Last night was it; the final presentation on the 2012 Autism Awareness and Understanding Tour. I didn't know what to feel as the day started as I took Rob to the airport and then gave a police presentation in Washington, Missouri. If anything I was numb due to the fact that sleep hasn't been easy for me since I have returned home.
The hours ticked by and in the late afternoon I headed towards Lutheran High School South in the South County area. For one reason or another a string of memories was triggered as I got off I-270 and headed north on Tesson Ferry Road. So many times, many years ago, Emily and I traveled this same route.
I may mention Emily in every presentation but nothing is really felt. However, this was not the case last night. Each place I drove by seemed to spawn a memory which in turned brought up so many more memories. For the first time in many years I thought back on those years and I missed them. I was trying to make sense of what it was and then I realized what I am today and the long road it took to get to where I am now.
Memory after memory kept popping up, though be it the place I had an MRI, the place that the go-kart club meetings were held, and a place that I spent New Years Eve in 1998. Each place I passed, it was like the memories right now, this very second. I tried to figure out why I had this memory explosion and maybe it was the fact that I was away for so long, or maybe it had to do with the fact that I haven't felt many emotions lately and this was the result of that.
Mercifully, I got to Lutheran High South and I realized that when I pulled into the parking lot that, had I gone to high school, this would have been the school. It was a chilling sensation when I walked through the doors. Had I gone to school here, I would have done this daily basis.
Right away I walked into the room that my presentation was to be in and there were 70 or so chairs set up and I thought that, "wouldn't be nice if each of these were filled?" Then I had a run of my usual negative outlook and figured that three people would show up. Then I settled on the fact that half the chairs would be filled and I'd consider it a victory.
Debating the size of the audience was going to come to a sudden stop. When I was walking to my car to get books, I saw noticed, on the wall, class pictures from every year and suddenly I held my breath. I didn't want to go near, I truly didn't, and yet I approached slowly as if what I was about to look at was somehow illegal, or from a plot from some time travel movie.
Oddly enough, the class pictures that I saw were my two potential classes. (I went to actual school K-6, then home schooled 6-7, and then because of the timing I stayed in 7 one extra year hence the reason for that statement) I stood in silence and unknowingly held my breath. If the memories weren't already over over powering, I was now in memory overload. It didn't help that each person that I knew I recognized, as with my memory I can instantly recall a person if I see them again which is in contrast to the fact I can't recall a person unless I am actually seeing a picture.
A minute or so passed and I was still there silent and motionless. I began to think on the "what could have beens." What if I had gone to high school? Would I still know these people? I mean, school itself was hard for me and I wasn't picked on or anything like that so would, well, would these people be "friends?" And, do these people even know or remember that I even existed at all?
I was asking such profound questions that, perhaps, will never be able to be answered.but even though I knew that I, stood there in deep thought. I then thought it was such an irony that this place that would have been high school, was the place for the final presentation of my 45 day tour. After I thought about that I began to ask the question that usually leads to a dark place, "What if I would have been "normal?" Then the tsunami of sadness crashed over me and I stood in an even greater sense of silence and I felt lost and out of place.
"To be normal? What does this even mean?" I said in a quiet whisper. These are questions that, usually when I ask what I would have been if I were normal, take me a day or so to realize but after 42 days on the road and presentations coast to coast I could see clearly who I was. I've talked in the past that when one. "sees who they aren't they will forget who they are" and for the first time ever I didn't lose sight of this. Yes, I have a slight regret that my picture isn't with all those people I knew, but if I had been there would I have been there last night? Would I be the person I am? I am who I am right now and I can think, wish, and yearn for things to be different but at the end of the day, or rather at every second of the day, what was done is done. I'm the person I am now because of everything that has happened and that line is true of people that are or are not on the autism spectrum.
A sense of calm came over me because the very fact that this would have been my high school gave me more passion to give the best presentation possible. I was diagnosed at age 20 and if I would have had the words to describe who I was my school years would have been much smoother. I said I wasn't picked on but people didn't go out of their way to talk to me either. My memory of those days was that I was simply there not for the better or worse. It certainly, if I had known what to say, could have been better.
After all this time reflecting I turned away from the pictures content with who I am. Right now, I am doing more than I ever could have imagined in my life. I didn't think any of this was possible and while I still had a hint of wonder if anyone on those graduates remembers me, I was here, on this night, to continue my mission to raise the level of awareness and understanding.
20 minutes prior to the start of my presentation people started arriving, and more people, and even more! With five minutes to go the majority of chairs were full and we now had a problem as we were quickly running out. And we did, indeed, run out, so more chairs we found and by the time I started there was a total of 105 in attendance. 105! I couldn't believe it. It was actually hard to find my composure as it was such an honor that I would get that number. True, I've had triple-digits before, but I forget those and I only remember what the most recent "now" is and, well, having so many last night sent chills through my system and made me quiver in sheer awe that I once again was blessed to give a presentation about the roller coaster ride of Asperger Syndrome and to once again profess the fact that there is hope.
The presentation I gave went well and the questions at the end were great as well. Afterwards I felt as if, in a way, I made up for the lack of attending school there. Sure, I don't have the memories of learning and friendship, but now rather I have memories of reaching people. I have memories of making a real difference and several years ago I never could have imagined such a thing.
So that's it; the 2012 Autism Awareness and Understanding Tour is over. What does this mean? Not much really because one could make the statement that my entire year is this tour, but in reality I guess we could say that this means the coast-to-coast driving is over, but I'm right back at it tomorrow and Thursday with presentations. However, for the tour itself, I feel the finish line at Lutheran High South was an amazingly fitting place because I have thought long and hard about what I might have missed not having the high school experience. Also, did I miss out on the sense of accomplishment by not surviving my four years? Well, I'll never know that, but as I walked out of the building that would have been my high school I had a feeling that I think would be like that of graduating and that was the sense that I did everything I could, and then some, to bring about a new dimension about Asperger Syndrome. So yes, while there was a split-second of remorse while I was looking at those pictures of the classes I could have been in I walked out of the high school with my head high with the knowledge that, if I had the chance, I wouldn't have changed a thing.