further than I thought possible. She took the blinders off me.’
A fire engine sweeps past on Brandsworth, loosening the lump in my throat and shepherding my thoughts back into the moment. The sight of it triggers an inkling of something that is vague yet uncomfortable. There is something binding my boy to that vehicle. Something beyond their shared destination. Time? Place? I want to aim a spotlight at the shadow lurking in the wings, but Dad’s centre stage must not be downplayed:
‘I told Felicity one day that she’d crafted a diamond. She didn’t agree. She said she had an emerald. She’d always wanted a diamond – so many folks in this world had them – and she expected to get one. When a different rock arrived, it was a disappointment. Hell, it was more than a disappointment – it was shattering. What did I do wrong? Don’t I deserve one? She said she longed for the gem she never received and ignored the one in her hand. But then, over time, she figured it out. She said she let go. Gave up the diamond fantasy and came to recognise the emerald and treasure it in its own right. And she stopped being hard on herself. She didn’t know better before, but that’s okay ’cause she knew better now. She finished off by telling me understanding and forgiveness should always stand together.’
Though he is in profile, I can see his face crumbling. Pools gather in his lower lids. Sad, staccato breaths escape from his nose.
‘I’m sorry, son. I’m sorry I ever saw Kieran as anything less than a godsend. Anything other than the greatest gift a stupid old bugger could hope to receive.’
I manage a shaky nod and silence ensues. Thirty seconds passes, perhaps more. Like a true friend spurned, my father’s rationalist thought will not go quietly into the night. He cranes his neck, sucks the smoky Pendarra air into his lungs, reinforces his watchman’s gaze with a grunt.
‘He wasn’t lost back then. He won’t be lost now.’
I wipe the tears from my eyes and tuck in beside him. We stand shoulder to shoulder – Liss’s vision of understanding and forgiveness made into men – aching for a glimpse of our emerald.