I mentioned that it may be a necessary thing to have; this being overly aware and of all things it is greatest when it comes to social situations and the amount of defense I do each and every day to avoid all things social is great. This is even greater in places where I’ve had a bad experience.
When I present to schools I commonly get asked, “Were you bullied when you were in school?” and I have to be honest and say, “I don’t think so but if I was I was fully unaware of it because I was so engrossed in whatever it was that I was engrossed with at that moment.” However, I’ve had two events in my life that were most certainly a bully moment and to be bullied, well, it was the worst experience(s) of my life.
The first one happened at the bowling alley I bowl at. I’ve bowled there for over half my life and it was also the place of my first job, and on the start of a new bowling season an even occurred that I will never forget and I wish it had been a 300 game, which I did have once on an opening night, but for as big of a thrill as a perfect game is this experience was equally on level with it except on the negative side.
It was the first night and my first game of the new season was awful for my standards. My average is usually over 200 and game one was a 150. I was a little hungry so I went to the snack machine and punched in the numbers of the Chex Mix and as the machine did its little unwindy thing the bag got stuck. This was perfectly normal for me as more often than not the snack I wanted would get stuck. Because of the frequency of this I got good at shaking the machine. Well, I didn’t shake the machine but I would just give it some quick wobbles to dislodge the snack. I tried this and it wasn’t working so I looked over to the main desk where I saw the manager walking my way.
As the manager neared I awaited the usual semi-comic jest he would say. He’d normally say, in a gruff tone, “Dammit Aaron, broke it again did you?” and I was already planning my response but all thoughts were shattered when he shoved his index in my shoulder and said, “"What are you, stupid? Can't you read the sign? It says 'do not shake' you wear glasses right?" and as he finished saying that he stormed off in one of the most aggressive postures you could imagine.
What just happened? I stood there in shock and one of the employees who witnessed this stood there about as dumbfounded as I was, but for him he wasn’t hurt like I was. Somehow the bag of Chex Mix had found the bottom of the machine, maybe the manager got it as I don’t remember, but I was now doing everything I could not to break down in tears. I anything, at this moment, I was in shock; pure shock. I began to shake and I got the bag of Chex Mix now having no desire to eat and I got back to the table my team was at and I slammed the bag onto the table and that was it, I broke down.
At this moment I wanted no part with the world. The world had won and I was defeated. I couldn’t fathom how normality changed so quickly to a hostile situation where I was being demeaned, and poked. I texted my dad saying something along the lines of, “help me!” and he responded with, “What happened?” and I just replied, “Disaster at bowling.” From there he called but I didn’t pick up as I couldn’t talk at this point in time. This was one of the odder experiences in my life as I literally could not get anything out.
It was obvious for those around me that something had happened but no one knew what. I had this look of extreme rage and sadness in my face with the combination of an excess of tears and yet I kept bowling. My dad arrived and I walked up to him and he asked, “What happened?” and I quickly turned away. I didn’t want to talk about it and yet it was the only thing I was thinking about. I had to say something but from this bully experience I was silenced. Maybe it was the sheer level and intensity of the emotions I was experiencing, or maybe it was the shock and fear of the ordeal, but whatever the case may have been I couldn’t speak to my dad. I had to say something though so I did what I have found to be my best outlet and I found the standings sheet and I started to handwrite the story of that evening.
When my dad read the story he became irate and confronted the manager. I kept bowling and the odd thing was, despite the amount of tears and utter sadness I was feeling, I started striking and my 2nd game was a 220.
As the third game started I began to feel deeply depressed about this situation because I started blaming myself. Maybe if I were stronger this wouldn’t have hurt me. And, why was this still bothering me? I should be able to just, “man up,” right? In the middle portion of the third game I was able to speak again and my dad asked if I wanted an apology and that was the last thing I wanted. Truly, the last. For one, I don’t believe in them (the best apology is to not let whatever it was happen again because anyone can say “I’m sorry” and not mean a word of it) and secondly the sight of him sent shivers down ever vein in my body.
No apology was ever given and some years have passed since that event and to this day I still have not said another word to him. I have noticed he is treating all customers better than he used to. My dad told him he had an, “anger problem” which working under him I knew this was probably the case and maybe he needed the event with me to realize it himself and he has seemed happier since, but from that night, anytime a person walks up to me with the look of a purpose or with just a hint of anger, I am worried about whatever type of poke, or yelling that might ensue.
A couple years after the bowling alley I experienced an equally worse event at a golf course. I realize both of these events aren’t truly bullying events in the sense that students ask me, but these one-time events created moments that I never felt more belittled, irrelevant, and worse about me than any other event so I feel the feelings are the same. Granted, these weren’t prolonged episodes like some people face at school which to that I can’t imagine a prolonged bullying experience as just these momentary episodes are more than I care to have experienced.
Anyway, at this golf course, it was nearing the 4th of July and I was technically on vacation. I was at my sister’s house outside Indianapolis and I went golfing and the course was packed. Typically, I love a golf course in the middle of nowhere where I can play at my own pace and not have to risk any sort of social encounter. It seems most people play golf to chat, or to do business, but I play to be alone and on this busy day being alone was hard to do as the front nine holes took an alarming 3.5 hours to play. It was all good, however, because I was on vacation and I had nowhere else to be.
On the first nine holes I was a bit troubled by the behavior of the trio in front of me. They were in their younger 20’s and were enjoying life to the max and then some. Beer? You bet, curse words? Every other word. While this might be typical twentysomething behavior it isn’t what I care for so I kept my distance.
As I went from hole nine to ten I was able to pass them as they were in the clubhouse stocking up on my adult beverages as this thrilled me because I might be able to finally get into a rhythm. I put the tee into the ground and hit the ball and it was the best drive of the day. Oh, it was such a beautiful shot played to the right side of the fairway just short of the water hazard. In golf it is always great to have a shot planned and to be able to carry out. It’s even greater when, if you’re like me, it doesn’t happen all that often. I marveled at my shot for a second more and I walked towards my golf cart when a course official came and said, “We’re going to pair you up with the three guys headed this way now.” Who were those three guys? You betcha it was the trio who were enjoying life to the max.
The official who told me this told me to wait at the 10th tee box and I waited and the trio came. Another official came to wait by me and as that trio got there the new official informed those three about me and one of them said, “You’re pairing us up with him? Look, he doesn’t like us and we don’t like him!” They couldn’t see it but my face took a major look of being perplexed as how did they come to that conclusion, but their protests were futile and the course official said that this was the way it was going to be.
As they got on the tee box one of them whispered to me, “Look, after we get done with this drive we’ll let you play ahead. You’re not going to like us.” You’ve got to give that guy credit for knowing this, but as they hit the ball the course official said aloud, “Wait a minute, why do you four guys have three golf carts? This isn’t going to work! You, put your bags in his cart” referring to my cart. The guy protested and protested but it was of no use. I remained there, staring straight ahead, worried about what was going to happen as I did not want three plus hours of being with these guys. I thought of exit strategies and I thought of quitting, but I paid money to play golf and play golf was what I wanted to do.
Eventually I felt the thud of this guy’s bag being placed on my cart so I turned around and looked at the course official and I said, “I have a form of autism and this isn’t really going to work for me as I’m not the most social of people out there.” Saying this was a giant leap for me because I am a horrible advocate for myself. I was, at that point in time, actually proud of myself but this was short lived as the official replied, “Look, most course have a sign, we don’t, but most do that states that we reserve the right to take your cart of pair you up at any point in time and this is one of those times. Again, we don’t actually have a sign but that’s just the way it is.”
I responded, with a voice of complete imploring, “Look, I have Asperger’s, it’s a form of autism and socializing with those I don’t know is extremely difficult for me.” His response? “Look son, this is America and sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.” At this point in time I was on my way to losing it the way I lost it at the bowling alley but I didn’t want it to get that far so I got out of the golf cart and verbally exclaimed, “I’m done” and I started to get my golf bag unfastened from the cart to walk back to my car. The course guy said, “What’s he doing” to which the twentysomething guy said, “Uh, I think he’s quitting” which got the reaction from the course official, “Quitting? Really? It’s not that difficult.”
To this day the words, “It’s not that difficult” ring in my ears. Writing this hurts, it really does, and when I heard those words at the golf course I collapsed in place and began to hyperventilate. The trio of guys were now in a shock of their own and the guy in my golf cart went back to his and they drove off as if nothing had happened. I think their shock was in part to the fact that they now didn’t have to worry about me and the course official got into his cart and disappeared and I was left, alone, having a major episode.
Why was there an episode at all? I know what I have; I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses and to be told, “It’s not that difficult” is to diminish everything I am as a human. I reached out, I spoke up, and I was shot down because I did so. It’s not easy for me to say that I can’t do something and to then be mocked because of it was more than I could handle. The #1 thought going through my mind was, “If I were normal this wouldn’t be happening! If I were normal… If I were normal… God, why am I not normal?”
To be bullied is to put a person in this state. I remained there, on the cart path behind my golf cart, for what seemed to be months and others came and teed off as if I weren’t even there which was rather odd for me because if I saw a person in crisis the way I was I’d at least ask them if there was anything I could do but I must have been invisible to all those others who were more concerned with par, slices, and woods because no golfer said a word to me as I was hunched over, tears streaming from my eyes, and hyperventilating.
However long it was, another course official came and parked beside me and I took notice of him and he never once looked at me and, as he was staring off towards the sun which was now starting its downward trek in the western sky, he said, “Have you ever heard of Asperger’s?” This question was so unexpected I instantly had no problem breathing at a normal rate. I was able to mumble, “yes” and he responded, “Well, my grandson has it and just like you, when anything gets 1% confrontational he can’t handle the situation and I’m going to make an assumption that you have Asperger’s.” which I responded with a meek, “yes.”
Maybe the official that started this debacle had told the management that a person claimed that I had stated that I was on the autism spectrum, and then again maybe he deduced it himself, whatever the sequence of events was I felt 1000 times more comfortable than I had just seconds prior. It took just a couple more minutes but I put my bag in his cart and he drove me to my car and on the way we talked about Asperger’s and as I got off he said, “On behalf of my grandson and myself I want to apologize with what that guy did. The manager has been informed and I assure you this will never happen here again.”
In this second situation I named a hero swooped in a saved the day, but for those that endure bullying each and every day they may be awaiting that hero each day but in the end that wait is in vain. Again, I must state that I can’t imagine being subject to being mocked each day. And maybe not just being mocked, but being ridiculed for things which the autism may create be it a fixed interest, or finger or arm twitches of flickering. We know who we are, we know our strengths and weaknesses and when it comes to weaknesses they aren’t a choice. We can’t simply turn them on and off at will. We are who we are and there’s nothing we can do about it and when we are belittled the feeling is of supreme sadness. In both of these events I felt insignificant, irrelevant, and I questioned my existence as a person. Was I really a person? Am I a part of this world? If so I’m obviously not on the same level. And at the core of the emotions is the thought of, “If I were normal this wouldn’t be happening.”