William has a difficult time with emotion. He laughs when he should have shown concern, he cries during a happy song because something about it strikes him as sad, he doesn't like hugs, loves vacuum cleaners and feels sorry for them if they are broken but often feels nothing when his younger brother is crying about something. People make the mistake of thinking that autistic people have no emotions, and if not that, then they think they just don't understand things well enough to emote over them or that their reactions are hay-wired. This past Saturday, my son's 11 year old cat died very suddenly of an embolism. The friend he'd had by his side since he was a baby, who slept with him, who grew up with him, who loved him unconditionally and never had a judgmental thought about him, who never thought of him as "The Weird Kid," who followed him around the house meowing, the friend who was the one and only warm body who was allowed to give and take affection from him, gone. I had to tell him that his cat had died. Anyone who thinks that autistic people have no emotion, that they don't know how to love, should have been there for this and it would have been something they would have never forgotten. It would have been an attitude adjusting, life changing experience, as it was for me. After the words, "Buster died," came out of my mouth, I watched his expression turn to devastation and despair, I saw him shatter into a million pieces. I felt like doing it myself. It was probably one of the worst moments of my life. He does allow me to touch him, I did put my arms around him, but I knew it wasn't what he wanted. His greatest comfort was the one he couldn't have, because his greatest comfort was the one he mourned.
We gave him some closure, which I think is a very small comfort. He looked at Buster and petted him one last time. He helped with the burial and we all said something about Buster. He knew Buster was gone. Permanence has always been a difficult concept for him, and over the next days he asked me over and over if Buster was really gone, was he really not coming back, had we buried him in the yard? Right before we buried Buster, he said something to me that I will never forget. "Mom, I don't have any friends anymore." I had known this was true, but I didn't know he knew it. I was guilty myself of something I'd resented in other people. I'd thought he didn't understand and that he didn't care. He has kids at school that he knows, yes, that he interacted with. But he seems to feel no attachment to any of them and it has always been that way. The cat was the one truly safe 'person' he'd known, and that 'person' had adored him and wanted him, had never been mad at him or rejected him. The next few days, he cried off and on. He also talked over old times about Buster, laughed over some of his memories and reminisced. He was dealing with it a lot better than I was.
Within a day or so he was lamenting that he was "no longer a pet owner." We do have other animals, but he has an aversion to dogs (I have 2) and our other cat is not affectionate at all and bites. Two days after Buster died, we got a new kitten. We have two boys and William happily agreed to share the kitten. He even let his brother Sean pick the one he wanted and Sean picked the kitten's name, too. He was called Ben 10, Sean's favorite cartoon character. That night I took a good look at Ben and realized, that contrary to what we had been told, Ben was a Gwen. Gwen is Ben 10's cousin, so Sean made a quick name change and all was well. Gwen is channeling Buster, I think. She easily chose William as her person. She sleeps with him, she follows him around meowing (to his great delight) and she cries when he leaves her alone. She likes all of us, but there's little doubt-she got a message from Buster, telling her to treat that one special.