I was unwanted at birth. In 1962 birth control pills were not widely available. Abortions were available, in some states, but not socially “allowed” to married women. My mother, hopelessly in love with her little boy, found herself pregnant when she didn’t want to be. She didn’t want another baby. She really didn’t want a girl. I don’t blame her for that. She had no options, no choices, and no help. What I do hold her responsible for was for holding that grudge for my entire life. I am 55 years old. Ten years ago I finally cut her out of my life after 45 years of trying to please her, only to fail, while the sun rose and set over my deeply flawed brother’s head. His violence against me was always my fault or, at best, it was never his. Sometimes I did provoke him – I would not shrivel up and die in a closet hiding.
I was smart but weird. John did poorly in school, got into trouble frequently, but he was more comfortable socially. Everybody loved him, everybody. I was autistic, poor social skills, too smart for my own good – he had “dyslexia.” In the ’60s, any boy with learning problems was dyslexic. Girls were never autistic. Girls who could talk like an encyclopedia were certainly not autistic. He was dyslexic. I was just weird.
I wasn’t strong, but I could hurt him, use his strength against him, make him cry. He broke my nose twice – I didn’t cry. I would never, ever let him make me cry.
The thing about being autistic, especially if you’re high functioning like me, is that we can learn. We can fake it, pass for normal. When I was 14 I started teaching myself how. It took about 20 years to feel like I could pull it off. That’s when I realized something important. I realized that other people, my neighbors, my peers, weren’t like me. They didn’t understand me nor did they try. I’d spent my whole life trying to be like people who rejected me because, to them, I was incomprehensible.
Part of my work in trying to be like them involved trying to understand them. I needed to know why they behaved the way they did, why they thought it was okay to belittle harmless people like me, who they thought they were, who they really were and why they had to hide it behind their facades of big and bigger cars, lawn mowers, even throwing their children into the ring to compete on their behalf. I understood. Fitting in was what they had to hang on to. Never having had that opportunity, I didn’t need them to like me. I wanted them to like me.
I chose to be a part of their world, but I did it on my own terms. I did not push my children to compete, at age 3, for who could ride a 2 wheeler first. I yelled encouragement from the stands at soccer games, no matter how well, or not, my children performed. I knew they were brave just for trying (apples, trees,…).
I watched one mother I’d envied white knuckling it behind the batting cage when her son was up at bat at a tee ball game (tee ball!). “Choke up!” she yelled at him, “bend your knees!” In tee ball, everybody gets a hit no matter how long it takes. There are no outs, so everybody gets a home run. It’s a perfect introduction to playing baseball for small children who lacked all the skills required for the “real” game. Her son got his hit, scored a home run, and came running up to his mother, beaming. “I got a home run!” he said proudly. She looked at him. “You bent your knees,” she said.
I am stronger than that. My children did not need the burden of holding my place in society for me. They would not spend a single day living for me because I raised them to be strong and independent. Now an empty nester, I sometimes lament that they seldom call, but then I remind myself – I raised them to be strong and independent. And they are. Nobody can take that away from me because it’s real and I own it.