September 15th has always been a special day to me. I don’t think that a single one has ever gone by that I have not thought, “today is Peter’s birthday”. You see it is the easiest birthday for me to remember, because my birthday is tomorrow.
Peter was my very first friend, the first one that I can recall and also the one friend that I will never forget. Geography made us friends. Peter lived across the street from me in the gold colored house. His mom and my mom were friends and had babies less than 24 hours apart. Peter is one day older than me.
My mother tells me that when we were babies we were together all the time as the two mothers of infants bonded. As we grew, I became more of the fidgety, energetic, constantly moving person that I am today. Often, my mother bemoaned the fact that I was squirming out of yet another baby seat and would say “why can’t you be more like Peter, look how quietly he sits in his seat”.
My earliest memories of my first friend were strange at best, but to me they were very ordinary and normal. When we watched television at my neighbors house, Peter would sit next to me on the floor with his legs crossed rocking back and forth. If we went to the backyard swingset, Peter would just sit on his swing, never moving. He did not communicate with me verbally, however I remember being happy when I was with him.
The only sound I ever remember Peter making was when he was upset. Peter would shriek. It was a loud and strange type of yell that is very hard to describe. My last memory of playing with Peter was in the front yard of his house. Our fathers were outside with us too. The pink Frisbee flew into the bushes at the front of the house and that was all it took to upset Peter. He shrieked and shrieked about the Frisbee. His father tried to hold him as Peter flailed about and soon Peter was pulled into the house.
That is my last memory of playing with Peter. The family would move away from the gold house across the street and I never saw Peter again. My family consoled me with the promise that Peter was going to a special school that would help him. The diagnosis at that time was autism. Autism was not a household word like it is today. Peter’s family was told to institutionalize him, but they did not, they sought the best therapies and schools that the 1970’s had to offer.
Years later when I was in college, I received a package from my mother. Inside the box was a copy of Reader’s Digest Magazine and on the front cover was a picture of Peter. He had been voted Prom King of his public high school, a school he was set to graduate from in the spring. I cried with pride for my long lost friend.
I remember Peter every September 15th. He is one day older than me and he was my first friend. Decades later I still feel a pang of guilt that it could have been me that was autistic. Why Peter, why not me? Remembering Peter reminds me to be grateful for all of my blessings, and in some ways his birthday means more to me than my own. As an adult, with children of my own, I admire the courage of Peter’s parents.
I don’t know where Peter is today, but I hope he is well. I am grateful for his legacy in my life as my first friend. I will remember his birthday always. Happy Birthday Peter.