Journal

11.00am, July 21st 2001. In the too-familiar confines of Brisbane’s Wesley Hospital, my daughter is born. Three minutes later, my son follows.

How to properly mark the arrival of my children into the world? What can I do to let them know they are loved from the first second forward?

I will write them a journal. One each. Until their fifth birthdays. It makes sense; I have so few skills, but seeing lives, conjuring thoughts, assembling words – these are my staples.

I write. Moments of hilarity, of poignancy. I fill small pages with tiny details and big imagination. Flickers of a technicolour film in its formative months. I write fast for ten months.

Then I am slow.

My son is slow, too. To sit up. To crawl. To bond. The gap between the twins was once three minutes – it is now considerably more. My beautiful wife is concerned, the GP who looks him over less so. He is within the normal range. Just. But, nothing to worry about. He’s just slow.

He’s not slow at eveASDrything, though. When he squirms. When he fights. When he demands attention. When he turns his toy cars upside down and spins the wheels, over and over and over again.

Then his meagre leaves of language – ‘dog’, ‘fan’, ‘Dad’ – are carried away on a breeze no one notices or feels.

That’s when I know. That’s when I stop. Eleven months after I penned the first entry, the journals are done. More than half the pages are blank.

Like my boy, the words are gone.

*

A decade later, they return.

Not to my children’s journals – those abandoned, now-yellowing pages will never be inked. The site of their comeback is my fifth novel, Are You Seeing Me?. And their keeper is Dan Richter: carpenter, single parent, father to Justine and Perry – the former neurotypical, the latter on the autism spectrum – born three minutes apart.AYSM

He promises to write the journals until his kids turn eighteen. He won’t keep his promise; like his author, he falters when his son is diagnosed. It hurts to continue scribing Perry’s journey. He stops. He let’s go.

But, unlike his author, Dan holds on for his daughter. He records moments of hilarity, of poignancy. First days at school, family holidays, report cards, a boyfriend ‘s visit. He holds on for his daughter and, in doing so, he keeps his son’s story alive, too. He fashions a full and lasting legacy. He completes the technicolour film.

He calls it The Life and Times of a Tree-Frog.

He falls. Pancreatic cancer claims him two weeks before the twins reach adulthood. He is robbed of life, but not his goal. Justine and Perry know they were loved, from their first second to his last.

And, through his words, he lives on eternal.

*

The words. They were gone for a while, but they returned.

Now, they live on eternal.

Thank you, Dan.

Are You Seeing Me? is out August 18 in Canada and the US through Orca Book Publishers.