The chimney sweepers are here to replace an unidentifiable rusting metal thing on our roof.
As they work, they sound as if they are clamoring in an enormous cabinet of bucket-sized baking pans. Chimneys must be flimsier than I realized.
The chimney trumpets out the workers every word with tinny clarity. I can hear them across the house.
The younger of the two wonders why his girlfriend won’t text him back. His partner grunts agreement and gives the young man advice he will not follow. I suspect this scenario has played out before.
Although I met the duo before, I can’t recall their faces. Curiously, the young man is the tallest person I ever encountered. His bearded partner is on the short side. I imagine they are teased over the height disparity.
I like them. They arrived on time and did not ring the doorbell to chat with me (as my husband requested!). Their merry banter vibrates the walls, while a pudgy boom box tinkles out the sort of pop music my son loves.
I see myself bringing them coffee and treats. They entertain me with chimney sweeping stories and we decide to put up holiday lights with their tall ladder since they have time to kill. We enjoy a jolly afternoon.
This fleeting fantasy cheers me, even though I am actually hiding from them in my bedroom.
I have always created friendly little episodes with unknown people. This private pleasure may not be typical, but it fulfills me. I feel connected by observing people, not by interacting with them.
Notebooks detailing such fictional episodes line the walls of my art room.
I peep out the window as they leave. For such a huge stature, the young man is surprisingly agile and handles the ladders like glittery batons. His partner scribbles the invoice and consults electronic devices while tugging his ear.
I mentally wish them well, picturing how our October Christmas lights would delight my family.
Every adult diagnosed late-in-life with autism experiences a moment of self-discovery. I remember the day I first wondered if I was autistic.
It happened a few months after my father had been diagnosed with Asperger’s. Dad is a stereotypical Aspie-genius. He could have his own TV series featuring his madcap adventures. Anyway, I had never considered myself on the spectrum.
One snowy day, I entertained my four year old son, Tyoma in our basement. I pushed him on a swing as he interrogated me about color theory. Cheerily, I rambled on—I was born to deliver science lectures. I suddenly realized Tyoma asked more questions about the words I used than the color wheel.
“Mama, Mama, what does ‘aggrandize’ mean?”
Three sentences later, another question.
“Mama, what does ‘chromatic’ mean?”
“What does ‘incandescent’ mean?”
I experienced an “Aha!” moment. Much of our time together followed a recurring pattern:
- Tyoma asks a question.
- I respond with a sprawling monologue.
- He interrupts to ask me about a word.
- I define it and continue with my oration.
My four year old and I could pass an hour or more like this. In fact, I’d still be in the basement lecturing, if given a chance.
I wondered, “Why am I using words like aggrandize with my four year old?” I speak to my son as if he had my vocabulary. At three, he used words like “synchronous” because of it.
For a year he’s quizzed me over my bounteous vocabulary. This was the first time I realized my vocabulary not age-appropriate. Asperger’s children often speak like little professors. How much of this comes from parents who don’t think to simplify their speech? Do I have theory of mind issues?
I contemplated my life, connecting my experiences to the massive quantities of text I read about autism and Asperger’s. Do typical mothers rattle on about color theory to entertain their preschoolers? Do they say “chromatic variation is an aspect of the Doppler Effect” in an offhanded manner, while pushing their child on a swing?
For a split second, I saw the whole picture: All my life I felt different–remote and disconnected from others. I failed at tasks others juggled with ease. My intellectual gifts never translated into consistent success. After living in New Hampshire for two years I had not bothered to make a single friend. Autism seemed to explain it all.
I dismissed each thought as imaginative speculation. Yet—my heart responded with the same joy (and fear!) as the day I saw the double stripes on the pregnancy test that preceded Tyoma.
I pondered this revelation for six weeks before immuring myself in literature and first person accounts. The stories told by late-diagnosed autistic adults guided me and gave me courage. I rest in a place of joy, contentment, and compassion because they shared their journeys.
I am very, very grateful to them.
Dear “I Wish I Didn’t Have Asperger’s”:
Your internet search tells me you feel isolated and burdened by your Aspereger’s diagnosis.
Today, the Asperger’s community of fellow adults and supportive family members responds to you.
We assemble to give you courage.
Your intensity, sensitivity and logical thinking are gifts. The sprinkling of autism in humanity lights the way for our neurotypical siblings. Art, science, music, philosophy and literature owe a debt to the autist.
Events that slip through the minds of our neurotypical peers linger with us. These tremors of emotional disturbance push Aspergerians to relentlessly question and seek answers.
Suffering, injustice and misfortune prod us to change the world.
So, today we write for you. The internet is an ocean of Aspies with outstretched arm to buoy you. The waves whisper deeply familiar stories. Every line you read will be a tether, pulling you to a dock with a view.
From where I stand, overlooking the blogs, chats and groups, I see hope and companionship. I see a place for every Aspergerian to tell their story and find the comfort and support they need.
Google again, we’re waiting for you.
Digital elements: Tumblefish Studio.
My altered books and art journals are an homage to anxiety. Anxiety fuels my artwork. It fuels my writing. My inner tension is unbearable without artistic release. Singing and walking in circles help, but I am happier creating.
I accept that this is who I am and how I am. No medication or intervention removes my anxiety. Anxiety may be a wonderful impetus for a better life. I want a life filled with art and words.