There I was, kneeling in the high grass under gray skies feeling defeated. All felt lost and truly the sense of being defeated was felt.
Just a few days prior to that opening line I was feeling a sense of euphoria as I had penned down a place of my own. It happened suddenly and unexpectedly, but nonetheless it looked like a lock that I would, for the first time in my life, have a place of my own and be living on my own.
The sound of the passing cars and semis on the interstate stayed constant. I watched car after car pass and I stared into empty space lost. I was alone, scared, and completely unsure of what to do or where to go, not that I could go anywhere at this point in time.
Just hours before that line I was manning a flag stand fully confident in all my movements and decisions. Life was great, easy, and fully enjoyable. This was Kansas at its finest and I was living it up. It was a brief day though as what was supposed to be a one-day event turned into a two-day as for some reason Mother Nature was not a racing fan on this day.
Light droplets of rain began to fall and I looked upward thinking, “Well, if anyone does stop at least they won’t suspect that these are actually tears.”
When the short race day was over I was thrown for a curve, as I would be taking another person’s vehicle to head to Indianapolis, where my car was parked, and the other staff would be going elsewhere. This somewhat concerned me because 1. I am always worried about destroying other people’s property and 2. What happens if I get pulled over? I’ve seen too many police shows of people driving another person’s car and getting in trouble.
Trouble? As the droplets of rain subsided I didn’t really care what happened to me. Emotionally I lost any sense of caring. It’s not like me to be kneeling in tall grass, but I was at a point of not really having a choice as my hyperventilating had gotten to a point that my vision had started to blacken.
I left the track in the unfamiliar car and was feeling rather tired after the lackluster night of sleep I had the night before. It was only two hours to Indy and then another 3.5 back home to Saint Louis. I thought that this wouldn’t be that bad of a drive.
The constant roar of cars and the howling of semis began to wear on me. It was constant, and what had seemed like days was only 30 minutes, but still I wanted to scream. In fact, I did a couple times. On the side of the interstate, with loud vehicles to the left, and a cornfield to the right, and more bugs than I cared to ever be with, my screams were not heard.
It was about 25 minutes from the track before I got onto I-70 and then, just six miles or so in, I heard a loud pop. I thought this might have been a rock that had been left over underneath the vehicle from being at a dirt track, but then my eyes were directed downward to the dashboard and I saw the tire light come on. I thought nothing of this as my car’s tire light is always on despite all tires being at optimal pressure. Then, suddenly, the car veered hard right.
What would happen if? This started going through my mind and it wasn’t helping anything. I could play that game all day long and I did. I thought back to just less than 24 hours prior when I was flagging and a car went wide in the final corner and hit the stand I was in. The impact wasn’t the heaviest in the world, but it was enough to move the stand of the concrete blocks it was on and the drop threw me back and I didn’t stick the landing. It could have been worse as the only lasting effects from this is that I learned the funny bone isn’t funny at all, but then again, what if the stand had flipped…
I was in trouble; it happened so suddenly I only had time to react. The SUV I was driving veered hard right and almost went into the grass on the right hand side. I corrected and was on the verge of overcorrecting, but I caught it. I dropped my speed down wondering what had just happened. I noticed the steering wheel had to be way cockeyed to go straight, then I heard a “blarump blarump blarump” noise and I figured a tire had gone. I pulled off, and fear set in.
After reliving the previous day’s race and wondering just how worse that could have been I thought back to how much I feared what I was going through. As a child there was a time we pulled off on the interstate and my dad popped the hood and I screamed and screamed and screamed. This was at a time in my life that I had no clue of the actual danger of this, but since it had never happened before and I had never seen it firsthand it was truly traumatic.
I straddled the grass with my car because I was afraid of being hit by a speeding semi; so scared in fact I got out of the vehicle on the right hand side. I was fearful at this point in time, but it still was manageable as I was assessing the situation. I figured it was the right front tire that was the issue and indeed it was as it was flat. This was my second flat of the year, but the first one I stopped at a busy gas station. This was a far different animal as this was a speedy interstate.
I remained in the grass, shaking, still fearing that errant semi I knew was coming. This train of thought was unbreakable. I guess there was some irony in this as just 5 hours prior I was told that I was the, “most pessimistic person in the world.” I wish I weren’t, truly, but I unfortunately remember every disaster or accident I see and I have seen one too many police camera shots of cars broken down on the shoulder being hit with a force that is unimaginable. After remembering this I regained the knowledge of why I was so far off the road in the grass because if the car got hit I wanted no part of the impact.
What to do? I was still of an able mind so I texted the head staff guy and the flurry of texts and calls began. There was no one answer. Do I ride back with someone else? What about the spare? Was there one? Yes there was, but who was going to change it? I may know how to flag a race, but there’s a reason why I am in the flag stand and not on pit road. Minutes passed and still I had no idea what was going to happen. Despite having so many people pass me doing 70+mph and having other people on the phone either by voice or text I truly was alone.
This was the ultimate metaphor to describe how I often feel. Despite being around other people, I often feel alone, isolated or rather cut off from the world. It’s one thing to live this is a metaphorical sense, but to truly be experiencing true isolation was too much. Slowly self-hatred crept in and there I was, still sitting in the grass, bitter, staring off at the “Rest area ¾ miles ahead sign” wondering just how different I’d be feeling if I had true interaction, if I had been able to limp to that rest area.
I called my dad and explained the situation and frankly stated, “How do I calm down?” I felt the tempest blowing up and all the things my dad said were said for naught. I was gone. I abruptly would hang up when others would call and I got to the point that I quit answering the phone. The last call I answered said that the race director of this series was on his way to help me, but he was 30 minutes out.
As I remained kneeling I began to doubt everything I am and this is a dangerous thing. I went down the mental road of envying everything I am not. This is the dangerous part because when one sees what they aren’t they lose sight of who they are. I was in that state. I wanted so badly to be anyone but me at that point in time. I couldn’t help the thought of that; maybe if I weren’t on the spectrum, I wouldn’t be having such a severe reaction to the events. A normal person very well might be able to go through a flat tire without becoming a shaking, hyperventilating wreck. It were these thought that led me to where I was.
A few minutes after I hung up the phone I began a slow walk towards the cornfield. I looked back at the traffic coming at me and feared as many of the semis did not move over a lane. I was truly scared and this confused me as, at some races, I am standing on the racing surface without fear. I showed one of the staff of this race a video of me starting a SKUSA SuperNationals start with me in the middle of the road on a rolling start and then waving the green while running off the track and he said, “I’d never do that, you’re nuts!” With that I do that without fear and with full confidence and in this situation I was as afraid as I could be. With that being so I walked towards the high grass and my breathing picked up even more. Faster and faster my breaths went and also to did my rage.
For several minutes my eyes did not abate from looking at the rest area sign. The sound of the cars passing became like a constant hum of conversations one might hear in a crowded store or restaurant. I hear these in public, but usually am not involved in them. Again, I thought the irony of the situation was a bit absurd, but then my thoughts took a nasty turn as I convinced myself that I was not compatible with this wide-open world. I made a Facebook post stating this and it was something along the lines of, “Why try if I know I will fail?” One thing, with that line that I was alluding to, was the prospect of me living on my own. If I couldn’t handle a simple flat tire then how on this great green Earth could I handle life on my own? Then, a familiar voice said, “Aaron?”
It was the race director. I hated being seen like this with the obvious signs of severe hyperventilating and tears, but I guess that couldn’t be helped. Having him show up was like a derailment of the thoughts that had been swirling. I quickly checked my phone and saw a text stating that AAA was on the way. To get me going on the road faster he started getting out all the tools and spare tire and the first bit of good news was seen when the spare tire was a full size and not one of the tires I personally define as, “not safe at any speed.”
Quickly we learned that it isn’t so much to have all the tools and tire, but nothing can be done when the lug nuts are essentially warped in place. Truly Rick, the race director, was jumping on the tire iron to try and loosen them up but the lug nuts were steadfast in their belief that they should remain in place. About this time AAA showed up and when the AAA mechanic tried to loosen them he said he had just the tool for the job and he went and got a really big hammer and he hammered at the tire iron until they got loose.
Within 10 minutes the tire was changed and what had been an hour of pure torture due to the external events of the flat tire, and the internal warfare that was being waged debating on if I have any abilities in life whatsoever, and what my worth is on any level, was over. With such an emotionally traumatic experience having happened I feared I would be in no shape to drive. However, I walked with confidence around the hood and waited for a gap in traffic and when there was one I darted into the car, started it up, and was back on my way.
Even though I was back on my way the debate on if I could live on my own was heavy on my mind. I then thought of the contrast I had experienced. When I flag, well, I am confident and within an hour of being in the place I feel most comfortable I was taken down a road that put me in a place of supreme loneliness. How could this happen?
I stopped to eat and checked my phone and went to Facebook where I saw someone respond to my deeply sad status update by saying, something along the lines of, “Aaron, don’t give up. There’s hard times, but remember all the people you have helped.”
That line stayed with me and when I left I, in a way, felt like I let everyone down by this episode. It wasn’t by choice that I began to panic about being alone, or being struck by a semi, or having a police officer come to my aid only to arrest me for grand theft auto, or to have a stranger stop only to rob or kidnap me. It wasn’t a choice at all. I kept trying to say that this happened because I was weak, or not good enough for the world, and then I finally came full circle and realized that this simply was my autism side showing itself.
The unknown is a scary place and being in an unknown location totally helpless is one of the greatest unknowns. As I got to Indy and got back into my car I began to let go of the self-hatred I had experienced. While that may have been the case I was still timid on the prospect of having a place of my own.
As I went through Effingham, which is about the halfway point between Indy and Saint Louis, I thought that if I do not venture out I would have nothing to say and nothing to grow off of. To be honest, while I was sitting in that grass I was ready to declare that the world had won and I was going into recluse mode and never showing my face outside again because, well, if the world is always going to play dirty and throw me curveballs, and nails in tires, what’s the point of being out there? Again though, if I don’t take the chance I will always be exactly what I am. Isn’t being human though about growth and pushing one’s self? If we accept what is will anything ever be better? This isn’t to say that we should never be happy with what is, but if we don’t accept the idea that we can always grow then, well, one will always be stay where they are.
That last paragraph was thought of and rehashed and thought of some more all the way home. Once home I got out and noticed that no one else was home so I started bringing my stuff into the house accepting full well that this house would remain my home. At this point in time I decided this would remain home. Why go out? Why rock the boat if I don’t need to? Then I walked into the backroom and noticed on my computer keyboard there was a key. This key was to my place that I referred to as the potential, “place of my own” and there it was just in the open like it was a key to an irrelevant door somewhere long forgotten. I stared at it for a good minute and took a step towards it with a grin. I didn’t throw it away, nor did I call the owner to say I was giving it back. Instead, I smiled, and placed it on my key ring with every intention of living life, growing, and keeping with the plan of having a place of my own.