Your Life As I Knew It

By Anna Cosslett

The highs and lows of family life, as a mother pieces together the effects and possible causes of her son's fairly severe autism.

Great!!  Huw is at the beach with Arthur the big black dog, and Lucy, Maria, and Maria's Mum and Mum.  There's the sea. It is very, very bright. The sun is right on top of it. Arthur and Huw run along the beach, which has lots of round stones as well as sand.  The sea is very near. They run and run and run.


Huw comes to the end of the beach and the sea is on two sides.  He takes off his clothes. He doesn't need swimming trunks because this is the sea and there aren't any people to shout at him.  The water is FREEZING. Huw is going towards the biggest bit of sea. The waves are quite big, too, but soon he is away from the beach, and there are no more crashing sounds, just swaying up and down.  Huw's feet are off the ground – and he is swimming and swimming.


Up he goes.  Down he goes.  Mum is running and shouting 'Huw!.... Huw!'.  Maria's Mum is running too. Huw swims away from the shouting.  Mum is coming into the water, so is Maria's Mum – they both have their clothes on.  Huw keeps going the other way from them. Arthur is barking. He is on the beach. Lucy and Maria are on the beach, too.  Everyone is shouting 'Huw!' and 'Stop! Come back!' But Huw has to finish the sea. He has to get to the end of the water.


Their voices are far away now.  Huw is not looking back at them any more.  He slides down the waves. It's like sliding down the stairs on a mattress.  There is loads and loads of water all around – going up and down, up and down.  The sea is flat where the sky starts – that is where the sea ends. Huw swims towards where the sea is flatter.


Now Huw can hear Mum and Maria's Mum.  They are talking funny and Mum says:

'Huw – hah! - Huw – huhhh – Huw, thank God!'

'Huhhh - Got him!' says Maria's Mum – she has hold of Huw's leg.

'Turn him round – huhhh - just – hah! - huhhgh - turn him round and he'll swim back,' Mum says.  She coughs water.

She pulls at Huw's hand.  She turns him round, and they can see the beach sometimes, when the waves go down.  It is a long way away. Lucy and Maria and Arthur the dog are very small on the beach.

'Jesus!'  says Mum, 'Look how far away we are.'

'You had us worried there for a moment, Huw,' says Maria's Mum.  'Thought you were swimming to Ireland.'

They all get out of the water and Mum and Maria's Mum are laughing now.  Their dresses are stuck to them.

'This is Arthur's towel,' says Maria's Mum.  She waves a big red towel. 'Use this. Good thing he stayed to guard the girls, otherwise he'd be all wet, too.'

'I haven't got a change of clothes, have you?'  Mum says.

'Nothing – just a jacket.'

'We're going to have to stay wet,' says Mum, ' because the sun isn't going to dry us much.'

The sun is red and nearly behind the sea.  The sky is getting dark – they came here late – 'Just for a walk,' Mum said.  'Not swimming – just a walk with Arthur the dog.'

Arthur licks Huw's face – yuk!  Mum is dressing Huw.

'At least Huw is dry,' she says.

Lucy and Maria are building a sandcastle.

'You only just bought that sun dress Mum,' says Lucy.

'I can wash it.  It'll be OK.'

'Want to listen to some music, Huw?'  Mum knows this will get Huw interested in going to the car.

'Pogues!'  Huw says.

'Is he still playing the Pogues?' asks Maria's Mum.

'Yep, all the time,' says Lucy.  'He won't play anything else at the moment.  I try to put on my music, but he won't let me.  I do try, but he gets really cross. I mean really, really cross.'

'I'll find something else to play in the car on the way home,' says Mum, 'Maybe he'll like the Gipsy Kings.'

'I'm freezing,' says Maria's Mum.  'Let's get back.'

'Yes, let's.'

'Ohhh,'  Lucy and Maria are moaning.  'We haven't finished the sandcastle.'

Oh, they must finish.  They MUST finish.

They all finish the sandcastle and make water go round it in a circle.  They watch the sea come up and go round it. It is getting dark.

When they are in the car, Mum puts on the hot air and rubs and rubs her hands.  She puts a tape in the player. Guitar music comes out, and a yell – a man yelling in a song.  

'We have the same on CD at home,' Mum says.  'Let's hope Huw likes it.'

'Anything but the Pogues,' says Lucy.  'We've had them for at least three months.'

'You learn to block it out,' says Mum.

'I know you do,' says Maria's Mum.  'I still haven't got over that Hammond organ thing he liked at Christmas – and I was only in your house for a couple of hours.'

'We had to leave,' Maria says.  'Mum went sort of cross-eyed and nearly slid off her chair.'

'That was Reggae Christmas,' Lucy laughs.  'We hid that in the end. None of us could stand it.'


When we get home, Mum puts the Gipsy Kings on the CD player in the living room.  Huw likes them a lot, right up to number six. He doesn't like that one, so he stops it there, and goes back and plays the CD again.  He plays this CD over and over, but not all of it – just the songs up to number six, for a long, long time.


     * * * * * *


From 'Notes on the Text':

Ah, the Gipsy Kings.  I used to like them – and I still like 'Soy' which wasn't among the only five tracks Huw would play – over and over for months on end.  Lucy was still having trouble liking them some years later.  When she was in Paris for her gap year, working as a pancake waitress among other things, she texted me a few words from a new venue she had been sent to:

'They're playing the Gipsy Kings.'

That was all she wrote.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  And then I cried.

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