By Kerry Cohen
James and I were going to get married at city hall, so I went to the den to tell our combined four kids. Ezra, my ten-year-old autistic son, shook his head.
“No married,” he said.
“You’re coming,” I told him. “I don’t make you do a lot of things you don’t want to do, but this you’re doing. My children will be there when I get married.”
I went back upstairs, rushing around to get things together to leave. Ezra showed up in the kitchen with a blue pool noodle.
“Can you marry this?” he asked.
I laughed, but I did. I performed a quick ceremony in which the pool noodle and I became husband and wife. I never know what is going on in Ezra’s head, or rather, it can take me a while to figure it out. Ezra watched me the whole time like I was crazy, so clearly I wasn’t understanding. He followed me into my bedroom, holding the pool noodle, and he lay on the bed.
“Are you upset that I’m getting married?” I asked him.
I didn’t know whether he didn’t want me to get married because he wanted to stay home, playing on his computer, not having to face the uncertain world, a world he rarely understood and that too often took him by surprise, or if he didn’t want me to get married because I was marrying someone new, someone who wasn’t his father.
“I don’t want you to worry,” I told him. “Everything is going to be just the same. You’ll be here for one week, and then with Daddy the next week, back and forth like always. Nothing is changing.”
“Can James fall into a hole?” he asked.
“You want James to fall into a hole?”
“Can I ruin James?”
I sat next to him and brushed his thick blond hair away from his eyes. I understood this was a big deal for him. It was for all of us. Both James and I had two children each, and the past four years of blending our families had been immensely hard, riddled with complications and arguments and negotiations about how we could make it work. It had been a long road, and I didn’t expect it to get easier, but we had finally made it here.
“I love James,” I told him. “I don’t want him to be ruined or fall into a hole. James loves you. Daddy loves you. And I love you.”
He pointed to a laundry basket. “Can I marry that?” he asked.
“The laundry basket?”
“Can I marry that?” He pointed now to the pool noodle.
“The pool noodle?”
“Can I marry things?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I think you can only marry humans.”
“No humans!” he said.
I understood then what he was trying to wrap his head around. Things. They had long been important to him. It’s a classic symptom of autism: more interest in things than people. When he was little, he carried around the flat foam inset animals from a book. If he lost one of them, like the purple cow, he grew upset enough that we had to spend hours retracing our steps to find it, more often than not buried in the mud at a park. We thought we’d be smart and buy a second copy of the book with the flat foam inset animals, but then his collection included two of each animal, and there were more things to lose.
James had been listening to my conversation with Ezra. “Ezra,” he asked. “Do you want to bring the pool noodle with us to get married?”
“Yeah,” Ezra said.
So, we did. The two other boys used it to chase and hit each other, swatting one another on the back. Ezra dipped his shoes in mud, paying no attention to us or the pool noodle, and James’s daughter held all the flowers. It will forever be a part of our story. Because Ezra was right about this one. James and I are the ones doing something terribly difficult, blending our two loopy families and trying to make it work. Almost weekly, something happens in which I feel like I can’t do it, this was a mistake; I should have just married the god damned pool noodle instead. So, I get it. Things. They’re comforting. They’re uncomplicated. They make sense. If you lose one of the parts, you go find it. Usually, it can be found. Whereas we humans can hardly communicate our feelings are so complex. And then we wind up divorced, like Ezra’s dad and me did. The things you lose don’t always come back.
Kerry Cohen is the author of six books, including the memoirs Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity and Seeing Ezra: A Mother’s Story of Autism, Unconditional Love, and the Meaning of Normal. She practices psychotherapy and writes in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with the writer James Bernard Frost and their four children.