Friday, September 10, 2010

A Chance Meeting: 10 Years Later

Back in July I wrote about the emotions that were evoked on the anniversary of a chance meeting with someone in Minneapolis. I knew that person for just several months (read the story at and the lingering emotions are nothing compared to the emotions experienced today.

I am very much a prisoner to dates. What that means is anniversaries are difficult for me because the emotions get felt anew just like the first time. Add on top of the fact that I am also a prisoner to 5's and 10's (i.e. 5 years later and 10 years later are much harder for me) so today is a difficult day.

Okay, I've said a couple times today is difficult, but haven't said why, so here is why. 10 years ago today I met Emily (full story is in my book). The meeting shouldn't have happened because I didn't have a bowling team and didn't really know if I wanted to bowl with some random people, but on the start date on the league I showed up, and I had no idea who I was bowling with as I did not recognize the name, but I did know I was bowling on lane #1.

I was early and sat and waited. Would they pair me with some five year old (I was still in the junior leagues at this time) that had trouble rolling the ball to the pins? Would my team be excessively loud? Oh the questions and being 45 minutes early I had plenty of time to ponder what was about to happen.

Of all the things I pondered I did not account for the fact that someone like Emily would be there. She walked down the stairs and I froze. She then proceeded to my table and sat down and I went three stages past freezing. If I could do a video blog of the way this looked I am sure a dictionary website would use this example as "awkward".

What happened next was of pure panic. I knew I had to say something, but opening statements are not a skill I have. "Um, what to do? what to do, what to do?" was the panic question. The next move would shape the next 35 week bowling season.

Silence persisted and we kicked awkward to a new level. Make that several levels. Fifteen minutes passed and finally, mercifully, I caved in and reached my hand out for a handshake and introduced myself. I have wondered then, as I do now, if that was a weird way to introduce myself.

The awkwardness subsided over the next few weeks and eventually I managed to get her e-mail address. Then, a month after that, I got her phone number and on that first night have having her phone number it took me three hours to dial that last number. I easily dialed the first six numbers, but that last number was ever elusive.

Eventually I did call and over the next three months I had to debate her that there was nothing wrong with us being together (she thought all sorts of horrible things would come to her because she was 19 and I was 17). That right there should have told me something was askew, but I forged on in my debate.

Eventually her fears were quelled and she and I became official. The summer of 2001 saw us go to Six Flags at least twice a week, and we were a staple at the movie theater. While we did many things together that was pretty much all we did. There was minimal conversations outside of what we were doing at that point in time. Emotional conversations were limited to, well, they were limited to existence because there were none.

She and I bowled, went to movies, played an occasional round of mini-golf (I tried to teach her how to swing a full size club to the annoyance of her and proved I should never teach someone how to do something. My response to her, "I can do it, why can't you?" Oh, life before diagnosis!) but never did anything outside of those events.

I said we became official, but I don't think either of us knew, exactly, what we were. She was her and I was out of tune to everything about my emotions (I didn't realize and understand emotions until I started writing). Because of this there was always a disconnect between us and it was eroding away at our friendship.

Today, 9/10/2010 all these emotions and the pain of wanting something emotional are felt just like they were on each day I was at bowling with her, or Fortel's Pizza Den. The pain I felt then grew and grew and eventually I did the only thing that made logical sense to me and that was, on Christmas 2003, I broke up with her, on Christmas, via text message. I use this example in my presentations to show the lack of skill in judging social results, and I do tell it in a somewhat humorous way because I am glad that this happened because I was able to identify this. Today though it isn't humorous. I know I was desperately seeking something emotional, and all I wanted was to her to call me after I sent that text to protest it and to say she fully enjoyed the time we had and that she didn't want to lose it. Instead of a call back all I had was a sleepless night waiting for the phone to ring. It never did.

Since that fateful night I have replayed the three years I was with her. It has gotten much easier over time and I can joke about the disaster that was our relationship. I dedicated my book, Finding Kansas, to her because without that disaster, without that huge emotional train wreck, I would not be who I am.

I have talked to her only twice on the phone since the end of the 2003-2004 bowling season. I have communicated with her many times via text message, and after my run in with the horse in 2008 I talked to her and found out she too had an accident in her car. She though was not lucky and sounded like she has some lingering after effects. Other than that I don't know how she is doing and I do ponder it for a second or so everyday. Today though, well, 10 years ago today I met the person that turned me into what I am today. Without her there would be no blog, no book, and I would probably be a depressed, isolated person angry at the world that he didn't make it in the world of auto racing. How can I thank her? I don't know if I can thank her personally, but it is that train wreck that I had that motivates me to keep going and to keep defining aspects of the autism spectrum. If I was diagnosed ahead of time I would have known and would the result have been different? I don't know, but at least I would have understood what elements were in play, and so would she and perhaps a nuclear catastrophe of that Christmas could have been avoided.

I do think I am unable to thank her. It would be rude for me to send her a text saying, "Hey Emily, I just wanted to let you know that 10 years ago we met. Remember all the times we had? Oh, and remember that Christmas, yeah, those were the days". Okay, so I am not sending that text, but I can say, if she ever reads this or anything that I have done, that I am who I am because of her. Many people have learned something about the autism spectrum because of her. Without her I'd be nothing, and that statement, I think, is the ultimate thank you.


  1. Well????
    Don't leave us hangin'!
    Did you ever tell Emily your true intentions for breaking up with her? And if so, how long was it before she found out?

    (if you never did tell her, I'll bet it would mean a lot for her to know that).

    PS The handshake was appropriate if a little unusual especially for a 17 year old (usually no one shakes hands in a casual setting, just formal introductions, job interviews, that kind of thing) but I would have found it a bit different but not bizarre if that makes sense.

  2. Yes I did tell her, but the damage was already beyond repair. I wrote her a very long letter in late January 2005 about all this and I guess I could say that her letter was the first thing I wrote. A couple months later I wrote a similiar chapter, but this was the first chapter of my book.

  3. As a fellow Asperger,Aspergers' of the world unite!

    Sean,age 12

  4. Thank you for sharing your story and for taking the time to not only try to figure yourself out (I think more people should do that!), but also for sharing these ponderings and observations with the rest of the world. I intend to follow your blog bc I hope to learn a lot more about Aspergers, as it affects someone close to me. Thanks again!

  5. If your friendship is good with somebody, it doesn't matter how long you are apart from that person, the friendship will resume as if you last seen that person yesterday.

    I will use another example here. In November 2010, I had a couple intimate moments with a great friend in OT. The first moment was that I met her for the first time in person and we had a chat and lunch together. The second moment was that I met her at the airport gate as we were waiting for our flights home. Through these chance encounters, our friendship grew. We kept it going despite only seeing each other twice (and next month will mark the 3rd time) in 2.5 years since I have seen her then. We are Facebook friends... though we don't communicate much with each other (but that's because we both are busy in our respective lives).

    Chance encounters can lead to good things, too. But, you have to put some work to maintain that friendship, if not enhance it, when the opportunity comes!