Once upon a time I would have said that friendship was a magical connection that was made so rarely that it should be treasured and nurtured. I had a tight inner circle as sacrosanct as that of Arthur’s knights.
My well organised life was full of lovely people and I categorised them into a bewilderingly bizarre, teetering hierarchy. ‘Friend’ was the highest accolade and few made it to those dizzying heights. There were more mundane positions which were easier to fulfill such as ‘people I know’ or ‘people I like’ and even ‘people I like to say hello to’. ‘Nice ladies in shops’ were good for a quick chat as were ‘bus stop people’. I defined my relationships and used these distinctions to keep people at a distance despite being essentially quite lonely. I rarely allowed movement as I was a fan of my slightly melancholy status quo. I left that ivory tower life and jumped headlong into the unknown.
Have I become more breezy. Is it possible that I am easy going. I doubt it. The Asperger Path will always be a challenging route . However, now that I am travelling there is no status quo for me to protect from would be friends and so my relationships do need to be scrutinised into the calcified classifications of before. This means that my use of the word friend has become more generic and as result my life feels a little less complex. I’m still awkward, clumsy and inept and I avoid some situations but I no longer bestow friendship like some coveted prize to be earned like a knight’s spurs. These days I have more friends and my relationships are governed as much by proximity as any other factor.
So if you’re in Battambang, are not a racist, like to laugh and have a reasonable level of intelligence chances are I see you as friend. It is as simple as that.
Things that we don’t fully comprehend can seem deeply mysterious or ridiculously trivial. What I am about to explain to you may seem silly, but to me it is a source of pain and anguish. Try to read without prejudice. I have Asperger’s Syndrome and that should not be a surprise to any of my readers. I talk about it a lot but rarely give examples of the impact it has on my life.
There’s a woman who has been a little unkind to me. Nothing serious but she has been unhelpful and unsupportive. I avoid interactions with her and that makes my life better.
I was sitting in a café, lost in my own world. Happily speculating on nothing in particular and drinking a flat white which is a favourite pastime. The café is small so when she lumbered in she had to sit in close proximity. She said hello and then sat with her friends who I don’t know. My happy speculation stopped. The nothing in particular suddenly became an almost obsessive panic. This is the social awkwardness that Aspergers causes in me. I wanted to run. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be anywhere else but near her. My coffee was ruined.
But it got worse.
A mutual friend arrived. Clearly she had arranged to meet this woman and after saying hello to me she joined their table. My levels of discomfort increased to a point of excruciating social pain. I felt claustrophobic and I wanted to leave but also didn’t want my leaving to perceived as a statement.
I left the cafe and the following day left town and went and stayed overnight in a nearby city. I am always more flight than fight. Three days later I’m still analysing this debacle. My anxiety allows me to try and explore every possible permutation in which our paths might cross in the future. I live the potential pain and feel it as if it’s actually happening.
Irrational thoughts are so perplexing. I want to leave work. I want to leave town. I want to create a world where I never see this woman again. Of course what I need to do is get some perspective. She is just a person. She is liked by some and not by others just like me. However I have a tendency to see things in black and white. I catastrophise situations and see only the negative outcomes and in doing so create my own catastrophe.
So there you go. She is an extreme example but I analyse every relationship and every interaction to the same degree. I take the ridiculously trivial and create something deep and mysterious and that is something I don’t fully comprehend.
My life is pretty good but…
There’s this woman who drags me down. She doesn’t do anything much and our limited interactions have been few but negative. I guess I feel that she has a very poor opinion of me and I rather wish that she didn’t.
The truth is I don’t know what her opinion of me is. On this planet I am but one of several billion souls and, whilst we have met, I may have had quite a minor impact. Right now she may be doing something life changing while I sit here and navel gaze. I am the god of obsessing about small things and I am cursed with wanting everyone to like me.
They don’t. I have Aspergers and as such tend to fall into the “love ’em or hate ’em” category. This woman seems to deliberately not get me. Most people I meet find it hard to believe that I have social and communication difficulties. They bring out my charm and wit so gently and make feel quite normal.
However there are a minority, a sizeable minority of people with whom I cannot get along. These people seem to take a very direct type of umbrage to all I do and say. My rubbing is all wrong way and they lay the blame at my door. Do I celebrate the majority? Sadly no, I obsess about those who make my life difficult. I often seek opportunities to let them see in a different light. Those opportunities all too regularly backfire. I need to stop worrying about other people so much. I can’t be anyone other than who I am. I am a well liked man making my way in the world. No buts.
My life is pretty good.
Last night I had dinner with friends and it was a lovely way to end the long holiday weekend. In other parts of the world people were celebrating Easter but here we are still celebrating the Khmer New Year.
The world can be such a small place and most of the people around our table last night know a friend of mine from the capital city. This link, albeit tenuous, makes me feel a sense of trust belonging that is rare. The Asperger Path tends to shy away from multidimensional relationships and favour black and white labelling and compartmentalisation. Circles of friends are tricky for me. The subtle interrelationships can leave me floundering and lost. However there I was sharing an evening with work colleagues and non work colleagues, friends and partners, homos and straights and I was happy.
I usually prefer my friendships to be like a simple spider diagram. Each friendship separated and independent. Each one stranded out into a straight line. This does not leave me in the centre of anything but does allow an intensity on which I have thrived in the past. I tend to meet a friend and devote my attentions solely to them. Deep conversations are preferable to the lighter chatter of a group setting.
I will persevere with this group. Serendipity has dropped me amongst good-hearted people who I enjoy spending time with. I’m travelling because I wanted to change the life I had. So I will try circles, spirals, wheels as well as the straight lines I am used to.
Sour s’day chhnam th’mei – Happy New Year.
We chose a spot on the river bank, under a tree, to try and escape the heat. He wanted to talk and I was happy to listen. He told me that he feels he doesn’t fit in or truly belong anywhere. I wanted to reach out and hug him but instead I asked him if he knew what he wanted from life. The uncertainty and long silences convinced me he had never thought about that. My friend has so much ahead of him and so many choices to make.
After a month apart, being with him for a day, reminded me how lonely my life can be. His easy presence sharpened all the absences I feel. Funny that he is lonely too, this man who brought his life crashing into my quiet world. He seems unaware of the brilliant power in his smile and the joy it brings to those around him. I always knew that behind his smile was something darker. Not sadness, but a shadowy awareness that his life is not going to be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
I hope one day he realises this is a gift of sorts. It can be a chance to build a life slightly apart from the world and have a detached perspective that, although skewed, can be truly unique. Perhaps he, like me, will discover that his life is a solitary state and some lives are never truly shared. We simply choose people who make our solitary existence more bearable.
I think he has chosen me.