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.
It was the sort of café one ends up in. A place that no one would choose, where time is wasted before something better happens. They were sitting at a table, four Europeans, with unloved luggage left carelessly on the forlorn terrace.
Smoking heavily, they must have been travellers on their way to the next awesome experience. Shorts that mismatched t shirts hinted at uniformly alternative new age leanings Long gaps in their millennial conversation were adequately plugged by the WiFi that comes free with the mediocre coffee.
It was fifteen minutes before I noticed her. A girl of no more than five years, who must have spent more moments than just these unwanted. She came from nowhere and talked to the group but no one seemed able to look up from the internet to respond. One or more of these slightly grubby people must have been her parent. A small blonde girl with blue eyes was bored in Asia and no one seemed concerned. So conspicuous and yet unacknowledged by those who have a duty of care.
Cigarettes were finished and butts were squashed underfoot. Backpacks were swung into position and the four travellers were ready to depart. The girl’s hand was taken wordlessly as if she were just excess baggage and off they set, towards the next adventure.
What untold want do you have, little voyager, whose parents have set sail to seek and find? What memories of childhood will you create? How must it feel to be incarcerated on the backpack trail of someone else’s escape?
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 like getting my feet wet. I don’t like how it feels. Today it’s raining but it’s still hot so I am torn between the cool comfort of my sandals and the tough impermeability of my walking boots.
The smallest choices are often the most pondered. In my life, I create routines and regularity to help me avoid that endless vacillation that can consume time and mental energy. I sweat the small stuff like plastic micro beads polluting my psychic eco-system. I need to make a decision but right now I’m blogging about it.
Those big decisions that people have, they seem to cause me less trepidation. Moving to Cambodia was done on a whim with no prayer. I just upped my life and landed with my full 30kg allowance and recreated a life. Things have worked out just fine so I must assume I am a resourceful little sausage. I have a job, a roof over my head and there’s healthy food on my table.
So, I can just jump sometimes. I guess it’s fine to get my feet wet, but only when it’s metaphorical. Maybe I should just wear the sandals and see how it feels.
I no longer mark time. Time is very different here. The punctuations I took for granted have gone. Now time doesn’t comma or full stop.
You see things differently at a distance. The detail is lost but the panorama allows each piece a place, and the whole is quite unlike the parts.
Once there were four seasons. Nature kept my clock ticking. Larks and robins, buds and falling leaves, late sunsets and dark mornings, each a reminder and each setting me in a context. Here it’s hot. Sometimes it’s wet. It’s light for breakfast and dark for dinner. A year can pass unnoticed.
The seasons come with much more. Emotionally I used to shift. I was carefree in June, melancholy in November and oh so hopeful in March. Activities would change. Life would move to the garden, the balcony or the beach for the brief halcyon summer before beating a retreat to log fires and drawn curtains. My friends are far from me so birthdays are Facebook updates and Christmas isn’t coming. Now that I am no longer on it, I can see I was immersed in a cultural calendar.
My days run on like badly constructed sentences, weeks are just ill defined paragraphs and without the seasons there are no chapters. I am in a stream of consciousness and living in the now because the passing of my time is no longer marked.
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 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.
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.