[Note: This is my personal response to the murder of Katherine McCarron. For my more political response, read Background, to the foreground.]
You don’t know me. You will never know me. You were murdered when you were three years old. But we have something in common: We are both autistic. Both of us have brains that work differently than usual, perceive and respond to the world differently than usual. I wish I could have known you. I bet you were a beautiful and interesting child.
These pictures are of me when I was around your age. I can remember being your age. I remember colors, smells, sounds, and the way the world seemed like a neverending kaleidoscope of experiences, many of which I didn’t understand the way typical people understand things, until later. But I was there, I was experiencing them, in my way, just as I bet you were.
When the first picture was taken, I was getting lost in the deep red-brown color of the hillside that I was facing. In the second picture, I was playing with some fish in the backyard. In the third picture, I was doing what became one of my favorite things to do for many years: Climbing trees. I sometimes had an easier time getting around in trees than I did on the ground.
I wonder if you would have liked any of the same things I’ve liked at different times in my life: Trees, books, marbles, blocks, staring sideways at the carpet, playing with my hair, running, stars, flat surfaces, taking walks, staring at everything upside-down, cats, rubbing fuzzy things on my face, getting pine nuts out of pine cones, picking blackberries, having mischievous but loving older brothers, light switches, sparkly sidewalks, rocks from the moon, typewriters, sliding tape measures, and prisms.
There have been a lot of horrible things in my life. Things that shouldn’t happen to anyone. I guess you knew about horrible things, because dying of suffocation is pretty horrible. I think I came about as close to that as I could get while surviving (physically) unscathed, on a number of occasions. But it wasn’t my mother who tried to kill me. She and I both had some really difficult times when I was growing up, including times when I was going to be taken away from her, times when she was blamed for my being autistic at all, and she had nothing like the support that exists today, but she loved me enough to fight for my life, not my death, even when people were telling her my life didn’t matter.
If you had lived, you might have experienced some of the other horrible things that exist in the world: Bullying from other children, institutionalization, being drugged into a stupor, abuse, and all the other things that are unfortunately common in the lives of autistic people. What they don’t tell you, is that all those good things I talked about, still exist, even though the bad things exist too. They don’t tell your parents that even if you never do a lot of things, there are still things you can do, still ways you can be, still things you can enjoy. And they don’t tell your parents that most people like us can do a lot more than we’re expected to.
I’ve had twenty-two more years in the world than you have, and there’s a lot of things that I still can’t do. When I was growing up, I didn’t get to see people like me doing what I am doing now, so this was a total surprise to me. I live in my own apartment. I get help with the things I’m not good at, that most people are good at. I have friends of kinds I never would have imagined or expected. I have people who care about me and understand me, who value me as who I am, not who I am not. I have a way of communicating that is fairly stable and reliable. I still have to fight for a lot of things, and life is still unbelievably hard at times, but I still sometimes have trouble believing that I’ve found some of the good things I’ve found. Not bad for someone who was ten years ago described by doctors as unsalvageable, which was their own lack of imagination in action.
There’s even a number of communities of autistic people. I don’t always get along with them, but maybe you would have. Even though I often find trouble in these communities, the people in them still understand me better than most people do, and I have some close friends there. That level of understanding was unthinkable most of my life, and so were most of the things that have happened to me since I grew up. My childhood was not remotely blissful, but adulthood has been worth it, and I wish that you could experience what this is like.
Unfortunately, the horrors that happened to you are not isolated. They almost happened to me, too, and although I didn’t always understand the significance at the time, it was still awful. The people who suffocated me laughed as I struggled, I wonder what it was like for you. The day after you died, a 19-year-old autistic man was killed by his parents in a fire. I read that he liked photography. I was his age before my life started beginning to turn into something more enjoyable than it had been in a long time. I was about 15 when people, unknowing of that future, were trying to kill me. People were undoubtedly sure you had no worthwhile future, but the only way to ensure that someone has no worthwhile future is to kill them.
Your future was totally cut off. So was the 19-year-old man’s that I just talked about. You will not have a chance to experience any more of the bad things in life, and that’s what a lot of people will want to focus on, they think your life would have been only misery and pain. But as far as I can tell, the good things outweigh the bad even in a very hard life. There are even good things that autistic people are more likely to experience, and then there are good things that are just part of the human experience in general. And I know that nothing will ever give you another chance to experience those good things, that future that people probably never expected for you, even that past in which there were surely many good aspects of your life. For that, and for the fact that neither I nor anyone else will ever get to know you, I am incredibly sad.
You could have had a wonderful and interesting life beyond anyone’s imagination for you. Now that is gone, and nothing can replace it. And you will never read these words. Your life, and your story, has ended forever.
This post is part of Katherine McCarron Memorial Day, by the Autism Hub. On Wednesday, May 24, people will post memorial messages about Katherine McCarron. The next day, the hub will be closed in her memory. Other participants so far:
Kevin Leitch | Dad of Cameron | Mike Stanton | Bartholomew Cubbins | Not Mercury | Mum Is Thinking | Kassiane | Autistic Bitch from Hell | Janna | Zilari | Autism Diva | Kathleen Seidel | MOM-NOS | Kristina Chew | Rose | Joseph | MothersVox | Jonathon | Aspie Dad | Lisa
Participants from outside the Hub: