We are born alone, live alone, die alone. My existential existence might be an excuse. I am really an individual or just too scared to trust other people.
I met this man. Just once. Just six and twenty crazy hours of being with someone who accepted me. He didn’t just accept me for being me, though that in itself would be awesome, he accepted me into his life. He moved over and made some space for me and without words he said walk with me a while.
I love words but he showed me in his deeds who he thinks I am. He sees a me I haven’t seen. He knows a someone I had forgotten I once wanted to be. When he left me, he didn’t leave because he lingers in my mind.
I met this man. Just once. I was born alone and I might die alone but I think I might want to walk with him a while. I won’t throw caution to the wind but I might put it away along with my fears and live life. I will meet this man again but he has already changed my existence.
I am a traveller of sorts. A meanderer who has no set path or clear destination. After a year in one country you might argue I am settled, but my journey is more than merely physical.
I see the collectors of experience. They meticulously checklist their way through tomorrow’s memories without even stopping to whistle. Cultures are sipped and palates rarely cleansed before the next new taste is up for consumption.
I am no different. Instead of travelling through countries, I travel through people. Life is kept fresh by keeping the door to my mind wide open to passing souls who come, and sometimes go, with ease. Rapport is something that can build in a moment, especially with those rare few who resonate with the deepest vibrations of my soul.
This weekend I met man, so earnest and passionate and we talked. Stories of youth were shared and the depressingly universal experiences of growing up gay were bemoaned. My new friend was interested in self esteem and bullying, and the role educators can play in breaking the cycle of depression and self harm for young gay men. Bad histories were being turned into better tomorrows by his actions. It was talk that went somewhere.
We may not meet again but we are connected. A good conversation can change the course of life. I may not be the fastest traveller but he has moved me and shown me places I never expected to see.
When I look inside myself I am constantly disappointed. I want to be a better person, so why do I fail? Surely at 51, I should be who I want to be.
I suppose I should contextualise this. I am not a bad person. I teach in secondary school and I am considered to be a fair teacher. I am not popular or cool, but I think most of my pupils view me as a kindly soul.
Outside of work I am not an axe murderer. I have a few good friends. I don’t steal, and I am as honest a man as you are ever likely to meet.
It is this honesty that is my downfall. Because it is combined with an analytical capability to finely dissect the events of the day, each day’s weaknesses are laid bare. My Aspergerian compassion is applied with its usual “could do better” assessment, so I judge myself, over and over again, as lacking.
Though I claim not to aspire to sainthood, I indulge in this mental flagellation over my inability to epitomise perfection. I have hurt myself over the years and at times, withdrawing to lick the wounds I try to keep hidden, have hurt those who tried to comfort me.
I don’t know if I can change. However this is my start. My biggest weakness is not that I don’t accept others, it is that I do not truly accept myself. If I say that out loud, perhaps it will scare me less. If I acknowledge it perhaps you will scare me less when you notice. If I am not scared perhaps I will allow you to help me.
I will never be perfect. I may never be a better person than I am now. Accepting that, however, might just make me a happier one.
Living in Phnom Penh has made a capitalist of this small town boy. Happier of late on my funny little path because I have realised that life in the big, bad city can be managed. I have put in a few kerb stones and carved out routes to make a personal village within the metropolis.
Limitations, like safety barriers, protect me from the harsher realities of the twenty-first century. What you might see as a padded cell I simply regard as well upholstered space. Cambodia can be chaotic and Phnom Penh is a city of violent change, where the extremities of life are laid bare. Wealth drives roughshod over the bones of the poor. I am both outsider and part of the status quo. I sip my iced coffee and observe the dirtiness of the everyday being transacted from my bespoke, gilded cage.
I am already supposed to be elsewhere and yet here I remain. Sane within the craziness and standing still in the constant traffic the Asperger Path is on a detour. The rolling stone is mossed. I have a home, a job and a somebody else to soften the urban loneliness of this brutal capitalisation.
He stepped into my private life and had a look around. I hadn’t invited him in and yet there he was. This sort of intrusion must be something I wordlessly offer, for this is not the first time I have been invaded.
I like good conversation. I like to dip my toe in muddy waters and ruminate about the endless possibilities and probabilities that life throws at us. The paths taken, and those forsaken, make good fodder for the random chats I so often have along the Asperger Path.
My public life is lived quite publicly. I am out there, on air and on line broadcasting to my meagre audience. My voice, loud as it may be, is lost in the curiously furious mumbling of the wide webbed world. The chaotic cacophony ensures a bizarrely public privacy. My wood would not be seen for the trees are forming a barrier of popularity I will never hurdle. Judgment is something different. When he judged me, asking why this pattern he has identified repeats, I retreated. His opinion, given as concrete fact, was dropped heavily on my toes and I naturally stepped back. My answer was stony but solid enough to build a wall. Be careful, dear reader for whilst my life is set out before you in the market place I choose what I hawk. What I write is public, but my feelings remain on my side of the counter. Stay if you want or leave, but spare my dipped toes the weight of a crushing opinion.
The way I do things not my fault. Or is it? I should know by now, surely, that when they ask me what I think, they don’t mean it.
So I have given my view bluntly and with the full force of my honesty. Tomorrow I must revisit the scene of the criminal faux pas, because another day another dollar is my mantra. My manager may or may not hate me. My colleagues might not think I’m weird. However, previous experience tells me that, after three months, the Asperger is beginning to crack through the thin normality I have endeavoured to veneer on myself.
It doesn’t matter if I fit or not, really. I feel like a misfit and I can create an awkwardness from thin air. Once it’s there I wrap myself in it like a safety blanket of bee stings. Being stung I retreat and my cycle pedals furiously into its inevitable descent.
Soon, I will pack my bags. The runner who can’t face the unsure and yet dives headfirst into the unknown will lurch into another incarnation. A new me, contrite and certain that I can hold back, will set forth with an all too temporary trepidation.
If only I could say nothing, how different my life would be. How few opportunities I would have needed. How few avenues I would have ventured down. How few mes I would have needed to create.
My life is my fault. My faults are my life. I should know by now, surely, that the Asperger Path is just the way I do things.
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost invisible. The world is transacting around me and I am there, in my bubble, untouched by the commerce of life.
Get your friendships here. How about a lovely bit of bonding. Who fancies a nice little chat. They buy and sell their time, love and care like market traders but I never quite feel that the offer is aimed at me.
Here in Cambodia, I am used to not understanding. My life is lived in one language, while daily life is transacted all around me in another. The protocols and customs are based in a culture that I understand only superficially. I know that I miss messages and mix messages. Yet, my life has always felt as if I am somehow apart from culture rather than a part of it. The lonely otherness of the traveller is second nature on the Asperger Path.
I enjoy the market place. The overload to the senses is a shock but life, even observed from a bubble, is marvellous in its mess. So I will buy my bits and pieces and play my role. I’ll take a small smile and a bunch of happy being me, please.
Travellers on a journey we have happily coincided. This Emerald City is where we three live and teach. We were talking about Aspergers in the classroom, but my colleagues were unaware that I am the Tin Man. Thinking my knowledge was purely professional, the questions came flooding out. Questions reveal so much more than answers.
Do you think he knows he is different? Is he aware how others see him? Why can’t he adapt? Why does he look so sad?
Each question was given to me to answer. Such difficult heartbreaking questions to hear because each was so personal and yet I couldn’t say it. Why couldn’t I tell them? I guess because I fear their observation. I choose to remain a colleague.
I know I am different, but I forget until it slaps me in the face. I am unaware of how others see me. In fact most of the time I assume that they don’t see me. When they do, it usually another slap. I do adapt. I live in the world and I pass for almost normal in almost all situations. The sadness you see is when the world treats me badly. Sometimes it comes crowding into my carefully constructed spaces. It judges and points fingers in my face.
Those questions flooded me. The third person was not a barrier thick enough to deflect them. They told me how “other” I might be labelled. Until I’m brave enough to say I am like him, people will see us as not them. Aspergers might make me feel like a tin man, but sometimes I am just a cowardly lion.
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.
“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.