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.
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.
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 need some new friends. However this is not an online advertisement, because I am going out and looking in person. No application is necessary.
For many years I have sought solitude whilst avoiding loneliness. Gaps have been filled with social media and dating apps. I have chased the not yet known, but I ended up in cycle of meaningless encounters and superficial conversations. People who couldn’t care if I lived or died became my reason for being.
Don’t get me wrong, I have friends and time spent with them is fruitful. However, I have just moved to a new city and have decided to take no short cuts.
So, here I am, lunching alone, having met no one for a coffee earlier. I haven’t met anyone online or had a virtual chat with real stranger.
It feels rather odd, but in the long term this will be good. It’s time find common ground with people I can rely on. It’s time to then put those people centre stage and work at building a life that is more meaningful. It will take a while, but how much time have I already wasted on those fruitless applications that got me nowhere.
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.
Some days, I am not on the ball. I start to doubt myself, my performance at work, and then my place in this universe. Some days, I am surrounded by beautiful friends who cheer me with their humour and delightful tales of life from the wryest of perspectives. Some days, my friends aren't in the best of moods and it is my turn to balance that aforementioned ball on my nose and perform. I tell my tall tales and frivolously embroider my antics and anecdotes to create a happy tapestry to cheer up a pal in need. Some days, two friends are both in need. Those are the days when world feels like an ancient unoiled machine. Metal grates on metal and sparks fly. Axes get ground and yet no one cuts the air.
Today, I decided to take myself off on my bicycle to whirr my blues away. A friend rang and rang again. Texts started to ping. Then more calls. Eventually I stopped for rest. A text, a second, and then the third. The texts started with an invite and ended with insults. He was angry and, in not picking up, I had become his focus. I sent a text back. I tried to salve, but the oil for those troubled waters caused a flare up. I know he was drunk. He's always drunk. I know he needs a good friend, just as I know the company he craves will never cure his brand of lonely. However, I am not able to cater for that. Not today.
Today, I was not on the ball.
He says he is my friend and I want to believe his sweet words. However, his words are not always so measured or kind. His actions too, can be somewhat chaotic, and I am beginning to think this friendship comes at a high price.
He is Prince Charming. He is interesting and interested in everything around him. He comments astutely on the issues of the day, and I find myself in the company of a man who makes me think and ponder. I see new perspectives through his eyes but am never left feeling my own perspectives lack value. Hours pass and are barely noticed as we rally back and forth. Wit and charm married together in one man who seeks out my company. So what's the problem!
He is a drunk. Sometimes, by ten, the conversation is already a little muddled and a few times recently I've found myself in heavy waters. His patience wears thin and I feel blamed for his loss of concentration. With reduced focus comes a loss of veneer and, when the charm disappears, what lies beneath is not too savoury. A short temper is the most noticeable. Never directed at me, yet, but skulking in the background like a surly dog, he snarls at the people he loves. He becomes more negative about life and will cut people with a tongue that seems to sharpen in alcohol. When he is like this, I keep a metaphorical eye on exits and I am on tenterhooks.
So I have a rarely seen friend and an often times worrying companion. It's time to let this friendship slide into the cool waters of acquaintance. A kindly nod and a friendly hello with a distance kept. The next time I am texted beseechingly, I will remember that it is Lady Alcohol and not Prince Charming who is seeking my company. I will miss my friend. I do already, for I haven't seen him sober for a while.
He asked me if I was lonely in Cambodia and if I missed home. An unexpected touch of concern from a man I met in passing, but ultimately it was an ill thought question. He thinks that I should come home, but he doesn't realise that I am at home wherever I am. That wasn't his only mistake though.
I am not lonely in Cambodia. I am rarely lonely anywhere. My loneliness is something others see but it isn't actually there. I have always led quite a self sufficient existence. My life is hermetically sealed and my emotions are lived out in the landscapes and scenarios of my mind. No one really knows me and no one gets invited in. I am not lonely but I am often alone.
I love people. Well, I like a spot of company is probably more accurate. I enjoy telling silly stories and presenting my public face to the world. I get up and out and go about the town and say my hellos. However, more often when I have free time, I choose to relax in other ways. I have my own place and I just go there and lock the door. Being self obsessed, I enjoy my own company. When I am alone with my thoughts, time passes easily. My mind is the most beautiful place I know and I could dream my whole life away in there.
My problem is that other people cause me stress. It's not deliberate. The people I meet are kind and lovely as well as intelligent and witty. It's me and that beautiful mind of mine. I never feel I might have said something wrong, crossed a line, or not been considerate enough when I am on my own. Because I can't read other people too well, I am constantly on the wrong foot. Or I think I might be. So, I hop awkwardly through the briefest of encounters and then run away to my quiet, empty home.
Here is as good as anywhere. I know a few people and my language problems keep most relationships stripped back and simple. I don't know when I'll go back to England, but if I do, I'll be looking for my own place where I can just go and lock the door. If any asks, no one's home.
Everybody should have people that they share their life with. Someone who is there for the journey that we ponderously take through life. Some are lucky enough to find a partner and best friend rolled into one. Others have a close circle of friends or a band of brothers or sisters. I, well I have you.
Dear reader, you get my sleeve and I wear my heart on it. I pour out line after line and, stoically, you are there. Ours is a special bond. One that does not suffocate or stifle me. You never intrude or interrupt. You do not judge or censure me. Some would say our relationship lacks intimacy but I feel like you know me and I could tell you anything.
One sided as it may seem, you have entered into this willingly. I did not coerce you, though I'll admit I try to tempt you in. I embellish the bare bones of my life more than a little whilst tidying my sprawling details into tiny bite size pieces for your delectation.
I had a best friend once but I lost him. He got misplaced at a juncture and I travelled on alone. If I am honest, looking back at the Asperger Path, it is littered with misplaced people that haven't kept up with me. Unfulfilled and unfulfilling relationships that grew messily complex. Each was easier to grieve than to bring back from the dead
So here I am, writing to you. The iPhone writer who carves his intimate but disposable thoughts into the soft, shifting sands of the Internet. A man like so many others, overboard in the teeming sea of electric solitude.
It’s been a year. How am I?
A year ago I lost my job in circumstances that were less than savoury. I discovered that discrimination is alive and kicking in twenty first century Britain. When it rears its ugly head its price is cold hard cash. Hush money was paid and I went. My head may have appeared to be held high but inside my tail was firmly between my legs.
So my first steps along the Asperger Path were walking away. Away from people who saw my weaknesses and seemed blind to what I could offer. Away from people who tried to get inside my head and happily trampled my self esteem and my dignity under dirty, corporate feet.
I went far and now my scars are no longer livid. A year has passed and my life has changed. I have taken my diagnosis, put it in with the rest of my baggage, and I have travelled. This rigid creature of habit who couldn’t cope without routines has slept on sofas, hitchhiked, stayed with strangers, made new friends and travelled half way around the world. I’ve seen the sun rise over mountains, deserts and oceans. With each sunrise came another day of my new life.
Here in Cambodia, I met an extraordinary man. With the gentle honesty that sometimes only a stranger can exercise, he pointed out my strengths and dismissed my protestations. He was passing through, geographically speaking, but he will be around for a long time. He gently told me that my fine mind is balanced by a fine heart. In doing so he reminded me of someone I used to think I was.
So here I am. That goodhearted man, blue eyed and smiling, is older but he is not lost. I’m not walking away anymore. The Asperger Path is mine. I don’t deny it; I own it. I will go where it takes me and I am confident it will take me where I want to go.
It’s been a year. How am I? I am fine.