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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Start of Year Six

I missed it yesterday! Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of me starting full-time at Easter Seals Midwest. I'm sorry I missed it as I would've made a big blog post, but I wasn't in the best of places yesterday so instead I'll make that blog post today. And to be perfectly honest today is a perfect day to make such a post.

I remember March 2nd, 2010 like it was just five minutes ago; the nerves, the tension, and the apprehension. I was signed on to be the "Community Education Specialist" which I had no idea, exactly, what that would entail. I don't know if anyone really knew what my role would be down the road, and on that first day I was nervous wondering what I would be doing day in and day out. Thankfully, on that first day, I had a presentation that afternoon to give at the police academy. I had been on part time giving sporadic presentations at the police academy and this would continue into when I was full time.

The next day I was given some more assignments but it was then I was told that, "Aaron, you should start a blog." Now this was from Ron, the CEO and the person whom had hired me so saying no wasn't the easiest of options. And I tried, oh how I tried as I wondered, "a blog, seriously? Would people ever read what I have to say?" I pondered this for a while and when I thought of, "Life on the other side of the wall" I shook my head in frustration because everything I do when it comes to writing starts with a title and I work from there and on March 5th 2010 I wrote my first blog post.

Why is it fitting that today I write that I start year six? From being my former job title to now being the "Autism Ambassador" for Easter Seals Midwest the scope of my presentations has grown. The number of presentations, the number at my presentations, and the quality of them has improved greatly since the first year, but today I'm returning to where I began with a presentation at the police academy.

Each time I present at the Saint Louis County Police Academy I walk in remembering my first presentation and while it was rated decently it was awful, or at least that's what my take on it was, but I was asked back and six years later I'm still at it. There's another thought as I leave the station and that is, "where are we headed?" I mean this in a broader scope than simply my life, or how many officers I've presented to, but what has changed since the last time I presented? Today I'll be more reflective on that as I leave.

So where, exactly, are we headed? What has changed since I began? When I began the autism spectrum was a mystery, and it still is. There's still misunderstandings, still tragic stories we hear on the news and see on social media, and with each of these, I feel, there's no need or reason for them. I once had a blog post that my dream was the day that my job position was no longer needed because that would mean we would be at 100% awareness and understanding. Call me a perfectionist but anything short of this is not good enough. With all the elements in play for us on the autism spectrum whether it is self-esteem issues, not fitting in, or our constant battle with the fail-set mindset I fear that each time there is one of those awful bullying stories or the like that, for that person on the autism spectrum, they may give up on life.

I was at that point. I wasn't bullied but I had given up. If you go back seven years ago I am not the person I am today. Hope? Ha! I was the messenger of no hope. Somehow, someway, I broke through, but what if I had been bullied? What if more evidence proved to me that I would never amount to anything therefore why should I ever try? And on top of this all I'm sure for every story that is reported on the news or social media there are countless more, maybe more than we would hate to ever consider, that occur on a daily basis. When this happens human potential is lost, wasted, thrown away. The devastating impact of these events is not felt just on the day it occurs but can last a lifetime. The physical wounds may heal, but the emotional scars may never do.

So again, I ask, where are we heading? Media outlets are reporting more and more of these stories so are we backtracking, or is it just that media outlets like a story and they're reporting on these more? I hope we aren't backtracking. I'd like to think we are moving forward and if you could witness one of my school presentations where 6th graders are quoting in-depth research papers regarding the autism spectrum, or a sophomore is asking me why their sibling with autism is intrigued by things that spin, well, if you could only see it you'd too believe there's hope in moving forward. We have to! It isn't an option to standby idly and accept these tragedies. I know I'm not and these rash of stories has instilled in me a greater fire to present better, to write better, and to get to more places because we aren't talking about the difference between two small items. No, the stakes here are much, much higher. The difference could be one of a prosperous life or one where an individual feels there's no hope and has given up on life.

Writing that last paragraph brought me to tears. I don't often feel what I do; I do it because it needs to be done, but whatever I have achieved in my first five years, well, look out for the next five because my inner fire is raging and we've got to do nothing short than to change status quo and change the world. Lofty goal? You bet it is, but we've got to try.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A few days

A rather major life event happened over the weekend and writing right now isn't the easiest of things to do. Also, next up on my Finding Kansas Rebisited series is the title chapter of Kansas itself and I've got to be in a more upbeat mood to do it so it may be a few days until I am able to get it the revisiting that it deserves. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Finding Kansas Revisited: I...


I…

            This is another chapter I don’t fully remember writing but is yet another chapter with so many of the hidden issues that are often well below the hidden depth of Asperger’s. I will say, however, I very much agree with myself and I don’t know what spawned it but my distaste for people that think they know everything is easy visible. I have always been that way; if a person is so sure about something without the ability to see it from any other angle, or a person who is so sure about something that they mock any opposition to their idea has always annoyed me. Now there is a flip side to this as, well, I’m sort of that way.

            The third and fourth paragraphs state something that I think has changed since I wrote this; I wrote in this chapter that people I’ve met have been, “tight lipped” about it in that it was something they wanted hidden. From giving my school presentations I can say that I am sensing a swing the other way now as awareness goes up. I ended a paragraph by saying, “understanding is the only thing I want” and I believe we are on that way.

            Further on I talk about the trade off in life in that we can be good at something but for each thing we are good at we were be equally bad at something else and that there will be thing that I never will be able to do. It’s fitting I write about this chapter now because yesterday I had an experience that would’ve been an even that I thought I’d never would have done.

            I was in Ste. Genevieve giving a presentation and in the segment of my presentation that I mention I pull my car keys out I didn’t feel them. No worries, I thought, as I assured myself that they were in my coat pocket. I would’ve made a joke about this during the presentation but I was trying my best to keep my voice and not chough so I omitted it. Anyway, after the book signing segment I went back into the auditorium to get my computer and coat and as I put my coat on I reached for my keys and, GASP! they weren’t there. I walked swiftly to my car and used my flashlight and there were my keys, sitting on my bowling balls on the back seat seemingly mocking me. They were so close and yet unobtainable. I walked back into the performing arts center and gave my coworkers and the person from the school district who helped set this up and I was fearing some sort of angry response from them and I was worried the building would be locked and I’d be waiting for AAA out in the cold. My fears were ungrounded in fact and no one left. In fact, what I thought was going to be a miserable experience waiting in the cold quickly became one of my favorite memories from being on the road as the five of us chatted nonstop for the hour or so it took. On my drive home I figured that I’d have a chapter coming up in my book on this series that this story would fit in, but I can’t believe it fits in so nicely now because what I did tonight, having a conversation with four others the way I did, was something that I thought I’d never do and here I was doing it.

            As this chapter goes on I talk about memories which lead me to think about this never thing. I actually feel I will never have an experience like I had last night. I don’t know why my brain is like this, I don’t know why I’m a “worst case scenario thinker and good things will never happen to me” mentality. History has shown otherwise but this is my default setting. Why is this important? Good things can quickly become bad memories. How so? Imagine your best day ever. Imagine having a day that everything clicked, you achieved every single life goal, you impressed every person you came across, and you set records that can never be broken. After such a day how could any day ever live up to that? Yes, this is sort of how my brain works and why when something really good happens it turns into a negative emotion after the face. It’s hard to understand this; this notion that a positive turns into a negative, but if you experienced something so blissful and perfect and were convinced that it would never happen again then maybe you’d understand this.

            The final segment of this chapter talks about my bowling achievement of rolling a 299. Before you ask, yes, I did eventually bowl a 300, but on this night I threw a 299 there wasn’t a great deal of celebrating. I was happy I was finally getting a ring (back then a bowler got a ring for a 298, 299, or 300 game or even the rarer 800 series) after bowling for seven years, and I was glad I conquered the wobbly knees (once you get the first five or six strikes in a car the wobbly knees hit and with each subsequent strike standing straight and having a solid approach shot becomes harder and harder) once and for all. However, I didn’t get to relish in the normal fanfare of a 290+ game. Typically, when one is going for a 300, there’s this great hush that descends among those around the bowler. It’s almost a sacred moment in that speaking becomes a sin, bowling beside the person becomes a sin, and as so much as mention a three with two zeroes following it is of the utmost taboo. I didn’t experience this, though. I had bowled in this league for four years and was virtually invisible. Whereas others came to bowling to socialize and to, well, drink, I went to bowling to simply bowl. I didn’t chit chat, I didn’t small talk, and I was the last one to congratulate an opponent. I wasn’t a bad sport, but I wasn’t a good sport, I guess you could say I wasn’t a sport at all and just went through the motions of bowling because it was something to do. The framework of this all (haha!) led to an isolating experience as I threw my 12th shot for the 300 and I rolled a beautiful ball that hammered the pocket and the pins scattered but the headpin bounced off the wall just glancing the seven pin and no other flying pins hit the seven so I came up one pin shot of perfection. I stood there, defeated, somewhat glad I was getting a ring but devastated that I had been robbed of perfection. I turned around and there was nothing. You should see it, when a bowler throws a 300, there’s applause, accolades, and a sense of belonging to an elite crowd. This, though, was not meant for me.

            It’s amazing how a positive experience can be perceived as a negative one, but for some of us on the autism spectrum that’s exactly what can happen. As I mentioned earlier in this series I still struggle with self-esteem issues and the experience last night with chatting away for an hour was an amazing experience. I never thought I’d be glad to have locked my keys in my car, but I felt as if I got to experience normal last night. Again, I’m under the belief there is no such thing as normal, but to keep the talk of paradoxes alive (I use that word A LOT in this chapter in my book) that’s exactly what it was; I don’t believe in normal but I experienced it last night and since I am convinced it will never happen again I look at last night with almost a tear in my eye. Why did the tow truck driver have to come when he did? He could’ve waited, right? Just a few minutes more, right? To be so close to normal, to be on the edge of it being able to have it within my grasp, and to have it yanked away is, well, it’s the essence of having Asperger’s.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Finding Kansas Revisited: Small Things and A Friend Gone


Small Things

            There isn’t too much to add to this chapter except to state that I further wrote out my understanding that I may have, as the DSM-IV called it, “an inappropriate attachment to objects.” What’s amazing about what I wrote in this chapter, and all chapters really, is that at this point in time my training on the autism spectrum was nil. Truly, the only autism literature I had read was the initial website that told me to give up. As I have progressed in this series I am truly amazed that my words do not contradict the other literature out there.

A Friend Gone

            If there’s been a chapter that I’ve written that has required more tissues than “A Friend Gone” I’d like to hear the nominations because I’ve been told time and time again that getting through this chapter, whether you’re a cat person or not, without needing a tissue for a tear or two is a daunting effort. I learned this the day I wrote it as I took it to my bowling team on Monday night and the two older ladies on the team, well, we had a chance at first place at the time and all that became lost as they could not think straight the rest of the night with tears a plenty happening.

            Myself, reading this chapter, it was hard; perhaps the hardest chapter I read thus far. I talk about the associative memory system, and not remembering people, but I also do not remember my pets. I mention Amsterdam, the cat that was put to sleep in this chapter, and I mention Siam, whose story comes to an end in my 2nd book, and for both of them I don’t remember them. I remember of them, I remember the antics of their kittenhood, but of them, exactly, is just a blur. I have a picture of them as little kittens alongside Missy the Maltese and that’s the extent of my memories.

            The other side of this comes at the ending in my inability to walk her to the Humane Society for, well, I don’t know how to put it. Truly, I don’t. How do I put it? Her demise? Her ending? Her death? Just those words alone, just the thought of it, and I shudder. Anyway, I was unable to take her and to this day I’m deeply saddened by this, but at the same time I’m thankful someone else was able to because I don’t know, at that point in time in my life, if I would’ve been able to have held her as she drifted away. That moment would’ve lived on, and on, and on in my brain and I don’t know if I ever would’ve been able to erase that memory. My final memory of her is her tenacity to give me a final meow and go away without fear. This coming from a cat that was afraid of everyone except me and in this moment she showed no fear. That’s my lasting memory of her.

            Why is this chapter in the book? For one, and I didn’t know it at the time, this chapter blows away any misguided expert who may claim, “people on the autism spectrum have no emotions and are incapable of caring.” I didn’t know there were such people, but they’re out there and I hope they read this chapter. Secondly, I wrote this as a way to deal with the situation. Had I not written it all the emotions associated with this would have stayed bottled up and I would have had a hard time dealing with the emotions, but I wrote a magical chapter fitting for such a great friend and ever sense tissue makers have seen an increase in business… Okay, I can’t make that claim, but for anyone who has ever had a pet and anyone who has had to make that decision that the quality of life just, well, isn’t life will understand this chapter. I was almost cold in my understanding that it was her time, but it was and emotions would have just made the logical choice more difficult. You see, this chapter is in here because it’s an event anyone who has ever had an aging pet has had to deal with and I give my story. My story, and any other person’s story isn’t that far apart. If I can give a story that others can relate to, and I can do a decent enough job to describe how I feel and why I did what I did then that’s the fastest way, I thought, for others to understand the autism spectrum because it’s something anyone can relate to. There’s good news for tissue makers though, as great (or as sad) as “A Friend Gone” is the chapters of “A Friend Found” and “Saying Goodbye” in my 2nd book will see another increase in sales… Okay, okay, okay, I can validate those claims but I can’t wait for you to get the chance to read those chapters someday.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Finding Kansas Revisited: Maybe and What does it Mean?


Maybe

            I had another “oh my goodness!” moment reading this chapter. This chapter is, again, filled with so much philosophical angles that I don’t know if this is about living life or if it has to do with Asperger’s. Well yes, it is Asperger’s, and I found it neat that there are so many usages of words I used in this chapter that I still use to this day and in these words are the motivation to keep doing what I’m doing today because there are those stuck in a world of “maybes”.

            It was a very late night when I wrote this and I was in a dark place. That would be metaphorically speaking, not literal. The chapter is short but the resounding theme is waiting for something, anything, to make my life better than it was. Here’s the thing though; I still feel this to this day. Measuring gains in life isn’t something that can be seen instantly although I try. I mention awaiting a phone call and I’ve received many of those, like getting my job at Easter Seals Midwest, and yet there’s still this awe of awaiting the next day and that maybe things will get better. What does better mean? I don’t know; it isn’t job related, it’s just the constant thought of “what if” and the like. Maybe it’s because I was in that mindset for so long it is ingrained in my brain and I can’t help it. Perhaps it’s because, as mentioned, it isn’t easy to measure long term growth. Why not? If we take a snapshot of each day the days run together. However, if we look a picture from 10 years ago, and 8 years ago, and 4 years ago, and then today it will be easier to notice differences, but life isn’t like that. Life is lived on a day to day basis and seeing changes, at least for myself, are difficult. Maybe tomorrow will be the day I finally see this.

 

What Does It Mean…

I have to be honest and say that I don’t remember writing this chapter. I remember the concepts, not the words and this isn’t a concept chapter so reading this is like looking back on a long lost personal self-written journal…

To survive… By the words used in this segment I wrote this very close to writing the previous chapter and at the same time the “living life on a daily basis” is working against me because I was so far behind financially that I was sure I’d never get out of the massive credit card hole I had dug from being unemployed for so long.

To love… It isn’t in the forefront of the book, but all of my work was centered around this question of, “can I love, and if so, what is it and what does it look like?” Again, this is something everyone may ask of his or her self, but for myself it was confusing. Perhaps it was because I was longing for the endless summer days Emily and I spent together doing nothing, or maybe it was because I had 18 months of isolation and I was sure no one outside my family would love me and the world would always hate me therefore I convinced myself there was no love. I now know differently and this is a very complex thing. I believe I cover this in a few more chapters down the road, and I look at it intensely in many more chapters in my unpublished books, but the way I describe it at presentations now is like this; never let a speaker say that all people on the autism spectrum are incapable of emotions or love. Here’s the thing; imagine a busy road from one town to another, but here’s the catch as there’s 545 accidents and 3,497 brick walls lining the route. That being so it isn’t easy to navigate and get to the destination. That’s what it is like in my brain when it comes to this matter. It was much easier for me to say and accept the fact that, as I put it in my book, “I’ll miss you if you were gone” but, using my road example, the part of my brain where I experience it to that part where I express it is like the road. All the emotions are there, but expressing it is often a difficult journey.

To be happy… More repetition here as I struggle with the fact that I’m not behind the wheel of a race car. The last two paragraphs of this segment were a bold statement in that I was so angry and people assuming things about me because I didn’t have a job nor was I in school. There was, and maybe still is, such a social stigma about this. Essentially anything socially ended right then and there if it got brought up. The thing that is different now is I would not take that offer to stay at home forever. The world is an infinite place of wonders, possibilities, and places that need to hear my presentation.

To be good… I still struggle with this to this day because being good is something that can’t always be measured. I just talked about this in a blog post before setting out on the Finding Kansas Revisited project and when it comes to something like a pinball game on the Xbox I know exactly where I stand and if I know I have the skill on a certain table to take the world record I won’t quit until I have it. This is a measurable feat, but when it came to the jobs I had I would quickly experience a burnout when I saw through the logic and realized that my performance meant nothing. This was a big struggle when a person who slacked off and did nothing while I carried the store in sales and yet at the end there was no pat on the back, no bonus, and we were equals quickly made a job senseless in my mind.

            There’s several more segments in this section but as I realize that my newest book I’m writing is very much like this chapter, and this chapter is very personal for myself to read, I’ll leave all this to that.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Finding Kansas Revisited: Film Theory and The Darkroom


Film Theory

            The presentation version and the print version of “Film Theory” are different. As important as my presentation version in which I boldly state, “whatever happens first always has to happen” takes on a much deeper meaning in my book.

            I can remember the evening I wrote this; everyone else had gone to bed and it was near 2AM and I decided I had had enough of winning races on Forza so I went to brush my teeth and in the process, in which I spit into the sink, the way it hit the sink reminded me of when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.

            When the Challenger disaster happened I wasn’t even three years old, but I saw it live and I somehow knew what had happened. Getting me to brush my teeth afterwards, for quite a while, was difficult due to spit hitting the sink looking like the moment the big white cloud of the explosion happened and as I was reminded of this in the wee hours of the morning it hit me out of nowhere. I can’t explain it except to see the entire concept of Film Theory entered my head instantly.

            I rushed to my computer where the words just flowed. Writing, at this point in time, was getting easier and easier and as I wrote this I knew the words I were writing had merit. I didn’t know if anyone would ever read it, but for myself the depth of understanding myself grew with each paragraph.           

            In this chapter is also the groundwork for understanding that sooner is better in terms of diagnosing. I make several references to that. However, the moments I mention in this blog, from CBS’s closing of the Nagano 1998 Winter Games, to that game of Risk I still remember to this day, are sacred to me to this day and the concept put forth in this chapters is one that dictates a lot of my life.

            The most profound thing, for myself, in this is my obvious fear of the future. In my upcoming books, along with many times on my blog, I’ve written about this. It’s a major fear because what we have today may not be what we have tomorrow and what we have tomorrow most likely won’t be what is in 30 years. That’s the way my brain thinks; I’m constantly afraid of change. Change can sometimes be good as look at the difference in where I was after my Vegas chapter to the person I am today. But change can also be bad, with change can come loss and I don’t know how well equipped I am to handle such things. It’s a major fear of mine and one that can’t simply be turned off. As with the “Trapped” chapter I don’t want to say too much on this chapter because it’s still fresh, raw, and something I’m afraid of. Although, since I still do it and it is mentioned in the chapter, I still use 18 point font for chapter titles.

 

The Darkroom

            “My goodness!” was my exclamation as I read the first four chapters of my book. Then I said aloud, “Did I write this?” It’s an odd feeling to read something so deep and have no idea how I came up with that. I do agree with myself (that’s a VERY odd thing to type) however and the question of, “is there a me?” is profound beyond the level of the autism spectrum. I actually didn’t know if I were reading something I wrote or something I’d expect to read in a deep philosophical book.

            I cover many things that were developed in the darkroom and one thing mentioned is that there’s a chain of stores that had sticky floors. I can attest to the fact that the one by my house, which is 275 miles from the one my dad mentioned as having sticky floor, does indeed have sticky floors.

            There’s other comments though and I think it right to revisit them:

            Mediocrity is the end of life. To be mediocre at anything is unacceptable. My feeling on this has changed, but only slightly. On my blog last month I mentioned my obsession with going after certain pinball world records. In that regard it isn’t just mediocrity that is unacceptable but anything less than the best. However, and here is the aggravating part, once I achieve the record there isn’t a sense of glee, or fulfillment, but one of an empty celebration as if to somewhat sarcastically say, “yay?” In other aspects I’m okay with not being the best. On iRacing I’m one of the better Indycar drivers on ovals, but on tracks that involve turning right I am midpack at best. I’ve finally accepted this and going into those types of races I find enjoyment in battling people that are running similar speeds to those that I am running so instead of battling for the win the battle for 14th can be just as fun.

Money is the key to happiness and also the root of all internal fears. Not much has changed on this one showing just how strong “firsts” “film” and this “darkroom” are. When I was writing I never had more than $300 in my bank account. Things have changed and I’m in a better place now, but the fear of money and the fear of the future are just as strong now as they were. In a way it’s almost worse now because I don’t want to go back to where I was, but should a series of events happen and I become jobless with nowhere to speak and nowhere to flag I know exactly how many months it would be before I’m back in that place. My brain is brutal to myself on this front and the cycle of thought is neverending.

            Winning isn’t required. Respect from the competition is the real way to win the game. This too hasn’t changed. I had a blog from about three years ago about an iRacing race in which I tried to pass someone below the double yellow lines at Daytona and I wrecked the person which gave me the lead. The crash brought out the yellow flag and I was going to win, but I could not accept victory under those circumstances so coming to the checkered I pulled down pit road and relegated myself to a 5th place finish. When I blogged about this a friend of mine told me that blogging about such a thing was just being on my high horse but I disagreed and said something along the lines that, well, winning does matter but the way one win is just as important and the post wasn’t about me gloating on a self-penalty, but rather I was willing to take a win away from myself and I hope other people would have the same mentality.

            I am complete unlikable, for reasons unknown. Would you believe me if I said I still struggle with to this day? No? Well, I do. I don’t know when, or where, but somewhere along the line this film got developed. At the start of every presentation I hold my breath as I fear that this statement is going to be proven true. I’m over 600 presentations and it hasn’t been proven true, but there’s still that nagging voice that tells me I’m not good enough and never will be.

            Bad things happen to me by the bucketful. If you’ve read this far into Finding Kansas, have followed me on Facebook, or have read my blog, you know it’s true. However, if this weren’t true my life would be rather boring. Could you imagine my blog? “Yeah, well, today I got up and everything was average, like, you know, normal… Yeah, that’s it.”

            People in general aren’t good; evil is everywhere because the rules aren’t followed. My black and white thinking shines through here. It’s a very logical, albeit drastically harsh view of the world. Logical? Well, yes since if rules were followed there would always be order and with disorder comes change and chaos which are difficult to handle therefore those who don’t follow rules brings chaos which was deemed as not good. If you have to remember that, as I was writing this book, I had minimal interaction with anyone outside of a bowling alley or a race track and even then my interactions were minimal. I still was under the impression of being unlikable and since, as I viewed it, the world hated me therefore all was evil. I know I’m using extreme words, and in my 2nd book I’ll cover the reasoning as to why words are often to the extreme (I can’t wait to use this concept in a presentation… I know, this is a BIG teaser, isn’t it?)

            I end this chapter with the mentioning of hope and stating that I don’t know what it is. I often close my presentations by saying that, “I used to be the messenger of ‘no hope’” and here is proof of that. I hadn’t quite turned the tide yet in feeling hopeful for the future, but that’s okay as if I had the rest of my book, and the previous parts of my book, never would have taken place. I guess the main thing is that one can go from feeling hopeless to getting to a place where hope is in the dictionary and is experienced.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Finding Kansas Revisited: Las Vegas


Las Vegas

            It may not seem like a pivotal chapter in my book, but looking back on it this chapter was one of the most pivotal experiences in my life.

            There were some of my stories omitted from this chapter, such as the issues I had with Emily on the days leading up to my journey west, but it was the journey itself that makes this story so pivotal.

            I wrote that this was my first solo trip with no family and I can’t stress how important this was for me. It was this trip which later spawned my “Relocation Theory” concept which maybe someday will get a closer look.

            In this chapter I mention that things got frozen in time and indeed this was true. I saw my first Nissan Skyline in traffic as the NASCAR Busch series, then Nationwide, now Xfinity series was about to race at the new Kansas Speedway, and I also vividly remember the gas station where I mention the airmen with US GOVT plates. In the three other times I’ve driven across Kansas I’m always anxious to pick out the landmarks of my 2003 trips.

            One thing I didn’t write about, and this is what makes this chapter so pivotal, was that this month of my life was the month prior to getting my diagnosis. So think about this; in this chapter I go on and on about feeling free and slowly opening up to the world. But on top of those two points I am a professional race car driver! I was driving cars, and being paid more per day than I could ever have imagined, so this was my life starting. Granted, side story, my amount of driving got drastically cut when I flew the checkered flag one time. Once management saw me wave a flag I often was relegated to flag waving detail. That was fine, though, the pay was the same.

            Another thing omitted from the book was the story of Tony Renna. Tony was an up and coming Indycar driver who had just signed with the best team and was doing some off season tire testing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when a freak incident occurred. What occurred? No one knows how or why, but the end result was Tony’s car hit the top layers of the catch fence. The debris field was compared to an aircraft accident and Tony was killed instantly. The reason this is relevant was that Tony was still an instructor at the Derek Daly Academy and he was also was a co-instructor of mine when I went to drive as a student a 2nd time.

            It was a somber time at the Academy and every news outlet in Vegas was on the property interviewing staff about what type of guy and how much talent Tony Renna had. I had never been at a place that had experienced a tragedy and I remained as flat and as emotionless as possible.

            The return trip home, and I wish I had used better words than what’s in the book, was the hardest drive of my life. How does one leave paradise? How does one leave living a life they had always imagined? Outside of one day in Florida in which I drove a Late Model Stock Car I have not been in a proper race car since. It was fitting that my dad waved the checkered flag when I got home because, and neither of us knew it at the time, it was an end of my career as a professional racer. What I thought would be the end of my life got worse the month after as I got my Asperger diagnosis and of course I read those infamous words on the internet and the depression hit full blast. But what if I had not had my Vegas experience? What if I hadn’t experienced the life of an up and coming racer? Would my diagnosis have been taken as badly? I don’t think it would have. To have lived life at its fullest and to finally, and naturally, start opening up as with the example I used at the Boulder City Golf Course, and to then have a world view of no hope is a stark difference, and it was this difference that amplified the diagnosis experience. Of course, had I not had the time in Vegas I doubt I’d be presenting today and I doubt I’d ever have started to write because the diagnosis wouldn’t have hit as hard. Then again, it could’ve worked the other way. I may not have fallen off that table and knocked myself out on the Goodyear tire and I may have been asked to come back which may have led to a ride in a feeder series to Indycar or NASCAR and had that happened, well, all that I am now and all that I’ve done would never have happened.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Finding Kansas Revisited: The Lost Foreward

                  Foreward



Part of my development as a writer stemmed from a doctor I was seeing. My dad was seeing him first learning about what Asperger’s was an eventually I too saw him. It was easier to write about things than talking so that to spurred the creative juices. In the first version of my book he wrote the forward so here now, was the original forward to Finding Kansas…


I have been asked to write a brief description of my impression of the “clinical” value and importance of Aaron Likens’ writings.  I feel honored by this opportunity.  At the same time I also doubt if I am capable of providing anywhere near a comprehensive interpretation or analysis of the value and meaning of Aaron’s truly remarkable writings.  However, there are a few observations I feel confident in making: These writings are of prodigious value to anyone interested in autistic-spectrum disorders, especially Asperger’s Disorder, whether they be a mental health professional, researchers in the field, family members, or other persons with similar disorders.  There is always a desire to secure some exacting definition of a particular disorder such as Asperger’s, a tendency to see each person as part of a more or less homogeneous group.  This categorical thinking has been yielding (especially in the conception of autistic disorders) to the notion of a continuum, which may be fore descriptive and individualistic.  In this regard the term autistic-spectrum disorders has increasingly gained acceptance.

As a mental health professional who has specialized in the field of autistic-spectrum disorders for nearly twenty years, the only apt comparison I can make of Aaron’s writings is the effect of Temple Grandin’s first book, Emergence. Her personal account of the “experience” of autism was a revelation.  It shattered many myths and previously accepted “facts” about autism.  Her book permanently changed the previously limited understand of autistic disorders. 

I believe Aaron’s writings have the same potential regarding Asperger’s Disorder.  He reveals depths of emotion, social comprehension, nuances of cognition and perception, and especially the potential for something close to “recovery.”  I believe its potential benefits are invaluable and capable of changing lives.

One of the changed lives has been my own. Aaron’s writings and our conversations have granted me clinical insights, a new understanding, and subsequently more effective care for my other clients with autistic-spectrum disorders.

It is difficult to keep this introductory statement brief because of the broad range of subjects he addresses; the questions raised by his intensely personal observations and analyses have implications beyond this field and the expertise of this professional.

First, I think it is important to note that unlike most current books on the subject of Asperger’s, this is not a “how to” (treat symptoms, etc.), but a “how did” book.  It is Aaron’s intensely personal journey, begun half unconsciously, its purpose emerging intuitively.  The process has been self-healing, but the product, like many literary journeys—from Homer and Dante to James Joyce’s re-visitation of Homer’s hero in Ulysses—Aaron’s writings speak to us all.  When he came to realize its potential value to others, he unselfishly decided to share it.

Aaron presents his writings as a series of essays arranged in chronological order (in keeping with the typical preoccupation with sameness, order, and predictability that is a hallmark of these disorders).  In many ways his descriptions and observations about himself reflect those made by Temple Grandin, as well as other observations and testimonials regarding the autistic experience.  His personal experience and even the words used to describe these experiences are often strikingly similar (although Aaron has never read her work), but beyond sharing certain clinical symptoms (as one would expect), Aaron has written a very different document.

Aaron has subjected himself to a rigorous self-examination, using himself as the subject of this “study,” a study of the nature and experience of Asperger’s Disorder.  He has bravely exposed us to his inner world.  He queries himself relentlessly about the nature, meaning, and implications of his thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.  In the course of this self-examination, he diligently applies logic, metaphor, analogy, and self-reflection to this “question” of his life, which most compels him.

In the course of this personal odyssey, however, he becomes much more than a clinical study of Asperger’s, for his personal queries eventually pose the same strenuous questions about the human experience that have challenged philosophers since antiquity: What is the meaning of our lives and actions? How do we reconcile our experience with that of others?  Where does the Truth lie? What is Love? Does freedom equal love?

Aaron does not ask these questions casually or as a kind of intellectual dalliance. (He is no dilettante.)  He poses these earnestly, for he perceives this is the only place where his personal salvation may be found.  This is one of the most fascinating and unique aspects of his writings to me.

Aaron examines everything with the tool of reason and logic.  This is the fateful manifestation of autistic preoccupation with sameness, predictability, and cognitive inflexibility.  Aaron is compelled to seek according to this method, applying “reason” to all matters and questions.  This seemingly innate methodology makes for a unique, self-made form of “philosophical inquiry.”  When I say “self-made,” I mean this literally, for Aaron reads very little and is completely unacquainted with the discipline or any of its most notable contributors.

The unfortunate aspect of this comprehensive philosophical mode of inquiry is, of course, the fact that our lives, our personal problems, and experiences can be only partly (even marginally) resolved by logic and reason.  Aaron’s cognitive inflexibility may be seen as a manifestation of the autistic tendencies as mentioned before and the pressing need to abolish ambiguity.  In Aaron’s case, owing largely to his extremely high intelligence, this preoccupation with order goes beyond arranging routines and establishing and imposing order on his environment.  He imposes this philosophical mode of thinking as the sole means of understanding himself, the world, and others.  The result is a kind of “tyranny of reason.”  In Aaron’s words, he “asks questions on paper to come up with some reasoning for someone who lives in a world of contradictions and paradoxes that have no answers or resolutions…a world within a world; a prison, chained by one’s mind.”  The expression “being on the horns of a philosophical dilemma” acquires a terrible disproportion here, a metaphorical “goring” of human potential and experience that is particularly bloody.

Aaron loves metaphor and hyperbole such as this.  It is one of the elements that make his writing so enthralling.  He has a marvelous sense of irony and a prose-style that is rich with emotional revelation, wit, and a wonderful absurdist sense of humor.  An incipient depth of emotion is given greater weight and meaning more often by implication rather that explication.  This is especially the case when he writes of the death of a friend (his cat) and his romantic experiences.  But his writer’s flair is also evident when he examines the value and torment of his prodigious memory, his work experiences, his fears, and his despair.  He is often given to morbid recollection, doubt, and hopelessness, but there is also the zest and excitement of release, joy, and peace, and even moments of serene and blissful happiness.

Where does he find this illusive “happiness” we all seek?  On answer he discovers is in playing games such as Monopoly.  In asking himself why this is so, he finds compelling answers regarding his Asperger’s mentality; the fact that games have clear rules that temper the “unpredictable,” that “there’s no better feeling that the unpredictability of a game set with predictable rules.”  He sees he is temporarily “free of my mind…of all the other mental anguish…the chains that make me overanalyze life, the critical mind…The real world and my world coincide, and happiness is found through the medium of the game.”  These observations and conclusions correspond with our current understanding of autistic-like mental processes.

But a more comprehensive, even profound fruit arises from Aaron’s study of himself.  It is an existential, even spiritual observation that “within rules comes knowledge of boundaries and limitation…[that] I am free because there are limits…”  The notion that in order to find life-sustaining meaning and true freedom we must know our limitations, Aaron concludes that limitations set the boundaries in which we can truly know ourselves.

As I caution previously, I had difficulty keeping this concise.  There are so many other aspects of Aaron’s writing and of our therapeutic relationship left untouched.  I hope I have this opportunity at some point.

I know that the general “rule” regarding getting a book published is that, well… “That isn’t going to happen.”  On the other hand, I find hope in one of Aaron’s many pithy aphorisms, “The rule that saved my life was the rule that there is an exception to every rule.”

 

Mark A. Cameron, Ph.D., M.A.

St. Louis, Missouri

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Finding Kansas Revisited: The Lost Chapter of "245 Boxes"

This chapter was cut from the book, but I've always looked fondly towards this chapter and I remember writing this all in one night. There are no major concepts here, and I may have repeated myself from previous stories, but if I'm going to revisit Finding Kansas I have to include this because it paints a picture of where I was. I do mention my trips, and the MRSA staph infection that also was a pivotal point in my writing career, but here it is, the original version of 245 boxes...

 

 

Two Hundred Forty-five Boxes



This piece is written for all the people I wish I could tell my story to.


                An interesting title is the first thing that caught your eye. What could 245 boxes mean? If you’re a warehouse worker, it may mean your worst nightmare. Then again, if it’s Christmas, it may be that you are really loved or come from a really big family. But in this case, it deals with the calendar. The time span this piece covers is 245 days, and as my journal is in box form via a calendar, that is how I came up with the name. What is one box (or one day) to a normal person is just another day gone by, but these past 245 have been memorable for many different reasons, and the word “normal” can’t be used to describe any of it, so here we go.

                I hope if you are reading this you have read all my prior writings; if not, that’s okay in this piece because there won’t be too many references to prior events, and if you have read my writings before, some things that happened in 2005 will be rehashed.

                We start with December 15, 2004. Besides the fact that my calendar mentions that Hanukkah ends on that date, it is the start of the 245. On that day, I had what you could call a date with a girl by the name of Rachel. I had met her on the Internet, and the day prior, I spent six hours talking to her via the Internet. On this Wednesday, I met her at my favorite pizza place and we talked, then I went bowling in my late league. This date was noteworthy because it was my first date in over a year and even more noteworthy because I actually initiated the contact.

                The story of Rachel only lasts five boxes, as she was a bit too out there for me. As she put it, “Beer has killed too many of my brain cells.” But the end of that story leads me to the start of the Winter Solstice and the start of my overseas travel.

                December 21 is the date that I will remember forever because one of my life’s dreams was fulfilled. I finally was going to travel beyond the borders of America. My fifteen minutes in the fifty-first state, ahem, I mean, Canada, doesn’t count (just kidding, Canada!). With my great memory I cannot recall what time we left, but I do know we flew from Lambert to O’Hare in Chicago. I wasn’t in the least apprehensive about any of the travels, but in O’Hare for a short time, I didn’t know the whereabouts of my dad. I quickly became panicked, as I did not have my cell phone on me, and my brain started to think of every bad scenario that may have taken place. It wasn’t long before I found him, but for some reason, he was a bit on edge, which, in turn, put me on edge, and then we disagreed on something, so at the start of this trip, there was a bit of tension.  Oh, I forgot to put where we were going. Not too many people are traveling out of the country for Christmas unless it’s family related, so I guess I should mention where we were going and why.

                My dad is a film producer/director/writer type of person, and he had a project to do in Lithuania. For those of you geographically challenged, Lithuania is east of England and was part of the former Soviet Union.

                The tension quickly died down, not because we resolved it, but just because there was so much to think about and to prepare for. For me everything was a new experience, and I wanted to take it all in. In fact, I can’t even remember what we disagreed about, but whatever the case may have been, after the four-hour layover, it was off to Frankfurt, Germany.

                The plane ride was a peaceful one, probably because of the destination than air currents. Traveling anywhere, when it leads to what one wants, always tends to be smoother.

                We arrived in Frankfurt as the sun was rising, and while looking out of the plane on approach and taxiing, there was only one thing on my mind, Which way is the Nurburgring? The Nurburgring is a famous track in Germany that the public can drive around at any speed for a certain price (I think about twenty dollars a lap). As much as I pondered that, it was time to get off the plane. I was shocked and almost afraid, as we had to exit the plane and get off on the tarmac and get into a bus that would take us to the terminal. It was a very eerie feeling exiting the plane and being so close to the massive turbine engines. I conquered that short fear and entered the bus, and we were headed toward a place that in my mind is one of the most compelling in the entire world, and that is an international terminal.

                Writer’s note: There are many different stories or pieces that could be written by themselves in this time period, but this will just be one long one with everything being covered that happened in that time period. I may write more about one topic or another and may provide more insight on something, but I will not be throwing anything out like a “game theory” or something of the sort.

                On that Wednesday, the twenty-first of December, I got my first taste of an international terminal. It was almost to the point of sensory overload for many reasons. There were shops that had products I had never seen before, there were at least a dozen dialects being spoken, and the sheer size of the terminal was almost breathtaking. But what really struck me was the sense of goodwill in the air. My experience was, that it is a place of peacefulness even through the chaos of hurried and weary-eyed travelers.

                After the layover there, it was time to fly to our final airport destination—Vilnuis. As we taxied toward the runway to take off and leave Germany, my thoughts were on that for the short while I was in the same country as a friend I used to know, Ashley. But as much as I dwelled on that, I had a book to get back to and it was a short flight (well, short if you consider the length of the flight from O’Hare).

                We got to our destination, and what first struck me while we were taxing toward the terminal was the coldness of the airport. What I mean is that at the end of the runway, it looked like a prison. The architecture of the surroundings had as much life as a cemetery. The wall between the airport and the road was a three and a half feet-thick concrete wall with enough barbed wire on top to kill an elephant. This was a definite sign that this country was once under Soviet rule.

                As we got off the plane, we met the pastor that would be our guide of sorts, and thankfully for me, he spoke English quite well and was more than eager during the stay to answer my questions about Lithuania.

                That first day we spent in the capitol city and my dad did a couple of interviews, one being the head bishop of the Lutheran church of Lithuania. The church that this bishop was at was in the middle of a very highly populated area, and the density was astounding. The roads are small and packed, and the last place you’d expect a church to be, there it was. What was even odder, there was a beauty salon connected to it and was essentially part of the basement.

                We didn’t stay there at that church too long, but long enough to hear the story of how the Soviets had trashed it during the Soviet era and how it was, and still is, being rebuilt to its former glory. I also tasted coffee for the first time, and I can tell you, I’m never trying it again. Even though my dad said it was a very strong brew, I’m still not going to try it again.

                From there, we drove around the city for a short while, and it was during this short while that all the day’s travels finally caught up with me. I started to fall like a brick from a high-flying plane. I was awake long enough to be scared to death a thousand times by psychotic European drivers (trust me on this, if you think Chicago is bad, you haven’t seen anything). So psychotic, in fact, that in a thirty-minute time span, we saw the aftermath of no less than five fender benders.

                From Vilnuis, we had to drive about five hours to the city where we would be staying. I don’t remember that ride because I was fast asleep once we left the city, but my dad said I didn’t miss much except a drunk driver that nearly killed us.

                After that drive, it was finally time to sleep in a bed. We were staying in the resort town of Palanga that’s nestled right off the Baltic Sea. We were dropped off, and as soon as I could, I was asleep in the bed, and it was a very comfortable bed as well.

                The next day we got up early, and we had a busy day ahead of us, but first we had to eat breakfast. We ate at the hotel restaurant, which would become the norm for us while we were there. I can tell you ordering food in a foreign land is quite interesting. If you order bacon and eggs, that’s exactly what you get: bacon and eggs as one. But besides the actual food topic, during this first day of breakfast, I heard a very familiar song. In the background, there was this song in a language I do not know, but I knew the song. It took me about fifteen seconds and then I realized that the song was in the game of “Project Gotham Racing2,” so now any time I hear that song I am instantly taken back into that hotel restaurant in Lithuania in the wintertime.

                Like I said before, we had a very busy day. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and we had many different places to see and do. One neat thing I did was walk over the Baltic Sea on this pier-like thing. While doing this, the waves were very choppy and the clouds coming ashore were quite ominous. A whale of a sleet storm backed up their ominous appearance. We quickly took shelter under the pier, but it quickly passed and we went back to the car. We visited with many different people on that day and saw much of the western part of the country.

                That night we went to our guide’s children’s Christmas party/play. It was an odd sensation to see a play and all the interactions but to not understand a word from anybody. It was neat to see that the interaction between parent and child is the same there as it is here. 

                After all the walking, we were very tired that night, so we went to bed expecting to sleep until morning. We were both wrong on that assumption because around 3:00 a.m., that wonderful thing called jetlag hit both of us. Somehow my dad knew I was up, and he asked me if I was and I replied that I was wide-awake. Instead of fighting it, we decided to stay up and read the books we had brought. To a tourist this experience may have been a bad one, but those two and a half hours were some of the most memorable of the entire trip. Maybe it was the sense of safety in that hotel, or maybe it was the fact that I finally realized I was halfway across the world, but whatever it may be, I will always remember those hours reading and being with my dad.

                We finally got back to sleep, and we got up and it was Christmas Eve. We ate breakfast again and the same lady waited on us. My dad asked her how long she worked because it seemed like, regardless the hour, she was there. The answer she gave was shocking. She stated that she worked from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. six days a week! In all the places I’ve been, it is the people stories like her that I wonder where they are as I write this. Is she still working sixty-hour weeks? How can someone do that and appear to be as content as she did? I could go on and on with those type of questions, but there’s more of this trip to talk about.

                Once again, it was Christmas Eve, and after eating breakfast, we went with our guide to this house where a birthday was being celebrated. But this wasn’t just any birthday. This was a birthday for a woman who was turning one hundred. That is just mindboggling for me, because she would have been alive for the pre-Soviet era, the Soviet era, and the current state it is now. Those eyes would have seen so much. And I better not forget they also saw WWII. At this party the people were quite friendly toward us American strangers. They asked us what it was like in America, and this one older woman was very intent on wanting to know why American movies were generally violent. All in all, it was a very memorable experience. Also, of personal note, that party was the first time I drank anything with alcohol in it. I had a glass of champagne. I didn’t willingly drink it, but when handed something and the person seems quite intent on giving it to you and you don’t speak their language, I thought it would have been quite rude not to accept. Only later did I know what it was.

                That night we went to our guide’s church service (by the way, our guide’s name was Darius) and I felt almost ashamed that I wasn’t paying attention in church, but I had to keep telling myself that even if I paid my fullest attention, I would be unable to understand a word anyone spoke. So after that I went to the side room and continued to read.

                After the service, I was in the back of the church just observing, and again I was shocked on how the interaction between people is almost identical to ours over here. Not that I was expecting a polar opposite or anything, but it was very weird to see a parent care for a child, but the words make no sense.

                After the church was locked up, we went to one of the elder’s houses and had Christmas dinner. The family was very nice to us and, for the most part, all spoke English. It was very intriguing to see Christmas customs of another country. The niceness of those people made me wonder why America isn’t as warm. The sincerity of the people is something I have never witnessed before. That warmness from people would be experienced on the next day as well.

                Christmas day was just like the day prior, except the hotel restaurant was closed, so that was a bummer. Thankfully, Pringles taste the same over there as they do here, so I munched on those, and the Cherry Coke’s taste is also quite close (don’t taste the Sprite though!). During the course of the day, which would be our penultimate day, we went to three different churches and saw the place where a very big church used to be, but it was destroyed in the war.

                It was indeed Christmas, but for me it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. Christmas for me is all about routine and being with the same people, so while the calendar said it was Christmas, it didn’t feel like it. In fact, not even the temperature felt like it, as it was considerably warmer there than it was in my home in St. Louis.

                The next day would be our last full day in the country. Sadness started to creep in, as I am very much sentimental and every little thing I saw I knew it would probably be the last time I saw it in that place. For instance, that morning would be the last time I would have those bacon and eggs; that night would be the last night that I would walk into my room.

                That day would bring news of the terrible tsunami, but hearing the news reports in a different language kept us from knowing the full effect of the disaster.

                The last day we did some more touring and videotaping, and we also went to the Amber Museum. That museum was one of the weirdest I have ever visited; not so much because of what it is, but because of its surroundings. Its location is in the middle of this large park, and on this cold, snowy day, there were no people about, but in the middle of this park, there was a massive museum. Behind the very large and heavy doors were actually people who work there. It was just very odd, because it was about a half-mile walk to the place, and not a soul outside was to be found, but inside there were people. It was just a bit strange.

                That night we had our final dinner in Lithuania, and what a dinner it was. We ate at this pizza place that isn’t more than a quarter mile from the beach, and let me tell you, it was the best pizza I have ever tasted. If I ever have a lot of money, I may have a spur-of-the-moment urge to buy myself a plane ticket and fly over there just to have that pizza. It was so good, it should be outlawed! During that great meal, it was fitting that the sun was setting, because the sun was also setting on our journey. In less than eight hours, we would be headed back to Vilnuis to board a plane for home, but as that meal lasted, it was such a fine end to such a wonderful stay in a wonderful country.

                As I walked into my room for the final night, I silently got misty eyed, but my tiredness let me fall asleep fast enough before I broke out into full-blown sobs.

                After a short five-hour sleep, Darius was there to pick us up, and I said goodbye to my bed, and room, and hotel, and then to Palanga as the lights fell behind the horizon outside the rear window of the car. I slept the rest of the way to Vilnuis, and as the sun rose it was time to enter the airport and start the long trip home. Our first stint would have us fly to Warsaw; then from there we were back to Frankfurt.

                Our layover was to be just two hours long, and because we were going to be flying back on a 747, we barely had enough time to finish our McDonald’s meal. We got to the gate right as it was starting to board, and we were set to make our final voyage back to home…or so we thought.

                We boarded the plane normally and then we started to pull away normally, but then I noticed that a lot of little lights were flashing above all the steward stations. Then I noticed that all of them were on the phone, and I knew that this wasn’t a normal situation. I quickly thought worst-case scenario: Was it a bomb? Had we been hijacked? What was wrong? We started to creep back to the terminal, and I told my dad something was wrong, but he quickly dismissed my fears. They were found out to be somewhat grounded, as the captain came on the PA and said that there had been a small fire in the air-conditioning duct. The repair time was only an hour and a half, so after that we were back up in the air headed to Dulles.

                When we got back to American soil, we quickly had to get to our gate because of the prior delay, but thankfully we made it. But then, because nothing for me can ever be normal, our plane we were on for the last leg of the trip wouldn’t start. After another thirty-minute delay, we were finally taxiing toward the runway. That’s when the captain came on the PA and said some very unnerving words, “Okay, folks, as you noticed, we wouldn’t start and we were able to fire the right engine, but the left won’t fire. I’m hoping as we go full throttle the air will kick-start the left and everything will be fine. This is a normal procedure, but you may feel some tugging as we go down the runway. Like I said, this is a normal procedure. I haven’t done this before, but we should be in the air momentarily.” I know people like to tell it like it is, but did he have to say that he had never done this before? 

                As you can tell, we made it because I’m writing this, and after a long trip we were home, but my luggage was not. Somewhere it got lost in between Dulles and Lambert, and it would be three days before I would get it back. In my luggage were the mementos I had been given from Darius, so I was very nervous that they would be lost, but thankfully, I received them with my luggage. The mementos are in a white box that was taped at the Vilnuis airport, and I have yet to open the box because I fear it would be too painful, because the memories of when I received them were of such joy that I don’t know if I could handle the memories now.

                Jetlag hit me bad, and the next three days are somewhat blurred. I bowled in my bowling league on the twenty-ninth, and then for some reason I drove to Indianapolis to see my mom, who was visiting my brother. I had slept from noon until eight the day prior, so I was awake enough to drive, so at 1:00 a.m., I decided to go.

                It was a very foggy and nerve-racking trip. The fog was dense enough that from the right lane you would be unable to see the median, and all the while I was being passed by trucks and cars who were doing at least twenty miles per hour more than me and I was doing sixty, so I quickly picked my pace up because I would much rather do the hitting than be hit.

                I made it safely to my brother’s house at six in the morning, and my mom was up to meet me. Later that morning my mom and I ate at IHOP. We talked and I talked about my trip and all that had happened since the last time I had seen her. I really wanted to see the Brennons, but contact could not be reached so my hope that the prior Christmas could be relived was dashed (Okay, I made one reference to a prior piece).

                That evening, due to the jetlag, I went to sleep at 4:00 p.m., but because my brother’s place is rather noisy, I was awakened at 10:30 at night. I knew that I would be up for some while, and I didn’t want to sit and do nothing for the entire night, so just as spontaneous as my decision to drive to Indy, I made another one to drive back just twenty-one hours after I started my way there. My mom didn’t like this, as she wanted to be with me for New Year’s, but like I said, I didn’t want to do nothing all night, so I left and headed back home.

                Something happened on that drive home that was most unexpected. My former girlfriend, Emily, called me and we talked for a good forty minutes. As she started to go, she said she would call me back after she ate, but in true Emily form, she never did, and to this day I haven’t gotten that phone call back.


That brings us to the end of the turbulent 2004. Will 2005 be any better?

                As 2005 started, jetlag was dogging me much like a mosquito that keeps buzzing your ear. I just couldn’t shake it or get my hours back on a somewhat decent track. On January 4, I slept an astounding seventeen hours, and then I finally regained some control of normality on my sleep schedule.

                A week and a half later, my dad talked to the Linger Production Group. They are the ones who produce ABC’s telecasts of the Indy Racing League races and the Indy 500. He talked to them about getting me an internship of some sort, and on first talking with them, it seemed like something could be worked out. Five days later it was said that I would be working the St. Petersburg race.

                January 30 would mark the day that I would start to really take my writing seriously, and after that day I have been firing off pieces left and right.

                February 4 marked my twenty-second birthday, and in true typical Aaron fashion it was a rather depressing day. For me nothing is more depressing than a birthday. It’s one more year toward the end, the end of what I don’t know, pick something and that’s what’s closer to the end.

                Eight days later I would be watching Speed’s coverage of the ARCA race from Daytona. It was a crash-filled race with several red flags and one extended red flag because a car destroyed the catch fence and it needed to be repaired. Later in the race, on the next to last lap, the screen flashed quickly to a car upside down sliding down the backstretch. As it slid, it got back into the grass and started to tumble, then it was hit hard by another car, and immediately after that happened, the shot changed and the angle was now looking straight down the backstretch. As the angle changed again, more cars could be seen flipping, and one car flew as high as the top of the catch fencing. It was, to put it mildly, a horrific scene.

                Speed’s coverage of the aftermath was horrible. Not a mention of the crash in the post-race interviews, and they went to their NASCAR pre-race show as if nothing happened. This scared me, as in the racing world no news is bad news. Had a driver been killed? Or more, did a car off the screen fly into the lake or into the stands? What happened? The Internet sites were mum about it, and for the next hour and a half there wasn’t a single word about. I went absolutely crazy in fear that something horribly bad had happened. In the end, just one driver was moderately injured, but that time of anxiety was very, very great.

                Four days later, it was confirmed that I would be going to Kenya later in the year. This was great news, because I was getting very depressed because I wasn’t doing much of anything and there wasn’t really any progression of any sorts on any topic, so this was much-needed news.

                That weekend saw the running of the Daytona 500, and it was a very depressing time. It was the first time in over six years that I would be watching the race alone. Prior to 2005, I either saw it with my dad, or from 2001-2004 I watched it with Emily, but since she hated me, and my dad had a business obligation, I was relegated into watching it by myself.

                Two days later, though, all that would be forgotten, as my dad and I were headed to Indy to have a meeting with the Linger Group. My dad said that the meeting went well (I couldn’t tell if it was a good meeting or a bad one), but it was decided that my first work would be the Indy 500 and not the St. Pete race. This was decided because the Kenya trip would interfere with that race.

                Two days after that, on February 25, it was time to get my shots for Africa. Prior to this day, I had a streak of 386 days without a hospital visit, but this day would see that streak end, but not of my own doing.

                I don’t remember much about that day, and the first thing I remember is grimacing in pain as the yellow fever vaccine was injected into me; then suddenly everything went black. I don’t know how long I was out, but as I awoke temporarily, I thought I was getting out of my own bed to go get the shots, so it was quite the shock when I was dressed, sitting in a chair, and the lights were on. I simply asked, “Dad, where am I?” and before he could give an answer, I was out again. I have snippets of memories of that time and the time I came fully aware of my surroundings in the hospital. It wasn’t a pleasant experience at all, as it felt like I had been awake for a week with no sleep and no food. What had happened was the needle had hit a nerve and it triggered a very long medical term but, for space’s sake, it caused me to faint.

                Not much of note happened between that incident, and it was time to go to Kenya on the twenty-first of March.
                At this point in time, please refer back to “Kenya.”
                I probably saved myself three hours by doing that, but I’m sure if I had rewritten it, it probably would have been the same anyways…

                As hectic as December to March had been, the first three weeks of April were very dull in comparison. Bowling on Mondays and Wednesdays was about my only excitement, minus the weekends I flagged.

                The twentieth saw me to see a coworker I knew six years prior. Her name was Carol. It was very nice to hear how she was doing, but it was also saddening because I instantly remembered all the memories I had. And when I mention memories, I just not only remember the time working with her at the bowling alley, but I remember the entire time era that I knew her. So Linda was remembered, and the days I would go over to my dad’s apartment and play “Grand Prix Legends” and the afternoons where I would go to play golf at Forest Park. It’s amazing what one person can do to unlock so many memories.

                Two days after that meeting another incident would occur. I was flagging a practice session, and at the end of it the primary race director wanted to chat about where the next race’s starts would be, so he got this flatbed (not a pickup, imagine a golf cart, but without a top, longer, and with just one seat), and we were going to drive out to the finish line. As what I mentioned in the parentheses, it only had one seat, so I was seated on the flat part. Bad idea! As he drove toward the track and made the turn onto the track, the vehicle was traveling too fast to hold me, and I was flung off much like a rodeo rider is bucked off a bronco. I landed on the ground, thankfully feet first, and I was able to take about five steps before falling, and those five steps let me land on grass and not asphalt. But in the end, I had a sprained ankle, and another trip to the hospital would be necessitated.

                The prognosis was good, and it was only a mild sprain, but the hospital visit would prove to hold more boxes of my calendar than just April 23. The trooper that I am, I flagged the next day; granted, I was hobbling, but I did do it.

                May 2 would be a day that would shape the rest of the year so far. Before this date, I was still looking forward to working for the Linger Group and being at the Indy 500 as an intern. But on this morning, I would wake up with a phone call saying that ABC had taken over the dealings concerning interns, leaving me cold and in the dark. It was a very bitter day for me.  I had been told that it was going to happen, and as so many things have happened before they fall through.

                Three days later, I went to a baseball game with my stepbrother, Mike, and normally a game itself isn’t worth putting in something like this, but during this game, the other team had runners on first and second with no outs, and Mike said, “Boy, a triple play would be nice in this situation,” and no sooner than he finished the word of situation, a triple play had happened. Not too many people can say they have seen one of those.

                May 9 was the day I completed reading A Tale of Two Cities, and I’m not much of a reader, but that was a really good book. It was very depressing, as I saw myself in one or two of the characters (too bad for you, I won’t mention who), and it was a rather bleak book. The next day I would start to get very sick, a sickness I will never forget.

                May 10 I woke up with what I can only describe as a pimple on steroids on the back of my neck. On this day, I would think nothing of it except some mild discomfort, but the morning of the next day would prove to be very bad. I woke up with a fever that eclipsed the 104-degree mark, and I woke my dad and we went straight back to the hospital (this is why I mentioned prior that the hospital visit would be in more boxes).

                I was admitted to the ER, and the ER doctor lanced the bulging abscess and then put me on IV antibiotics, and for the first time in my life, I was admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay. I wasn’t feeling like myself at all, so I didn’t care where I was so long as I was getting those nice blue pills that were killing all the pain, but what I don’t understand is why they wake a person up, like myself, who has just fallen asleep to give them medicine to help them go to sleep. Also the constant bothering of checking my blood pressure and what not got to be very annoying, but I guess it’s their job to make sure the patient isn’t dying.

                The next day my fever was still persistent, and my primary care physician was actually going to discharge me, but my dad called the nurse, and since I wasn’t getting any better I was going to be kept another night.

                The second night into the third day was one of the most depressing times of my life. My dad was headed to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and I talked to him at 4:00 in the morning, but after that, I couldn’t sleep. I thought of how many people I used to know and how they would never know if I died there on that bed. At the time I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and even if I did, with all the pain and pain pills, I probably could not grasp whatever condition I had, but sadly I did realize how lonesome I was. I wondered if Kyle would ever know, or Emily, or Ashley, or anybody. When the mind has nothing to do but think upon itself, it isn’t a productive experience.

                On that morning I was scheduled to have my next dose of all-important painkillers at 6:30. The nurse shift change started at 6:15, and 6:30 came, then 7:00, then 7:30. Each quarter hour I buzzed and said that I really needed the medicine because the pain was so great that there were times that I wished that I were actually dead or in a coma. As bad as the pain was, either of the two would have been just fine. Eight o’clock became 8:15, and then finally, finally after hours of pain that no one should endure, I got the medicine. At the same time I was told that the reason I was so sick and had a big mass of something on the back of my neck was because of a staph infection. A doctor looked at me and then said she would do surgery in the next two hours, and sure enough, I had a surgery. While I remained awake for it, it was rather painless except for the pain-numbing shots that were injected. And some of those needles went in about an inch!

                They needed to go that deep because that’s how far she made the incision, and not only did she make an incision, but she took out the entire mass. The mass of infection was about the size of a U.S. quarter and the depth of approximately one inch.

                After the short surgery, I was back in my hospital room, and Mary, my stepmom, was on her way to pick me up. I had not seen what my neck looked like, and at the time I was not aware of the fact that part of my neck was gone. But as she arrived and as the nurse was telling her how to pack the wound, I knew it was bad, because when the nurse took off my bandage, she looked like she saw a ghost. When I got home and saw in a mirror what my neck looked like, I could not believe my eyes.

                The falling apart of the internship may have been a blessing in disguise because had I been up in Indy, I may not have said that I needed to got to the hospital for fear that I may not be able to work. So what does this mean?  I probably would have just dealt with the pain, and that could have had fatal consequences.

                Even though I still had a hole in my neck, we went up to Indy to attend the 500. It was a great race and a great time all around, as we went to two races the day prior to the race and also saw Star Wars Episode 3. So many good memories abound from the end of May.

                The entire month of June was mainly wasted away playing “Forza.” During this month, I was the number-one rated player in the world, so I had to maintain that status. I did apply for a job in this month, but I think I’m glad that they would just keep my application on file because the more I think about it, the more I believe that a normal job could kill me. Oh, the application was to the bank that I formally worked at.

                The start of July was more like what I’m used to with that being stuff outside the norm. July 2, my best friend, Kyle, got married, but I wasn’t invited to it, so I don’t really know what that means, if anything. But after that, not even a week after, a hurricane was brewing in the gulf. It was less than nine months removed that Hurricane Ivan ravaged Pensacola, and this new storm with the name of Dennis was on the same path. So what do we do? Well, since I guess we hadn’t had enough adventure in the previous nine months, we went down before the storm so we could be in the storm.

                Dennis, when it was 150 miles out, was a category-4 storm bordering on becoming the worst category of a five. We were somewhere near Mobile, Alabama, when it hit, but we were on the west side of the eye, so we didn’t get any severe weather, but we got winds that were still over fifty miles per hour and torrential downpours.

                Somehow I made it through without getting injured, and thankfully for the citizens of that area, the storm weakened and it wasn’t as bad, so on July 12 we got back to St. Louis.

                After that, once again, there was a lull in any noteworthy activity, until August 1.

                On August 1, I went to the baseball game and I was expecting a good game, but I wasn’t around to see the first pitch. Of course, something bizarre had to happen to me. I was walking back to my seat after getting a bottle of water and this vendor passed me and said, “Excuse me,” then as soon as he passed me, he cut in front of me stopped suddenly. I tried to avoid him by walking left, but I made contact with him, and as my luck would have it, I slipped on previously spilled Coke and ice and I went backwards into a wall with my head; in the end I suffered a concussion and whiplash. I can’t even go to a simple ballgame without an episode from bizzaro-world hitting me.

                I spent about six hours in the ER and was released around 2:00 in the morning, but I don’t remember too much about that. Since that time, my short-term memory has been a bit shaky, and the dizziness and headaches were brutal. They are slowly diminishing, and I hope that they will go away in full shortly.

                So what does the future hold? Today on box 285, I wrote that I heard from a friend I had not heard from in ages (Josh), and also that I have a meeting with a man who owns a sprint car. Will the boxes in the future hold good things? People live their lives looking so far ahead (I know I do), but sometimes one has to look within four lines to see a box and realize that there are days, and within each box a life-changing experience can happen.