Between us, there is never any friction. I am accepted as I am. I love as I do and I feel love in return. Springs of glorious warm love surround me in a world that often seems glacial.
These people, these few people I call friends, they seem to see the world differently. We are not kindred spirits and there has never been another pea in my pod, yet the ties are there. Strong enough to withstand the challenges and soft and pliable enough to not feel constricting.
To other people they just seem ordinary. Leading busy lives and juggling the demands of life, they live in the chaos of normality. I am removed. I part myself and park myself on the edges. I bristle where others are smooth and readily answer from my heart without filtering, purifying or distilling my emotions. These people, my friends, they come and sit a while in my world.
The Asperger Path is straight and narrow. It’s monochromatic on bad days but rainbow disarrayed on happy ones. My friends don’t seem to notice I’m different. Maybe they do and they just don’t mind. They seem immune to the irritation I create in others. We are all unique. Perhaps everyone is on the spectrum and has worries doubts and anxieties.
Maybe Aspergers is no more a syndrome than gregariousness. Maybe suffering from a malaise or being blessed with gifts is actually the same thing. My gift is to be lost in the hot springs and forget the glacier that surrounds me.
It was Independence Day today and as I live so close to Independence Monument I thought I would see how it’s celebrated in Cambodia. Obviously I had the day off, so I had breakfast at my usual street café but at a slightly later hour. Then I ambled up the usually busy boulevard, closed to all cars except the elite with their ruling party VIP passes.
There were so many balloons and that was most unexpected. I felt very conspicuous, a foreigner and a European, wandering through the celebration of an Asian nation’s overthrow of colonialism, but the warm gentle smiles that are ubiquitous in Khmer culture soon calmed my trepidations.
The Red Cross were out in force, as were the Scouts and hundreds of schoolchildren. Smiling children holding pictures of the late king, or his still living wife, waved small national flags and clutched artificial white flowers which were to be laid on the monument.
Another foreigner passed me. Hello I said questioningly. He stopped and looked, and it took us both a moment to place the other. He had been neighbour from London that I hadn’t seen in 6 years or more.
Life changes and relationships shift. Whether between friends or nations, it’s good to remember the past and look to the future. We never know when an old acquaintance might become a new ally. My independence, well charted in this blog, is full of days made brighter by a little random human interaction.
The event takes centre stage at least geographically. The full moon is here and so boats are raced along the Tonlé Sap river which runs through the heart of the city. Yet, first time celebrant though I am, I mostly wander alone through the hinterlands of the Water Festival and stumble on scenes of familiarity in this quintessentially Cambodian celebration.
The festival itself is almost irrelevant and only the dignitaries in their tiered and shady seating can truly ascertain what’s going on. They sit on a dais sandwiched between the palace and the water, staring at the boats going simultaneously up and down stream. A thin line of supporters extends either side along the river bank but many thousands are focused elsewhere.
Towards the front the vendors are very much pitching to the basic needs. Food and water are being sold as families picnic near but not in sight of the racing boats. Cramped but jovial the families laugh and joke as sour green mango is dipped in a chilli salt sugar mix that assaults and ultimately defies the tastebuds.
A street or two further away large bowls of boiling oil teeter perilously on charcoal burners to produce chicken that is ends up being somewhere between dried and fried but will never upset the stomach. Near by the generously stomached smiling coconut vendor skilfully wields his cleaver to prepare a cooling treat and then pierces the translucent thin flesh with the ever present plastic straw. Here the more complex epicurean desires mingle with other vendors selling balloons and little treats. None of these traders has a stall but merely sits or more often squats and trades alfresco. A mat forms a good base to sit for a picnic. There is more open space so families are sparser allowing room for children to run around and play games every bit as convoluted as those being enacted on the water.
A good kilometre away, but still within the network of closed roads there are the more formal markets and stages. Random big businesses each hawking their wares. Cell phones and detergents both play loudly distorted Khmer love songs to entice their customers. Empty now, but after sunset there will be quite a party on the big main stage. It’s corporate sponsored and it’s going to be loud.
As I head out past the gun toting police on the traffic exclusion barriers, normality, or what passes for it in Phnom Penh starts to reassert itself. The motorbikes and horns replace the vendors cry as I return through the crowded streets to my house. I do not see many solitary observers like myself so I feel slightly superfluous. The people will stay and talk, eat and promenade long after the boats have left the river. Food, family and business are the cornerstones of life here and this festival is ultimately a celebration of that.
I don’t make friends easily. What I find hard to understand is why I would want to. What is a friend is not someone to love and trust. Friendships are as complex as a well written book and not a throwaway thought you find in a celebrity magazine or an online blog.
Maybe it’s semantics, but for me the word friend is something special. In my mind, it conjures up people who I can laugh and relax with. Someone I can talk to about anything. A person that has and brings meaning to my life. Other people think I should have more friends. Personality surveys score me low on friendliness and gregariousness. I will not apologise because I am not unfriendly nor am I unkind. I just don’t make myself available to all and sundry.
Most of the people I know are distant or are kept distant. I think of them as acquaintances. People to share a coffee or an anecdote in my daily life. My work colleagues are great people and I would do a lot for them. However they are not the people I love or confide in. They are like magazines in a waiting room. They can be picked up and put down and they are not something I have chosen.
I love my friends. I love the small group of people that I share my secret inner world with. Some of my friends are like me and have equally small friend networks but others have vast swathes of friends. What they all have in common is spending time with me one to one and doing quiet things. My few friendships are all unique but each relationship is built on a firm foundation of love, trust and honesty. I know my friends like my my favourite novels. They are there to be read and reread, to be held in my heart with favourite scenes that live in the memory.
We are all different. I will keep my favourite books in my heart always. Not a library, but just few carefully selected titles that have changed my world.
Most of the time I just am. I forget the people surrounding me and I just feel and experience the sensuality of existence. My secret life is lived in full view and I am oblivious to the reactions of those around me.
Being born with a disability, I suspect I’m noticed often. My disability is not crippling or painful. It’s not even terribly noticeable. A funny walk and a limp wrist is how it manifests. It’s so easy to parody and some people are acutely cruel in their observation and mimicry.
Some people think I walk this way because I am gay. I am gay. I also have cerebral palsy. I walk this way because this is who I am.
However I only notice the reactions of others when they intrude into my world. Most of the time I live in my world. I have my few friends and my many pleasures. Not alone or cut off but perhaps at a slight remove from what others deem to be reality. In my spectrum disordered world, I am cocooned in my the beautiful landscapes of my mind. Aspergers is another gift the universe bestowed upon me.
We are all different. We are all unique. We all have intersecting facets that make us who we are. We are born different and now is the time has come to acknowledge our differences, to love our diversity, and to see the beauty of the other.
I am beautiful. You are beautiful too. I’m sorry I don’t notice you more often.
I bought some bananas on the road from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. To eat a banana you must first peel the skin. A thick and rather unyielding exterior hides a fruit of delicious sweetness. Filling and healthy, and yet, if you didn’t know to look beneath the surface, you might discard it.
There are three right ‘nanas here with me now. If travel has broadened their minds they must have been imbecilic when they left Heathrow. One main theme is their schmicheal. This is apparently irresistible to all women and yet woefully under-utilised. They have met women who go on about shit and they just agree with them to get a bit, but still don’t get their end away.
A second topic is shit. Not the aforementioned kind spouted by women, but various hues and consistencies of what passes, or pours more often than not, from their bodies. This is all the fault of the food and not at all related to the alcohol, cocaine and marijuana that have been a daily part of their trip. The small bus bears painful testament to the fact that Jamie is none too well.
The slightly infected wounds, which are yellowing and weepy, were caused by a motorbike accident equally unrelated to their choices. A stunt that went epically wrong but apparently that’s because you only live once. They might go to a doctor when they arrive in Cambodia, though the talk is more of unregulated pharmacies and lounging by the pool in speedos that enhance their respective schmicheals.
I wonder how far under the slightly racist, very sexist, phallic obsessed, pus encrusted exterior I would have to delve to find the true sweetness in these countrymen of mine. At the market, if the bananas don’t have a healthy skin I pass over them. Mould on the outside often means there’s nothing worth looking for inside. Here to I have decided not to buy, so I will never know if Jamie Jamie Blow Job, Jackoff and Fingers have more to offer than the facade they are offering to people on the road from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh.
That week. That week that was. That awful week that was endured. It lies behind me now. Not thrown away like trash, for life is a cycle. I have recycled those lessons that I have learnt from all those weeks endured behind me. Neatly stacked the weeks are placed into months into years into decades. My life that was and still is.
Lessons learned and relearned. Difficulties, over and over, then overcome as I strive for more. I want more compassion to exercise and more resilience to flex for this grimy life, whilst a far remove from hell, is no heaven.
This old man is still alive and my what a life I am having. Knocked and bumped, but only because I am living on the high octane of reality, unsedated and fully conscious. I will come to land some day but my past so neatly archived and so carefully recorded will always be behind me, giving my future, however time limited it might be, full screen. The future is always there. Unknown and daunting yet I rush forward, still a fool with my lessons to learn. One day I might be one of those angels with their divine wisdom, but not today, for they are already dead. My life was, but still is and is hopefully yet to be.
Life isn’t a bed of roses and romance should be left in the pulpy swamps from which it is dredged. What is being acted out around me is grimy. Those visceral feelings are not pure and altruistic, but far more deep seated in a brutal survivalism. Man invented his wheel, but it has been used ever since to ride roughshod over our neighbour.
Humanity is stretched across our flaws like a thin veneer, often chipped and peeling. Social media is full of inspiring clips, much liked for they are deemed remarkable purely because an ounce care and compassion was shown. We have evolved so little since our cave dwelling times. The pictures on the wall may be cable rather than chalk, but the bloodlust is far greater than the killing of a buffalo to feed our kin.
Everywhere I look I see mass acts of greed and hate, of envy and pride, of man beating his chest to prove he is just the dominant ape. It is hate,and not heroism, that has gone viral.
So I will put down my rose tinted spectacles and see my life in the mire. The future isn’t looking good so I am going to turn off my television, leave my cave, and see if someone wants a slice of buffalo. I will find the meme inside myself and share it in the social networks of reality. It’s time for me to reinvent my wheel.
Living in the Emerald City, where life is fast, can leave the best of us feeling a little bruised and battered. The cut and thrust of life is a double edged sword of dangerous excitement. The Asperger Path, like the Yellow Brick Road, has its pitfalls so I need to be more careful with my forays.
The first thing I need to remember is my emotional armour. I am strong and capable, but if I don’t head out prepared and protected, it is inevitable that I will get hurt. A little veneer, preferably wipe clean, can keep the city at a slight remove. I’m not talking about walling myself in, but maybe I could erect a fence to chat over before I invite my neighbour in.
I also need to manage my expectations. Life isn’t actually any better here than it was in nowhere. It’s just different. It’s still allowed to live a quiet life. The hot spots are not compulsory and it’s fine to leave when I find my senses are battered rather than stimulated. Sometimes those bright lights are blinding to hide the emptiness.
Most importantly I need to remember that good people will find me. They always have and they always will. I may be a small fish in this ocean of a city but not everyone is swimming with sharks.
If this is the return to Oz, I must be patient. I have my heart and brains and even though I’m not lionhearted I have the courage I need to manage the big city life. This friend of Dorothy is in no place like home, but a little time and a few friends can make all the difference.
“To thine own self be true” would seem to be good advice, but there’s a problem. People lie and I think we probably lie more to ourselves than anyone else. We are flawed. To err is human, but to forgive is even more so.
For me honesty is king. A close friend once referred to my frightening candour. I have lived and died by the idea that honesty is the most prized of the virtues and without it most of the others fall flat.
However, with my own self, I am more lenient. I dismiss my pre-diabetic state when I have an iced coffee and tell myself that, because my sugar intake is not extreme it must be fine. I persuade myself that I am physically fit for my age despite not doing any exercise. Most damaging of all, I convince myself that my problems will resolve themselves next week, or when I move, or on that all important day hidden safely in the vagaries of the future.
Everything is not going to be all right. My life will continue to be a chaotic path of mishaps and misunderstandings. The Asperger Path is strewn with debris and those rose tinted spectacles would need to worn by the blind to think that there aren’t more hurdles ahead.
So it’s time for some honesty. I mess things up. I do it again and again. I have become the master of the new start. I leave lives behind and start afresh. So to those I have met along the way I give a happy wave. I hope you enjoyed the steps we took together. If I hurt you inadvertently, please take this as my apology. To those who are still with me, I share my love and give my thanks for a thousand kindnesses. Finally, to those I have yet to meet, as I can no longer offer honesty or perfection, please feel free to sample my beautifully flawed humanity for that is my true self.