I’ve not been up to writing anything for a while, as I’ve been not in the best of health. I’d like however to share with you some excerpts from the book I’ve been writing about my life with Aspergers (or trying to write, rather!). The first excerpt, from the beginning of the book, is below, I’ll do more later.
I am about seven years old. I am standing in the passage in front of the bedroom I share with my sister. As usual, I see everything in vivid detail, the grains in the wooden boards under my feet, the busy-ness of the wallpaper, the brush strokes in the paint on the door frame, the dead fly on the floor in the middle of the doorway. But today also I suddenly see, become aware of, something else – I am different. How, I don’t know, why, I don’t know, and what the words are for it I don’t know, but I know I am different. And I experience this difference as a lack, something others have but I don’t. And I know I need to hide it.
This is the story of my life.
It is a life that has taken many twists and unexpected turns, seen assorted ups and a large number of downs, but the one thing that has dominated and defined it overall is the quest to understand, to make sense of a world that I frequently found confusing, frightening, overwhelming and chaotic; to make sense of my life and of myself, or, failing that, to simply find some small space in the world I ‘fit’.
This journey of mine began in the depths of 1950s suburban Auckland. It was, and is, New Zealand’s largest city, but this didn’t mean, in those days, that it was forward-thinking, enlightened or even especially cosmopolitan. It still had a lot of the flavour of a provincial small town, like most of New Zealand at that time. Understanding of, let alone tolerance for, neurological differences of any kind was in its infancy elsewhere in the world, and non-existent in this ‘last, loneliest outpost of civilization’. What was valued however - an almost unspoken rule that even I managed somehow to absorb - was conformity, sameness, ‘not sticking your neck out’, not standing out from the crowd, being ‘just the same as everyone else’.
Not that there were many clues, at first, that I was different to other children. I was a quiet, ‘good’ baby and toddler, ‘not much trouble’. My mother says that, as a baby, I did have a tendency to gaze around me with a wide-eyed astonished look, “as if you were wondering whether to stay or not”. And the few times I got into mischief as a toddler, it was usually of the solitary kind, and to do with exploring my world too closely. One of my aunties still laughs over the time when, put down for an afternoon nap at her place, instead of sleeping I apparently took to exploring the blinds. One blind had a frayed edge, which I pulled, and pulled, and pulled…. By the time they came in to get me, there were only a few inches of blind left at the top, and a pile of threads on the bed beside me! Another time, at this same auntie’s place, when a search was made for me, I was discovered quietly up to my little elbows in a large jar of home made jam. I was also a bit slow to talk – though I said my first words at about a year, I didn’t talk in proper sentences until I was about three, and my sister started talking.
But I was my parents’ first-born, and with three more (and less quiet) siblings following in the next six years, my mother had her hands full. If I seemed to give little cause for concern, she was probably relieved. I grew into a ‘quiet’, biddable child, considered ‘shy’, and ‘in her own little world’.
This is how others remember me. My own memories of those early years are somewhat different in focus. I had little awareness of other people or their feelings, and if any non-verbal disapproval was sent my way, I was oblivious to it. My curiosity was directed towards my physical environment, not those around me. My earliest memory is not of any interaction with people, but of a plant in the hallway of the house we moved into when I was three. I have the impression I had left the adults behind in the kitchen and gone off alone to explore – I didn’t yearn for company while I was doing this, nor did it occur to me, ever, to run and share what I found. I was simply absorbed in my own doings, lost in my little ‘bubble’ of a world, aware of others only as and when they impinged on that bubble.
It was a kind of selfishness I suppose, but not a conscious one – I simply didn’t know other peoples’ feelings existed, so sometimes I would trample blindly over them….