I had a dream last night that was so vivid it woke me – first because of the overwhelming joy that I was feeling in the dream, but then I was kept awake by wrenching sadness at the realization of reality and what it might mean.

I dreamed that we had taken David swimming. In itself, that alone is a joyful scene. David loves the water, to the point that even the tub is a 4-towel event. In my dream, we were in a pool we’d never been to before, but there were only several other people in the pool with their kids so we were all comfortable. Covid wasn’t a thing in my dream, but it’s never taken a virus to make me anxious around too many people.

There was a mom in the pool with us, playfully swimming around with her son who appeared to be David’s age. As we all played around in the water, the young boy made his way close enough to David that he could talk with him. I saw it happening, and began bracing myself for the usual dad-to-random-kid conversation.

“Why doesn’t he talk to me?”
“Why does he need a life jacket?”
“Doesn’t he hear me?”

As the boy got closer to my son, who was just enjoying his time in the water, flitting his fingers on the water’s surface, seemingly oblivious to the approaching conversation, I started preparing myself to intervene without scaring some random kid.

“What’s your name?”
“Hey, what’s your name?”
No eye contact, no acknowledgement. I’m expecting the boy to look to me and ask, but instead the boy taps David’s shoulder and says,
“Hey, what is your name?”

“My name is David.”

Cue the jaw drop. I stood there in the water, frozen, and Allayna shuffled toward me seeing that I was unable to move. Then David turned from the boy, and went back to stimming.

“Hey do you want to play?”
“Hey, David, do you want to play with me?”

As the questions persisted, I can see David becoming more and more anxious but still not addressing the questions.

“We’ll be right back”, I tell the boy, and Allayna and I make eye contact; she acknowledges without words, that’s her cue to explain things.

David might not play like most are used to, but he notices and enjoys side-by-side play. He doesn’t talk like we do. He’s different. The eye contact thing. All the common explanations given when a child doesn’t understand our son.

I grab David up, seeing that he needs a stim intervention, and I swoosh him around in the water until he’s reset and no longer anxious. I bring him back over by Allayna and the boy, who’s mom is now standing close by talking with Allayna and my wife. I’m praying the young man understands, at least a little better, how playing with my son might look.

Then, in my dream, David absolutely floors everyone.

“That’s my mom, that’s my sister, that’s my dad”, he tells the boy.
“Wanna plaaaaaayyyyy?”

My son asked another person his age to play with him. I am on the verge of exploding.

The two boys go off away from us, and I can see the boy helping David keep his face above the water, coaxing him along to kick his feet, and they’re splashing and laughing.

My son made a friend, and that friend accepted him.

My wife, my daughter and I stood next to that other mom in that pool, with tears in our eyes, thanking her for teaching her son what acceptance means.

I woke up, heart swelling, tears in my eyes, with an enormous smile on my face. I was so proud. I was so happy.

I was so dreaming.

I realized, abruptly and harshly, that my feelings of joy were only imagined, and I was as blindsided by sadness as our bedroom was dark. My tears of joy faded, and tears of sadness welled up in my eyes as I stared at the ceiling wishing like mad that I could go back to my dream.

David doesn’t have any “friends”.

David might never experience that conversation, that acceptance, from someone his age. Before Covid, David was in school every day. He was around kids. Some acknowledged and loved him (mostly little girls), and some didn’t. But David doesn’t have friends in the sense that most of us understand. There aren’t any sleepovers. No play dates.

David might never have someone pursue friendship with him because of how aloof he can seem – even though he misses nothing going on around him.

I can’t dismiss the possibility, obviously; I have to hold on to hope that he is accepted and befriended by his peers. But I also have to accept that it’s just as possible that he might never have a long-term friend that truly understands him.

I can’t even type that sentence without a lump in my throat.

I only know this; much like me, David seems like a tough nut to crack. But if you stay close enough long enough, you become one of his people. And when you’re one of his people, he finds some amazing ways to let you know that he wants you near him.

That he values you.

He may not always do it with words, but I pray so strongly that he grows up with the opportunity to show these ways to friends that accept him for the awesome buddy he can be.

I hope that so many people get to be David’s people, and feel all the awesome ways he shows love.

I hope he has all the friends.

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