This post is my essay for Autistics Speaking Day, which is (as I write this) tomorrow, Nov. 1. If you're coming to check for a new chapter of Defiant, it will be up at 7pm on 11/1. I wanted to give this post some time on my front page during the actual day, so I'm not delaying my regular chapter by much, I'm just spacing the two posts out a bit. TW on this post. I'm not going to elaborate, just TW. There are too many to delineate them.
I'm at peace with myself for the first time in my life as I write this. I'm not done. I'm not settled. I'm not successful. I have, however, found a measure of peace. It's the first time I've felt that way. Ever.
I have not overcome my disability. I don't believe that that's really a thing that people do. I think that the people who claim to have overcome their disabilities are actually just powering through a lot of pain and frustration and trying not to be touched by it. That's not me. I'm touched by everything.
That's part of the problem.
I'm going to tell you a story now. It's going to take some time. It's about a fictional character that I like to call Neurotypical Mike. Neurotypical Mike was a character that I played for a good twenty years of my life, until I was about twenty-six years old. I can still remember when I started to create that character: it was when I was four years old. I wasn't playing as Mike full time until I was about six and I started Kindergarten, but I had to start working on his mannerisms and his way of expressing himself earlier than that, because it was very clear that Michael was not going to be allowed to do certain things.
Mike and Me -- The Early Years
For example, Michael did not get to call himself Michael when he wasn't around family. No matter how many times he told teachers and other kids that he was Michael, they had decided that they were talking to someone named Mike. It used to make Michael cry when they did that, but as time went on and more and more people decided that they knew Mike and that Mike was fine with being called by a nickname, they simply ignored what Michael said he wanted. Eventually, Michael stopped trying to talk to them.
During that same time, while Michael was watching the rest of the world go by through Mike's eyes, both of us were having trouble controlling our temper tantrums. We were prone to terrible temper tantrums, and we knew that that was what they were because our father told us so. Our mother would hold us when we had them. Later, when we were grown, she would tell us that she always felt terrible during those times because no matter how she tried to comfort us, we never calmed down unless our paternal grandfather was there to take us. We felt safe with him.
When our father was the one who saw us having the tantrums, he would threaten us. He would tell us that we were too old to act like babies. He would tell us that we knew what we were doing was wrong, that we were trying to get our way, and that our emotional manipulation would not work on him. He would tell us that if we wanted to cry, he would give us something to cry about.
He also told us to toughen up. He held us by our shoulders, forced us to look him in the eye, and told us that we had to learn not to cry about every little thing if we were going to be men. At that time, Michael did not know what that meant. Mike decided that what his father meant was that he had to stop crying if he wanted his father's approval, so he went to work on that. He trained his four, five, and six year old face to be neutral. To avoid giving away what was inside as much as possible.
Mike, as stoic as he was, was unsuccessful much of the time because he was still a small child. That did not stop him from working at it, though. When he did feel himself breaking apart and Michael threatened to burst forth onto his face and ruin everything, then Mike would find an excuse to be alone. Sometimes it was playing with LEGO. Sometimes it was reading. When they were alone, then Mike could rest and Michael could listen to Billy Joel and read about sharks.
The arrangement that Mike and Michael had was an unusual one, but it worked for them. Mike made friends at school. Not many--Mike was still autistic, even if he was playing neurotypical as much as he could. Michael was REALLY autistic, and also a sissy (he was not afraid of the word), but he did not have any friends, at least not outside of the family. The family still spoke to Michael by name--they still do--but as Mike moved closer and closer to full time existence, it became clear that they were just calling Mike by Michael's name.
Mike did a lot of things that he thought he liked even though he knew secretly that he hated them. He did them because he was a boy, and people taught him that boys did these things. He liked being a boy--being a boy meant that he got to play in the woods and build things in the yard and learn to use tools, so it was important to him that he keep doing boy things, even when he did not really like them and even when he was no good at them.
One of the few boy things that Mike did that Michael also enjoyed was collecting baseball cards. Mike would work on memorizing stats so that he could please their grandfather by knowing the entire Tigers roster and correctly naming the best players. Michael simply liked to sort the cards. He would spend hours alone in his room, sorting the entire Diamond set for the year 1988 (the only set he had in its entirety). First he would sort them by team. Then he would sort them by position, starting at home plate with the catcher and radiating outward in arcs until he ended at left field. When he was done, he would re-sort each team alphabetically by the players' first names, and then again by their last names. Once in a while, he arranged them in an arc on the bed by hair color, so that the men on each team formed a gradient that started at grey (for the managers), lightened to blond, then turned darker, and finally ended with either an African American player or a latino player, because they usually (but not always) had the darkest hair.
Neither Mike nor Michael understood all the rules of professional baseball, but they both liked the fact that they were involved with Little League, because that meant that someone would be teaching them the rules, and that meant that they would be able to watch the games with the other men in their families when they grew up. Mike really liked that he was going to be able to work his way into that world--a world where his father and grandfathers seemed very comfortable, where they got to be the bosses around the house, and where they got to watch a lot of television at night and pick all the channels because they worked all day.
Michael liked Little League because, at least at first, both the boys and the girls played together. He also liked it because they put the ball up on a Tee, so no one was throwing things at him. Both of these things made him feel happy, because he got nervous when people threw things at him (even soft things like pillows), and also because he never felt comfortable when he was surrounded by boys.
(to be continued)