In middle school, Frank was my best friend. We were part of a larger gang, mostly boys - a few girls, who congregated at the end of Frank’s driveway on Bellevue Street after dinner every night when the heat of the Tucson days relented a little. There was never alcohol. No one in the group smoked. We were good kids. Mostly we stood around talking about movies we wanted to see, sports and our favourite albums. It was around the time Footloose came out, around the same time I fell madly in love with Kevin Bacon.
When my parents announced we were heading back to Canada, they might as well have informed me we were on our way to a remote camp on the planet Jupiter. I was inconsolable; a heartbroken mess of a girl who couldn’t imagine life without her friends.
I received regular letters from Frank for a few years but inevitably we stopped writing. I always wondered how his life had turned out. When the world wide web showed up, I Googled him but nothing came of my searches. And then last July, 25 years after I left Tucson, I received a comment from a Frank on one of my posts. When I logged onto Facebook, there was a message from him. He told me how sorry he was to hear about Matthew, and that sadly, after years of searching the internet, it was through my brother’s obituary that he was able to find me.
I saw that while Shaune and I were dilly dallying our way to a grown up life, breaking up, getting back together and then breaking up again, Frank was busy getting married, getting divorced and then getting married again.
On his info page Frank had written in all caps I LOVE MY KIDS AND WIFE. Everything seems to finally be falling into place. I knew in that instant some people never change. I felt vindicated in having always known what a true and pure person he was.
Through Facebook I fell in love with Jesse and Mikayla his kids; found myself wishing I was friends with April, his wife . I learned that Frank and April started to worry a little about Jesse their first child, right around the time he turned two. People looked sidelong at them on outings because they didn’t seem to know how to “control” the toddler who was throwing “tantrums”. Frank said they noticed that any words he’d learned up until that point, he started losing, so that instead of advancing in language skills, he seemed to be regressing. It took a few years to finally get a diagnosis.
Jesse, it turns out, has high functioning autism.
So began their wretched battle with the school system which set them firmly on a path of advocacy. First their sweet little boy was placed in a classroom with mentally disabled children even though Frank and April fervently protested. When they saw how this was hindering his progress, they decided to try and home-school Jesse. But realizing how unequipped they were, they took the advice of other parents in similar situations and tried to place Jesse into a regular classroom. They were denied. For two months they had to settle for their son, who required a stable environment in order to flourish, being shuttled between a room full of autistic children and short stints in a regular classroom. They withdrew him again when they saw that it was doing Jesse no good. Finally they were able to enrol him in a charter school where he will soon attend grade one.
Frank says that Jesse is really, really smart. He excels at math, spelling and reading but doesn’t do so well with speech and social skills. It’s been hard for all of them. Mikayla, at age four, understands that Jesse has specific needs but acts out sometimes when she notices that her parents’ attention necessarily goes to her brother.
I can’t imagine what it must be like. On my worst days, I am exhausted by the time the kids are in bed. And I didn’t have to do battle with the school system or worry about how the major surgeries to my son’s Achilles tendons went to prevent him from walking on his toes.
I can’t imagine.
I'm pouring my heart out with Shell.