Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Day 8: Lost in Paradise

The sun came up on another day and the usual routine began with a call to my dad then mom and then it was the routine breakfast. After breakfast it was time to get back into the water as two days had passed and I now had proper fins and a snorkel provided by the hotel so try as it might that coral was no match for me this time! However, it was rather stellar at blocking my path so I was unable to reach the outer barrier and after an hour of a rat in a maze simulator I decided enough was enough and made the long swim back to shore.

Now I was in a quandary as I had my swim out of the way and now there was… there was… what was there? I had done the road of 420 bends, I attempted the volcano, and as I looked to the south there was heavy rain in the higher elevations. I tried to relax as the person under the umbrella to my right had been doing. She was there before I made my swim, she was there after the swim, and she was still there after I had gotten out of the swim gear. I looked at her in envy as she appeared to be perfectly content simply being and yet here I was feeling discontent in the midst of a true paradise.

These thoughts escalated and for the first time on any of my trips I wanted to be home. This isn’t to say there is anything wrong with Reunion, quite the contrary, but overall I just had the sensation as if I don’t belong here. As mentioned earlier, what makes this unique, is that I often feel like an outside in my home country so what observations are made when an outsider goes even further outside? Each country I’ve been to have been radically unique and no two experiences have been remotely close to each, but this has been the first place where English isn’t spoken and the people here aren’t used to hearing English. In Tokyo they are, they are equipped to hand a picture menu. Now perhaps if I had gone to a remote mountain village the end result may have been different, but that’s all hypothetical and right then I was sitting on a beach hearing the waves of the Indian Ocean under a sunny sky wondering what belonging is like.         

Swimming will make a person hungry and I opted for an early lunch but being a bit homesick I decided to go to an American mainstay and that is McDonald’s. The thing, though, was that it’s all the way down in Saint Pierre which I had driven through yesterday and is about 45 minutes away from my hotel. The time didn’t matter as I had to do something familiar; something that felt like home.

On my drive I finally had to stop and get gas for the first time so I stopped at the place I did yesterday and my mom asked me why that gas station from yesterday was so important. It was hard to explain to her because I would assume, for most people, an everyday occurrence such as a gas station would be a trivial matter, but when I first saw people driving in Europe on the news I always wondered what it would be like. Part of this journey of The Aspie Traveler has been a dream I had ever since my 2nd grade teacher opened my eyes up to the entire world because I wanted to know what it would be like to be there, wherever there may be and to be immersed the best I could be. I had these thoughts in 3rd, 4th, 5th, and every grade and year sense and maybe it’s the part racing fan in me, and maybe it’s because I always looked forward to gas station stops as a kid because it usually meant I’d receive some sort of candy, but that stop meant a lot and stopping again today, this time actually for gas, was just as special.

The McDonald’s was just a few miles down the road and I saw the familiar golden arches and took the exit, navigated a rather busy roundabout which mimicked a game of chicken at times, and pulled into the parking lot and said, “What in the world is going on?!” Think of your local McDonald’s and envision it the busiest you’ve ever seen it. Yeah, that has nothing on what was going on as the parking lot was overfilled and the line to order was out the door and the drive-thru line went out onto the street which was part of the reason why the roundabout was such a tricky thing. I have never seen a fast food joint ever be this busy, actually, I had never seen any eatery like this. This was mayhem, out of control chaos, and the typically overly friendly and respectful drivers (it’s almost, at times, silly how polite drivers can be) were now raged behemoths all vying for the right to take the next parking spot.

After making three laps of the parking lot in 15 minutes I realized this excursion was as futile as yesterday’s volcano trek so I got back on the interstate like road and headed back towards the town my hotel is in. I had seen another fast food place in Piton Saint-Leu which I had never heard of so I figured I’d give that a try and once again parking was difficult and the line to this place was out the door. I had my heart set on it and I wasn’t turning back, but in this time in line I felt something I hadn’t felt much of on this trip and that was the anxiety I often feel at home.

The anxiety on these trips is different as it’s more situational and sparse but the social anxiety I feel at home is a constant. I don’t know if I have ever described it in detail enough to describe the everyday struggle to not let it drown me and standing in line the chess game of socializing began. Chess game? What does chess have to do with standing in line for a hamburger? I see social situations as a chess match and in the prior trips I never developed an opening move and I never felt like a true outsider even being one. Here, though, the language barrier was difficult to overcome and I didn’t know how to open when ordering. I knew the order-taker would say, “Bonjour!” and how am I supposed to respond. Travel hints on the internet will tell you that saying bonjour back will show the locals you’ve taken an interest in their language and are respectful. This may be true, I don’t know, but what it does is delay the inevitable when that person isn’t going to be able to understand a thing I say and I’m not going to understand a word they say so by starting off by saying, “hello” I’ve eliminated one whole awkward move of the chess game.

You see, conversations are like a chess match. There’s an opening action, a reaction, a reaction to the reaction, and the dance of conversing begins. Having Asperger’s I often have a hard time processing on the fly so I have to come up with situations such as, “if A happens I’ll react with B and if C happens I’ll react with D.” This is my defense mechanism and it hadn’t been triggered in any of the other locations but here, standing in line, I felt compressed, worried, and scared because I didn’t know how I should proceed with my opening.

I was getting closer to the counter when a mom and her three daughters came and stood beside me in supposed other line. The order of play had been a single line that would then delineate to the registers when you got to the end, but this person felt each register was its own line and the person behind me spoke with an angry tone. I didn’t know what she was saying, but the person that had made this cut kept responding with an ever greater anger and this made me even all the more anxious because I am barometer for tension (another defense mechanism) and I thought the person behind me was going to take a swing at this lady. Thankfully, no swings took place outside the elaborate play area for kids, but in terms of physical altercations none took place.

It was my turn and I nervously walked to the counter and ordered a, “giant” and she rang in the order. “Success!” I thought and then she asked me a question and I said, “Combo?” hoping that would be the right answer and as scared as I looked she looked even worse. She tried saying something else and I gave her a blank stare and she returned one and she quickly departed. This was strange, but moments later she came back with a manager type person and that lady said, “Deutsch?” and I said, “No.” and she said, “English, I see.” and she completed my order. If there’s any way more to feel like an outsider it’s speaking English to a person who, perhaps, had never heard a person in person speak it as she didn’t even recognize the language. That’s one of the perks of being an American and that is, most major cities you go around the world there will be at least a partial understanding, but here being so far removed from the rest of the world there simply isn’t.

I enjoyed the burger despite having this unknown white sauce on it. Perhaps it was mayo,
perhaps it was a secret sauce, but I sat at a high top table by the window and I thought about this trip and how I am on an island of extreme beauty and the sights I’ve seen I will probably never see again. The roads alone are worth the journey here, but add on top of that roads that overlook the ocean, hairpin turns carved out of a volcanic crater, and lush greens as dense as the densest forest you can conjure up in your mind; this truly is a paradise but here I was feeling lost having that hint of desire to be home.

Now for you, the reader, at this point in time it’s probably difficult for me to request any sympathy points because of the beauty I have described, but another aspect of having Asperger’s is that some things mean more and other things which may mean more to most people may mean a negligible amount to us. What means most to me is the opportunity to feel as if I belong; to feel “normal” despite the fact I don’t believe a true normal exists. While the external beauty here is immense it does nothing for my internal being and I thought back to that woman on the beach that was perfectly content just being. I can’t do that. I can’t simply enjoy the space I’m in because my brain is always going so I don’t even know how to relax in the traditional sense. I need a challenge, a puzzle, and a purpose or my thoughts will race to a point that it hurts and that’s where I was heading.

It caught up with me; remember my intentions for wanting to come here? It was to feel alone and be as far away as possible on my birthday and now I was getting my wish and as the sun has now set on my eight day of this trip I know the feeling of being alone in a foreign place and it feels just like I did when I was in my early 20’s right after my diagnosis. However, this sensation of feeling alone has little to do with Asperger’s and simply is the difference in the fact people think I speak French when I don’t. Communication quite simply is limited to impossible and that, 10,000 miles away from home, is the definition of being lost in paradise.

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