June 13, 2011
If today were a Saturday or a Sunday, the place would be crowded, mostly with brash teenagers loudly claiming their territory. But it's late, just before sundown so the heat is ever-so-slightly less oppressive, and it's a Monday. We almost have the pool to ourselves.
Schuyler swims. Julie and I don't, not today, although one or the other of us usually will. Julie has just gotten home from work, a job she likes but which is sometimes more stressful than it should be. When she's home, Julie has the weight of the world on her shoulders, sometimes money and sometimes her health or mine but mostly the constant consideration and work and concern for her broken little girl. She shouldn't require decompression after work, but fairness isn't a right and that's just that. Today was a good day; Julie doesn't swim but instead soaks up the last bit of sun. I sit beside the pool as well, reading a book. This happens much less often than I care to admit, to my shame.
Schuyler swims, mostly alone. Something has changed since last summer, seemingly at once. Schuyler has always seemed fearless, but the truth is that until this summer, she was never entirely comfortable in the water. In the past, she loved to swim, but always with a hand close to the edge. The moments when she went underwater were always followed by a few sputtering seconds of recovery, hands flapping and panic in her eyes. Last summer saw some improvement, but still. There were Issues.
This summer has been different, and without transition. The first moment she jumped into the pool, she was entirely comfortable, and fearless. Now she leaps from the high walls around the edge with abandon, in a position resembling nothing so much as a jumping spider, pouncing on its prey in tv slow motion. She spends as much time underwater as her lungs can handle. When she swims, she keeps her legs together and does what Julie calls a dolphin kick but which looks to me exactly like the mermaids she loves.
After years of trying, Schuyler has found her mermaid soul.
There is another person in the pool, a shy little boy maybe a year or two younger than Schuyler. His grandmother watches him and tries to convince him to talk to Schuyler. Schuyler is all for this plan as well and invades his space with enthusiasm, but the boy is hesitant. We've seen it before, often when Schuyler is paired with autistic children in school or at conferences. For kids who are timid or who have social anxieties, Schuyler is kryptonite. She is a shy kid's devil.
The grandmother asks questions, but of course the pool is a place of vulnerability for Schuyler, without her speech device to answer for her. Schuyler wants to give her name, but she can't, and really, it doesn't seem to matter to the boy. He doesn't want to be left alone, exactly; as Schuyler swims and plays, he approaches her slowly, fascinated but confused by her, which puts him in league with basically the whole world, myself included.
Julie and I could get up and walk around the pool to be near the grandmother. We could make ourselves available to answer her questions, the ones she has been shouting to Schuyler in the fleeting moments that her head is above water. But we don't. We don't even discuss it; it's not a team snub. When we discuss it later, we discover that we were on the same page. Maybe we came across as impolite. Perhaps we actually were rude. It certainly wouldn't be the first time I've intentionally chosen to be chilly to someone, and not even in response to some perceived slight. The grandmother didn't do anything wrong, and yet we both chose to let her sit in her own confusion rather then enlighten her as to Schuyler's... schuylerness.
It's not something I can complain about, because I've clearly made something of a career out of it in recent years, but we don't always feel like we need to explain Schuyler. I've been more aware of it recently as I've been reading Jean Vanier and Ian Brown. We've spent so much time and energy trying to integrate Schuyler, and it's always been something that she has wanted. To fit in, to make her way in the typical world, these have been Schuyler's dreams, more hers if possible than ours, even. The fact that we've been unable to do that in some significant ways feels like one of the areas in which I have failed her the most. There's a lot I've gotten wrong with Schuyler, but perhaps my attempts to help her "pass" are the greatest. I'm no longer confident that it was ever the right thing to do, although she has certainly worked hard to make it happen, the thing she's wanted more than anything else in the world. She's always been Pinocchio, but there's never been much of a Blue Fairy to help her.
But lately, I've thought a great deal about Schuyler's right to exist on her own terms, without the pressure of a world in which she almost fits, but never completely does. I'm not talking about giving up on integration, certainly not in school, but at times like this, sitting by the pool and watching her swim like a sea creature, totally in her element, I understand that Schuyler doesn't need to fit. She doesn't need to talk, and we don't need to explain why she does what she does and can't do what she can't do. She only needs to swim, and we only need to watch, quietly and with something very much like peace.
Schuyler finally figures out how to reach the boy. She climbs out of the pool and up onto the wall, and she leaps fearlessly into the water, splashing down in her angry crab position. She swims to the surface and then points to him, a gauntlet playfully laid down. He smiles, maybe for the first time since she noisily entered his world, and then he climbs out of the pool and takes his place on the wall. He cannonballs into the water, and when he breaks the surface, he hears Schuyler clapping for him.
And that's it. Whatever connection they've been looking for has been made. The wordless girl and the shy boy take turns leaping from the wall. When they take the air, their anxieties remain behind them. They don't know each other's names or what grades they are in or any of the other questions that the grandmother tried to ask. They're not here to talk. They're here to swim.
When we leave, they wave to each other. "See you tomorrow," she says, although I have no idea if he understands her. I suspect he might.