There Will Never Be Another You   20 comments

My father’s older brother was a quiet, brilliant man. My uncle was a slight built man with darting eyes that rarely met another’s gaze. His hands seemed like new tools he hadn’t quite mastered. They would shake as he lit a cigarette. They would fumble as he put together his clarinet, but once he had it assembled, with those long thin fingers in place, he was seamless. That clarinet was an extension of those hands, and it was perfection.

My uncle spent most of his time in a small garage apartment where he could read, make music, or sit amongst the gardenias and watch the squirrels play. It was his refuge, and he let few people inside. In the summer, he would often ride his bike to my grandmother’s house, but after a few minutes of trying to answer a bombardment of her questions over the din of the television he would become cranky and flustered, and we would walk back to his place. There, we could sit for hours listening to Stan Kenton or Chet Baker and blissfully not utter a single word. He was not like other adults. He was like me.

My father was charming. He had a quick wit, and an encyclopedic knowledge about darn near anything. He had a fearsome, exacting moral compass all his own. Integrity was everything to my father. People liked him. He did well out in the wider world, and he hated every minute of it. He hated the noise. He hated the groupthink. He hated the constant inane chatter. As intensely as he loved the human race and all the amazing things it was capable of, he could not tolerate being amongst his fellow humans and all the horrible things they were capable of. Much to my mother’s dismay, he refused to socialize. His tolerance for human interaction was only enough to tolerate his workday. My father would leave the house each morning with a palpable sense of dread, and come home each night exhausted. He would keep up this cycle until he could not, and then he would quit yet another job without warning, usually over an issue he saw as black and white but about which his former employer clearly disagreed. In between jobs, he drank.

My mother was a people person. Everyone liked my mother. She understood what people expected of her, and she never let them down. My mother was a self made woman. She never needed help or accommodation. She had the same game plan for all arenas; work, church, friends. Start at the bottom, do more than your share, keep your head down, and make people happy. This plan worked everywhere. No matter where my mother was, it wasn’t long before she was in charge.

Much to her dismay, none of this carried over to her home life. My mother was at a loss in how to deal with us. She was bewildered as to how people so intelligent were so incapable of success. She was crushed by the unfair hand she was dealt. She had played by the rules, and in return got a husband who could not support her, and a child who could not interact with peers, was constantly ill, and scared away babysitters. She found solace in the Bible, often describing raising me as her own personal trials of Job. By the time I was twelve, my mother had given up on us. She stayed because nice women simply did not leave their families, but she had lost all interest in trying to fix me. Her focus became her career and the relationships she formed in the workplace.

My mother’s detachment created some problems for me. My father had been between jobs for nearly a year. He was drinking liters of vodka a day resulting in auditory hallucinations; voices that told him I was an immediate threat to his safety. I was often forced to leave home for a few days until the situation calmed down. Whatever explanation my father gave my mother for my numerous absences, it must have been completely plausible. Any alternate explanation is simply too painful to entertain. I got by relatively unscathed. I looked many years older than I was, so it was easy to blend into the adult world. My grades never suffered, and I made real friendships, something I’d never accomplished among my peers in school.

In many ways my mother’s change of heart was an immense relief for me. While there were still medical interventions that I did not love, the lifelong string of psychiatrists, psychologists, hypnotherapists and the like came to an end. Ten years of strangers attempting to make me acceptable had accomplished nothing other than building a mountain of credit card debt. If I was going to find a way to make my mother proud, I’d need to figure it out for myself.

My top priority remained gaining my parents’ approval, and toward that goal, academics were my only successful outlet. In school, I was in a gifted program, which meant I spent most of my days with the same twenty-eight students for every class, twenty-six of whom shared a common background; white, wealthy children of “respected” families. They floated in a cloud of starched oxford cloth and Polo cologne. Gail and I sat firmly on the ground below that cloud, outcasts by virtue of her skin color and my neurology. No one was outwardly mean to us, but even at thirteen, the others had mastered the icy tolerance afforded obligatory tokens. Gail and I were more amused than hurt by this. Alphabetical seating kept us together, and this was not a movie where every socially awkward teen wants desperately to be part of the popular crowd.

One late spring day, there was a party invitation from Laurie on my desk when I walked into French class. Laurie was the ‘funny one’ of the very popular girls. She was snarky before snarky was a thing. She had a quick wit that stung. I’d seen girls driven to tears by her so often I lost count. Our only conversations had been her asking me for help with algebra, so I had no idea why I was invited. I assumed I would say I had other plans, and the matter would be dropped. Laurie would have met her obligation to be polite in inviting me, and I could avoid an evening of bad music and perplexing conversation. Brian, the boy every popular girl crushed on, sat down next to me and asked if I was going. I told him no, I had promised my uncle I’d spend the weekend helping him paint his apartment. Brian asked me to please reconsider. I was thoroughly perplexed but promised to think about it, and like an idiot, I kept my promise and really thought about it.

The more I thought about this party, the more I wanted to go. Not that the party itself held any appeal to me, but the concept of the party, the ability to go home and tell my mother I was going to a party with kids my own age was too enticing to pass up. I would be a teenager going to a party with other teenagers. It was my mode of operation to pick a television show or movie as a pattern for unknown social scenarios, and I decided this was Happy Days. What could be more normal than that? It took all I had when telling my mother about the party not to ask her if it made her happy that I was going, because I knew that was not what Joanie Cunningham would do.

My mother must have been pleased, because that Saturday she did not go into the office, but stayed home and ironed my shirt. I had not been able to reach my uncle to cancel our plans. He had a habit of not answering the phone, so he rarely got upset over information he didn’t receive. Mother promised if he called, she would tell him I’d be over the next weekend.

My mother dropped me off at 7:35 with plans to pick me up at nine. I knew the party ended at ten, but I also knew my limits. The party did not seem to be nearly as intolerable as I anticipated. We were outdoors, so the music was kept to a respectable level. I got a Dr. Pepper, and surveyed the landscape. I then placed myself one third distance from the center of the large patio, not so close as to be an actual participant, but not so far back as to appear aloof. My plan was to simply stand in that spot for a little over an hour, and I’d be done, but somehow, the cluster of people drifted outward, and before I knew it, I was drawn into conversing. I held my own, stutter fairly in check, when I heard Laurie say my name, “Bridget.”

“Yes?” I replied.

Slowly, savoring every word she asked, “Tell us, Bridget, is your dad still a drunk?”

While the girls tittered, I stood there frozen trying to collect myself. I had failed in my attempt at social normalcy, this had all been a colossal waste of my time, and I didn’t know how was I going to answer all my mother’s questions when she picked me up. I did not feel sad, or embarrassed, but since I had nothing to lose, I wanted to at least satisfy my curiosity.

“Why?” I wondered aloud. “What do you gain by asking me a question like that? I really want to understand.”

I startled as a hand touched my elbow. It was Brian. His voice was quiet, and angry. “Yeah, why Laurie?” He didn’t wait for a reply, but led me over to a bench. There I sat, eyes wide, watching Laurie’s party fall apart. The crowd drifted apart, divided by gender. The boys almost universally derided Laurie while the girls stood behind her, not saying anything in her defense, but unable to take the risk of going against her. I sat on that bench another half hour waiting for my ride home, while boys shuffled by with mumbled words of encouragement to insure I wasn’t sad.

I said little on the ride home, fending off questions with the very truthful excuse that I had a headache. I was weary from trying to be a part of the world and wanted the day to be over. I went straight to bed, thinking next weekend I would not spend trying to please anyone. I would go to my uncle’s, and paint, and listen to real music.

What I didn’t know was that night my uncle was also weary from trying to be a part of the world as well. They found his body that Wednesday.

Posted March 18, 2013 by itsbridgetsword in autism, autistic families, depression

20 responses to “There Will Never Be Another You

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  1. ((Oh, Bridget)) I am so sorry this was what it was like. I’m so sorry this is what it is still like. ((My heart breaks for you)) Thank you for sharing such a personal, vulnerable story.

    • Thank you. I was worried it was a little self indulgent.
      For years I carried so much guilt over my uncles death. My grandmother never forgave me. Now that I’ve outlived my uncle and father, my perspective has changed and the guilt is gone.

  2. ugh. So sorry, Bridget. That had to be a hard story to tell.

  3. If we are even one percent (1 of every 100 persons ) of the population of about four hundred million, then there are four million of us. Four million! That is more than the population of some countries. We need to find ways to be a community for ourselves and for our children.

    Bridget, I am so sorry. Thank you for sharing. It made me cry to think of your uncle; he sounds like he was a gentle man. Your essay made me think of my own child, so gentle and kind, and also of our own isolation. Please, we need to be a community.

  4. this is a moving, and sad, story.

  5. It’s just over a year since my favorite uncle was found the same way. He was a self taught carpenter with only a grammar school education. I was fascinated by how he would look at things to see how they were made, and I was amazed at the things he could build. In the end, he missed his wife and was afraid his health was deteriorating so rapidly, he was becoming a burden. But just like you, there are memories forever. Sorry for your loss and the need to process the act. It’s not easy.

  6. There is so much of this that I recognise from my own life. I’m really sorry that all this has happened to you 😦 (((ASD hugs))) if that’s ok.

  7. I have no idea what to say here, but I felt like I should comment and offer my support somehow…

  8. Bridget this was so beautiful and written with tremendous insight and honesty.

  9. The world gets wearing. It’s great for you that you had the gift of your uncle and father being like you but you should feel no guilt. A number of people I loved chose the same path when the world wore them out. I felt guilt for some and relief for others anger that the world has this effect on beautiful people for all. Your father and mother seem somewhat similar to mine at one stage in their life. It took until the last few years of my mother’s life for her to change much and like you I worked very hard to try to find the way to be approved of the how of that always beyond my ken. It’s a miserable and wearing struggle in itself and it took until the last years of my mother’s life for me to be sure I was good enough for her, long after I had developed the atttitude for anyone else that if I wasn’t that was their problem.

  10. I appreciate you sharing this, Bridget. I wish I had better words… but I wanted you to know that your post touched me deeply and will resonate with many. Thank you…
    Leah

  11. This is both sad and beautiful. And oh the intertwining of people’s lives. ❤

  12. Very moving post Bridget and very courageous of you to share the story with us.

  13. There are no words that could ever encompass how I feel about what you wrote. Thank you.

  14. “Thank you. I was worried it was a little self indulgent.
    For years I carried so much guilt over my uncles death. My grandmother never forgave me. Now that I’ve outlived my uncle and father, my perspective has changed and the guilt is gone.”

    I loved this post. So honest and eloquent. You are a gifted writer.

  15. I think you’re awesome. Just so you know.

  16. Bridget: This is precious, profound and brilliant! Thank you for sharing. I have a son with autism and before I did feel he needed fixing. I was proud enough to think I was going to heal him, turns out he changed me. Now I begin to see that my husband is a lot like him. I am the social member of my family and yet your story is so well told I could relate to you when I was a teenager at dances. This proves that human beings are more alike than different. Your are a very talented writer. (Don’t blame yourself for other people’s choices). God bless you!

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