(Do note that this intro was written after the segments that follow so there could be repetition, but I trashed the original intro to write a fitting one on the anniversary of the events that changed my life)
So here I am, 10 years later. My house has changed, my profession has changed, I’ve traveled more than I could have ever imagined and I’m of all things a public speaker. Ten years ago, however, things were much different. There was no realization of hope and my days consisted of nothing but whatever the hottest video game was. Life was simple and yet life was something unfulfilled. I mean, who was I? Why was I here? It had been nearly 15 months since I got my Asperger diagnosis and everything in my life had fallen apart. My girlfriend? Gone. Jobs? Ha! Friends, what friends? I was alone, isolated, and outside of my house, and bowling team, my existence was a confusing one.
I had stayed for fifteen months in a deep depression because the only thing I knew about Asperger’s was what I read online and it said, “people with Asperger’s will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy.” With that being said I wondered what the point of life was. If failure was a certainty what was the point of trying? However, in realizing this I was stuck with knowing that I was a person with potential, but I didn’t know how to express it vocally. I’d have a crying fit at least once a week, sometimes more, in which I would try and express something, anything, to my dad and I would just repeat the same thing of, “I… I… hurt…” but when asked I could only say, “The core… which is… I… don’t… know.”
Then, right before midnight of February 8th, 2005 I had had enough. I don’t know if you’ve ever been pressed to a point of such internal strife that existing hurts and you’ve got all these emotions but no means to express yourself. I was still reeling from breaking up with my girlfriend on Christmas via text message. I mean, who does that? How could I express what had happened and why? How could I explain myself? How could I make it so that the world wouldn’t hate me as much?
I was playing Project Gotham Racing 2 and the song “You Don’t Mean Anything to Me” by Simple Plan played and something happened; I felt this newfound motivation to explain myself and I looked over my should to my computer and I inched over and opened up Microsoft Word. My hands trembled as I looked at the screen and a blank page. Where could I begin? What would I say? I started simply by putting my girlfriend’s name as the title and I went from there. Since then every chapter and blog post has been written with the same and I start with the chapter and I work from there. So here now, is Finding Kansas: Revisited. Please note that, the first chapter in my book was not the Emily chapter but rather a piece I wrote from my college comp 101 class which was a great lead in to the potential I had and the strife I was in.
The Best Day
The first chapter in Finding Kansas wasn’t written for the book but rather was a paper I wrote in my college composition 101 class in 2002. This class was difficult for me because writing had never been something I enjoyed. I could do it, though, as my 7th grade my teacher found out when she had an assignment of, “Write about your favorite topic” and I ended up writing a 78 page, single spaced, history of motorsports.Other things written in school, at least in the lower grades, often was not written by me. Who wrote them? Let’s just say my dad didn’t do the most pastorally thing by being a very good ghostwriter. He had been a newspaper reporter and television journalist, and wrote countless sermons so writing single page papers for me was no problem. Was this the right thing to do? Well, um, no, but sometimes I got what I deserved by his habit of not proofing a paper and in fourth grade I (he) had to do an article about the liver. Sadly, his keyboard had become defective and the “L” key had become numb. When talking about the liver the letter “L” is important and, well, let’s just say I had an amazing article on “The iver.” I got a C+ on it, or he did.
Anyway, time had moved on and in this college comp class I no longer had ghostwriter privileges and I was confronted with an assignment akin to “Write about your favorite topic” as it was, “write about your favorite day.” This was easy for me as I chose the time I ran my first race.
To this day that day feels just as fresh as today and after reading the chapter I can still see in my mind the track (it’s now gone and I have blogged about it in the past) and sense the anticipation. Honestly, I had never awaited something more than that day. It was odd writing that chapter though because, for the first time in my life, I was enjoying writing. The words simply flowed from my mind to the computer screen without thought and without effort. I’d write a paragraph, then another, and I had no idea where these words were coming from.
The major part of “The Best Day” is the ending. When I wrote this chapter racing was still plan A in my life, and was the only plan. Autism, Asperger’s and anything of the sort was a world I had never heard of. And what did it matter? What did anything matter? In my life the only thing that mattered was tenths of a second and whatever kart was in front of me on any given race weekend. I don’t actually remember why I did that semester of a college to be honest, it might have been pressure from Emily as STLCC Meramec was where she had gone for two years, but I wasn’t fully invested because, as I end The Best Day, I was set in my eyes and I had proven that I had a God given talent to race and nothing was going to stop me from reaching the Indy 500. It wasn’t long before all my hopes and dreams came to crashing halt with the words, “You have Asperger’s” and with that The Best Day was forgotten and I descended into darkness which is where the rest of my book was born.
I’ve been excited to do this project minus the first two chapters I first wrote because, well, I don’t really want to revisit them, but if I’m going to do this project properly I can’t omit them.
It had been 15 months removed since I got my diagnosis of Asperger’s and, on the night I got my diagnosis, I read that fateful website that stated, “People with Asperger’s will never have a job, will never have friends, and will never be happy.” This wasn’t written in the chapter because it was still so sore, so fresh, and I didn’t want to acknowledge it. However, before I wrote about Emily, I had to start writing so what was the motivation? Before that February night I wouldn’t write about anything because I saw it as a waste of time. Besides, if there’s no gain, why do it? On top of that writing often deals with emotions and emotions were something I didn’t want to talk about or acknowledge. At the same time I was being destroyed from within. I was frustrated, alone, isolated, and hopeless and I wanted someone, anyone, to know who I was and that I was alive and in this world. I wanted to go from invisible to visible and also I needed an outlet to prevent this internal destruction I was feeling so, at 1AM on a hideously chilly night I sat down and, in 18 point font, put the chapter title at the start of the document and I was off.
When writing this chapter I put on the song, “You Don’t Mean Anything to Me” in a futile effort to convince myself that the song title was true about Emily.
Who was my intended audience when I started writing? Here’s the beautiful thing; there was no one. At first I didn’t know if I’d even let my dad read it because it was so personal and I never would discuss anything regarding anything remotely close to emotions. However, as the hours ticked by and the words kept coming I thought that this would actually be a way for myself to communicate with him to let him know who I was and why I was.
After my diagnosis I felt shame. Why couldn’t I just be normal? Prior to the diagnosis I was unaware of the challenges I face which might sound like a better place to be than where I was but in the long run it was much better to get the diagnosis, but at that point in time I was just in a state of shame and self-hate.
I finished the chapter of Emily four hours later and the original version of the chapter was much, much longer. I was overly specific on many things and VERY long winded. One thing that impressed me, however, was the fact that I would write a sentence that would bring a tear to my eye and the next sentence I’d give a witty remark. Again, all this was done without effort. These words were simply just there and why wouldn’t they be? I had be in a living hell for fifteen months assured that my life would amount to nothing and the only thing I had was this relationship and I ended it by breaking up on Christmas via text message. Seriously, who does that? Going back to the “Best Day” chapter, that college comp teacher said, when giving a lesson it what people want to read, “Look people, whatever you write remember one thing; no one wants to read a breakup story. It’s been done before, it will be done again, and chances are you won’t add anything to what’s already been said.”
The teacher’s words were actually in my head as I wrote about Emily and as 5AM came I just about hit the “delete” button to destroy the previous four hours’ worth of work. Then I thought, “Who is going to read this, anyway?” After that thought I realized that the memory of Emily was left in just her phone number. At the moment I realized I had an associative memory system for the first time and as I came to the conclusion of the chapter I wrote that which was, perhaps, the major step towards continuing to write because I didn’t just write about fact but rather I came up with an abstract concept and I began to understand myself. Truly, the words, “number: phone numbers” might have been the most important words I have ever written because without those this, the book, and who I am would not be here in this capacity.
So what about Emily now? There hasn’t been much change. I will cover these minor changes, including a reference about her I heard from someone at jury duty, and the most recent time I talked to her in 2008 after I hit the horse with my car. However, last year, when I received the Polish Edition of my book (Odnalezc Kansas: Zespol Aspergera rozszyfrowany) I sent her a picture text of the dedication and she sent back a “?” Okay, so she has no idea the impact that her being had on me and that’s fine, but when I first wrote her chapter I had no idea people all over the US, and Poland, would read about our story. I had to dedicate the book to her though and I secretly knew this after I finished her chapter. No, I didn’t have aspirations to write a book but if, just if, someday somehow I did I knew it had to be done.
I didn’t care if I heard the line that, “no one wants to read a breakup story” because I felt this was different and I had added something that hadn’t been done because, seriously, who breaks up on Christmas? For those that like sequels I can assure you there will be no such chapter in the future, but seriously, and back on point, an hour after I finished the chapter I was in bed and debating on if I should delete it, but instead I got up, printed it, and placed it on the stove for my dad to read in the morning and I went to bed nervous having no idea how my dad would receive it.