once upon a time
The first notable thing about her is her eyes. Other than that, she seems like a typical 10-year-old girl for the most part. But not her eyes.
She doesn't look you in the eye when she speaks to you. She doesn't look anyone in the eyes. The words come out of her mouth, and the words are clear, the vocabulary well-developed. Her eyes are directed at the ground.
Since my husband has Asperger's, I think I'm pretty good at recognizing the signs of it. Lack of eye contact is a big one, and typical. This girl has other traits and sensitivities that I'd spotted too, so when I was copied in on a list of kids with "health notes to be aware of" from the school nurse, I wasn't surprised to see this girl on the list with "autism" next to her name.
For the most part, she's a happy and typical 5th grader who goes through my crosswalk on a regular basis. She engages in conversations, she has friends and enjoys extracurricular activities. In my non-professional observance, she is "high functioning" autistic, or Aspergerian.
Several weeks ago, she breathlessly told me that she'd gotten the part of Gretel in the school's production of "Hansel and Gretel". Wow, a headliner! I knew she liked to dance, so the fact that she'd tried out for the play was no surprise, but the part of Gretel? Even though her eyes looked at the ground the whole time she told me this news, she was clearly excited, and I was excited for her.
This morning, "Gretel" and her friend Belle approached the crosswalk together. Belle asked me, "Did you go to the play on Friday?" No, I hadn't, and then Belle said, "You should hear her sing!", indicating Gretel. "She has the voice of an Angel!" Belle then leaned over and whispered something in Gretel's ear, and at that, Gretel began to sing.
It was absolutely, unequivocally, categorically, without question, fully and altogether BEAUTIFUL.
The pitch was perfect, the intonation was deep, the melody was haunting. I was flabbergasted.
I looked to Belle whose expectant eyes were already watching mine - Belle is clearly not autistic. She and I spoke to each other, using just our eyes, as Gretel continued to sing. Belle's eyes said, "See?! What'd I tell you?!", and my eyes said, "Are you *&%#-ing kidding me?!?!" (It's okay to swear to children as long as you're doing it with just your eyes).
Gretel sang just a couple of bars of a song I didn't recognize, right there at the school crossing of Crazy-Driver Boulevard. After she finished, I went to say something, but my voice caught in my throat, as I was near to crying.
Near to crying because (1) it was just so beautiful and (2) I'd missed the play.
This month's NaBloPoMo theme is "Gift". Gretel has an unmistakable gift. And her sharing it with me this morning is one of the best gifts I've ever received.
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By Laurel Regan