Looking back, my extreme self-absorption shielded me from a world of pain. I’m selfish. Because I struggle to connect with the outside world, my own interior thought consume me. I can’t put myself in other people’s positions, so it never seemed worthwhile to put effort into anything that didn’t directly affect me.
I spend all my time thinking about writing and music, obsessing about the past and fearing the future, and analyzing every decision I have ever made, it doesn’t leave much time to worry about what other people say.
Thinking about it now, it’s almost funny. Whatever my uncle said, I probably could have forgiven him much sooner than the rest of my family. Emotions and loyalty weigh them down. I have emotions, but I can’t process them well, so they have a weaker effect.
I’m not used to intense feelings. I remember how shocked my sister was when she saw me cry at our grandma’s funeral. She said that was the first time she’d ever seen me cry. But I had cried in private many times before.
Emotions are tricky. When my mother thought she had Huntington’s Disease, I don’t remember feeling much at all. When my parents lost their house and sent my dog to a shelter, I barely reacted. (Months later, a two-legged dog ran across my TV screen, and I started blubbering uncontrollably.)
Somehow I still got a second date. But those moments are rare. Usually, the only feelings I recognize are fear and anxiety. Sometimes happiness, but my happiness looks more like anticipation. The rest, I bury.
I never needed anyone to protect me. I mastered the art of avoidance all on my own. Some avoid because they don’t want to feel pain. I avoid out of confusion. My brain can’t process them correctly, just like it can’t process sensory input.
Yet, I know the burn of the wine goes deeper than sensory chaos. Taste doesn’t stain. Taste forgets. A squirt of lemon juice wipes away a nasty aftertaste. But emotions, those linger. Those stay with you.
Some say people on the spectrum don’t feel at all. Some say we feel too much. The two can seem interchangeable when you’re living it. For all of my unfeeling, all of my most vivid childhood memories are bound together by a common emotional thread. Despite living so close to Orlando, we only took one family trip to Disney World.
The only memory I have of that week is a hand punching a wall. I assume it was my Dad’s because I can’t imagine my mother ever punching a wall. I don’t know if it was a hotel room or the house we lived in. I just know it wasn’t Disney World.
I remember hiding every time I stood up for myself, afraid of being hit. I remember every time my dad called my mom a bitch. I remember every time my dad stormed out, took off in his car, and left me wondering if he’d ever come back. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs, my tiny knees glued to the carpet as my dad screamed violent threats, holding a tool as a weapon in a moment of caveman hostility.
And I remember crying stop over and over again, so many times, on so many occasions, they stopped feeling like memories. I think it was a hammer, but it could have been a saw. Frankly, it could have been a wood chisel. I can’t tell a wire cutter from a needlenose plier. My family insisted it was another side effect of how disgustingly feminine I was. As an adult, I can now confirm that tools are boring and outright dangerous. (My dad lost half a thumb on a power saw.)
Growing up, I couldn’t tell you where we kept the monkey wrench, but I always knew where to find the knives. I’d see them sitting on the kitchen counter and in my head, I’d map out the fastest route from the bedrooms to the kitchen. I couldn’t look at a window and not see an intruder’s entryway, and I couldn’t look at a hammer and not see a weapon.
Click here to read the conclusion to this series.