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.
I have talked so much about changing, I don’t think I actually noticed it happening. Yet, last night, I left a bar early, and sober, and with the same man that I had arrived with. There was a time when that didn’t happen.
For some years now, I have argued that there has been precious little temptation in my path, and that has been what’s kept me on the ‘straight’ and narrow. I can’t claim that here, for I now reside in dirty Phnom Penh with its edgy nightlife and minimal regulation. In the big bright lights and small dark bars, alcoholic ex pats mingle with drug dealing locals to produce a nightlife where everything is available, and everyone has a price.
I don’t know if I am growing up or growing old. In fictional 70s San Francisco, Armistead Maupin’s character, Mona had a law that stated “you can have a hot job, a hot apartment and a hot lover but you can’t have all three at the same time.” I don’t know if mine would qualify as “hot” but I like what I have. I hope Mona’s more content these days too.
At fifty, I am coming into my own. Because I am happy in my skin, my glass is far more than half full. So, if you think you need to change, change. Life should be an amazing place in which to live. If yours isn’t currently, then find the source of your discontentment and resolve it. We live long lives even if we only live then once. Don’t live it in misery, for happiness can be found everywhere, even in dirty Phnom Penh.
When you first meet him, his happiness shines through the cracks and scars of a careworn face. He works hard and lives well in this life he has built. Things were very different once and beneath his scratched surface there is still a shadow of darkness.
He had been dead for years. Unhappy with himself he fulfilled his own prophecy and became a loser. Once lost in hazes of his own destruction, he got high and then higher until one day he realised that he was lower than he ever thought possible. Rage, sadness and loathing had been numbed in toxic gutters until he choked in his own filth.
Now he is born again. This man found redemption in himself. He fell in love but didn’t change for someone else. He looked within and saw the bitter reality of what he had become, but also he saw his the glimmering vestige of his own hope. In loving another, he realised he could be better. And so, step by painful step, he changed into a man that he wanted to be, kind, content, sober. Once transformed he fought for, and won the heart he desired
Just now and then you see through the cracks. The profound sadness and dark anger will never completely disappear. Life can change and heal but it leaves livid scars. Scarred he may be, but he is longer scared for he carries the marks of a survivor, a fighter, a winner.
Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. Something or someone happens and you, for some reason, decide it’s an avenue you want to pursue.
Life is quite a journey. Birth is followed by education, work, love, rest and death. This mortal coil spins faster as we age, and most of us are far too merry to get off. The Asperger Path has been a happy, but somewhat more disorderly, route through life’s conventions.
Actually, I took a detour long ago, and discovered life could be neither straight or narrow. I broadened my mind, loosened my inhibitions, and allowed myself to be open to opportunity’s knock. I have lived in kinky meanders and loved with spacious permissiveness.
It’s time to leap and faith is my parachute and . If I land safely, I will let you know.
Ooooh. Fallin’ free, fallin’ free, fallin’ free, fallin’ free
Donna Summer is on repeat in the juke box of my mind. It’s time for some free falling because I feel love, conventional, old fashioned, ‘you and me’ love.
We all see the world differently. Perspectives can change with time and place. However difference can unite us or divide us. It is up to us to decide on that.
I am a gay. That makes me somehow different. In my life, that difference has been the source of intense hatred from some and touchingly profound love from others. Being outside, my brothers and sisters showed me what solidarity can look like. Being outside, sometimes I really needed them. My family never cast me out and indeed, love and acceptance has been more of a motif than hate.
Hate is strong though. The power of seemingly isolated incidents can butterfly effect into a tsunami that crushes self esteem and inhibits self expression. I remember so many of the acts of hate, so vividly. Why then can’t I recall the individual kindnesses with the same focus too.
I am going to change my perspective. Acts of love need to be marked and gratitude needs to be both registered within and expressed without. I am surrounded by love, not hate, and the bubble I float in should not be popped by the occasional small prick.
From today I will see the world differently.
The foreigner sits in that street café every morning. As he sits, the owner looks up and soon the food arrives. First, pickles in their oval dish and the hot chilli sauce. Then the steaming broth from the pot that sits on the fire. Last to arrive, the main attraction, smoky marinated pork atop sticky rice with tomatoes and boiled egg, both sliced, both green.
He doesn’t speak much. Every dish brought forward brings a mumbled “Arkhun” but this is a breakfast of few words. Around him, morning life come and goes and ponders the characters who share his table and cook his food.
She, the breakfast lady takes the star role. Always chopping and washing she is stationed behind her table, while her sons orbit around her acting as waiters, delivery boys and general help. The diners come and go but few are as regular as the foreigner, who arrives just before seven.
He sits with his phone for company and after half an hour or so plunges into his disorganised bag. Usually he finds a crumpled dollar or more rarely 4000 riels and then stands and, with a smile, pays the breakfast lady. He knows how to order. He knows how to say that was tasty but all he ever says is “Arkhun”.
He wants to say next week I won’t be here. He wants to say how much his quiet times have meant as he sat by the river. He will leave with a smile and a final “Arkhun” and life will carry on.
And there he was stuck in the mud. He thought about asking someone to help him and found himself analysing his friendships. If he asked x what might y say. Each friend he thought of it seemed to much to ask. So he asked no one and stayed stuck in his doubts.
Are you ok a strange voice called. Yes I am fine thank you. You look stuck. Do I, I suppose I am a little stuck but it’s ok. Let me help you. And the strange voice came over and unstuck him. Lost for words, he stumbled through an apology, but the strange voice assured him that it was really nothing. He was pondering this new situation when the strange voice interrupted. I am you. How can you be me he asked. The strange voice sighed and then explained gently. Inside each of us lives our self worth. I am yours. You never hear me because you’re not sure I exist. Today I really shouted. Oh he said. Thank you. What happens next? Well maybe we talk to x and y. They would have helped you. But I can help myself now he said. Yes said the strange voice but sometimes it’s good to talk to someone other than yourself.
So the man who was no longer stuck took a step.
A year ago, with the ink still drying on my autism diagnosis, I waved goodbye to the ugly face of blatant, corporate discrimination. Someone had decided I didn't fit and my professional life became a living hell. I was good at my job and wanted to continue there. I was assured that obtaining this diagnosis would ease the situation and protect me. It did not. After fighting and losing the battle to keep my job, I gave up. I gave up the round hole life I had been living.
I am no stranger to starting again. I have had to do it before. I was once a teacher, possibly a good one. However, I battled homophobia every day in the classrooms and the corridors of London. After a few incidents outside of school too, I decided I couldn't take any more. I lost that fight but preserved my sanity. Years before that, I lost my job in a local authority up north. My boss decided I didn't fit in. She made it clear that she could find no fault with my work. It was me that was a problem. I was a square peg.
I may lose jobs but I am not a loser. Life can be unkind because I am a gay man with cerebral palsy and Asperger's Syndrome. However hidden beneath the labels and the isms, I am just another human being. I may not fit in but that is because I no longer choose to. I am a lover of life and a seeker of happiness. I am a pacifist but will go bare knuckle to fight my corner.
That life I love is now the Asperger Path. Since I set off a year ago I have seen and done things I never thought I'd do. I am travelling very slowly and stopping to look at life along the way. I am exploring whatever I choose. Writing is one way I explore the world. It has become very important to me and I make time to write every day. My thoughts and my poetry will never change the universe, but they are changing my perception of the world and my place in it. It's my way of squaring the circle.
Once I was blissfully unaware. I was an misfit, an oddball, an eccentric of a peculiarly English type but I thought nothing of it.
My few attempts to fit in were always just opportunities to stand out. I was a follower of fashion for example. However my “fashion-forward” sensibilities were heady when combined with my complete unawareness of the ripples I can create around me. Never thinking to look back, I sailed through the calm waters of life with the cut of my jib set jaunty.
Then they interfered. I was labelled. The very essence of who I was became the focus of others. Professionals were involved and meetings took place. People were concerned or perhaps even worried. I was placed on the Asperger Path and my life juddered to a halt.
Half the world away and here I am. The path is mine. I have owned myself and stuck two fingers up at those who told me what I could and couldn’t do. I live in a country where I don’t speak the language and my height, colour, build and beard separate me from the crowd. No one has really heard of Asperger here, let alone his blooming syndrome. We are all blissfully unaware.
So many years I wore boots. Big heavy boots that trampled a path through any terrain. I never stopped to think because I was always moving on.
I know that I have inadvertently trampled on some dreams. I know that my rough shod feet have caused more upset than they should. So many years I was unaware of the people around me. So what changed?
I did. Or more accurately I am. Changing that is. I realised one day that I had not been as kind as I could have been and that made pause for thought. I know that I have never been an intrinsically bad person. I am not a murderer, rapist or abuser. However it is not enough for me not to be a bad person. My aspirations are higher because I know I can be better than that. So I am changing.
Change is a long process. It is difficult and I will need to keep saying sorry every time I get it wrong. I will need to be develop my under exercised humility until it balances my pride and arrogance and become closer to the man I know I can be.
This then, is not an apology. Apologies are not generic, blanket statements that can issued impersonally. They should be a heartfelt message from one human soul to another. This is more a manifesto. I will throw away my boots and walk barefoot through this life. I will still move on but from now on my soul will be naked and exposed and each step will be taken gingerly. I think my journey will be all the better for it.