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.
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.
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.
Her blue jacket is beautifully graphic and I lose myself for a moment. The lines of white and grey intersect, forming squares within endless squares to consider and reconsider. Her face, though equally lined, is softer, less mathematical. It’s human. Life has been witnessed, lived and ultimately survived with a quiet dignity.
Having dismounted from an ancient bike, which is possibly older her, she passes through the early morning coffee drinkers. Each is addressed with a low, gentle voice and an open smile. Few refuse this woman, for her poise and grace starkly highlight that life can be far from fair.
Finally, she comes to me. Her smile becomes a soft chuckle and there is an impish, mischievous glint in her eyes. Unlike her back, her spirit is unbowed. She offers me her lottery tickets, fanned out for my perusal. We both know I don’t really understand what she is selling and that I don’t speak the language. However, she chooses to include me in her day and as she looks directly into my eyes I see the kindness of one who has known what it means to be left out.
She remounts her bicycle and cycles away but she has left me behind, knowing that happiness isn’t found in a winning ticket.
On my travels, I turn to no one. When I see wonders, I see them alone. My experiences are shared at arms length for there is, by my side, nothing but empty space.
This is how I have shaped my life. I enjoy the sparsity of my emotional landscape. Friends and lovers, colleagues and thinkers, writers and artists all bring much to my life but none are my partner, my confidante or my other half. Some are more transient than others, but none are as impermanent in themselves as myself.
I am whole in my self constructed solitude and, when I steer clear of holes, this square peg travels quite comfortably. Life is lived, large and sprawling, for I am a nomad passing by and experiencing all that my senses can withstand. My social circle, by comparison, is kept small and tidy. The Asperger Path is my route and I navigate a way through this world with heart and mind as my map and compass.
So, when I see the world and I want to share it with someone, I choose the most intimate strangers I know. I choose you, dear readers. For you are sparse and far flung. If I want you, I can send fire off my missive into the void. Even if my message is never read, it is sent.
For me, that act of sharing is enough.