Thursday, June 27, 2013

Terror On The 10th Tee Box

I love golf; I've had the ultimate high and some rather low lows but when it comes to lows nothing can compare to the incident of today.

I'm in Indy on what is technically a vacation with a drive to see my mom in Rapid City, South Dakota tomorrow. With the weather being ideal for golf I went out today to simply enjoy the sport and being outside. It's been a nice change of pace after six months of nothing but go. That, and I love golf.

All was going well minus the slow play which I would normally care about but I didn't mind as I was simply enjoying the sounds of the birds, the slow movement of the clouds, and the fact that I was shooting good. The story picks, though, on the 10th tee box.

The two groups in front of me stopped into the pro shop and I passed them and got to the 10th tee box. Right as I was teeing the ball up I was told to wait for the ranger's approval to go who was down the fairway. I waited, got the okay, and hit my best drive of the day. Right as I was about to drive away a voice behind me said to wait and to pair up with the threesome that I had passed. So I waited.

The three took to the tee box and they were certainly not my type to play with. Vulgar words, constant taunting of each other's golf game, and crude humor is not my idea of a relaxing day on the golf course. To be honest people like that intimidate me so things were looking bleak but then one of them told me, "As soon as we get past the hill we will let you play on. You probably wouldn't like playing with us anyways."

Two of them hit great tee shots and the third, well, the third tried. After the third player finally hit a shot that went further than 20 yards we were going to drive away when a voice behind us said wait. This was a new guy to this story and I heard him say, "I'm going to pair you guys up but why do you have three carts? You only need two. So you, you need to grab your clubs and put them on the cart with the guy with the blue shirt." The group protested and I sat there frozen. The thought of nine holes with these guys wasn't something I was looking forward to. I know I blogged earlier this week about the enjoyment I had playing with another golfer, but in that instance he wasn't vulgar and we each had a cart. In this instance it was sudden, in the middle of the round, and there seemed to be no choice.

My heart rate was up and they continued to protest when all of a sudden I felt the thud of a golf bag and him saying a curse word with, "I'm not going to be able to finish the round so how am I going to get back when I need to leave?" and with that line I turned around with a look of terror as the whole situation was sinking in.

I looked at the man who was issuing this order and I said, calmly, "I... I have a form of autism and socializing isn't my thing." I was proud of myself because this is something I normally wouldn't do. To stand up for one's self is one of the hardest things to do. However, I may have been proud but this man was having none of it as he said, "Look, I don't care. We don't have signs but a lot of places do that we reserve the right to pair you up and take your cart if need be."

Again I said, this time with a little bit more emphasis, "I... I... I have a form of autism and I truly don't want this. I don't do well in social situations like this." I was teetering on the edge now. I don't like confrontations and this was turning into one. At the race track I can easily deal with a situation like this as I'm an official with the rules as guidance and I understand people may get mad there. Here though, on the 10th tee box, I was sinking into a bit of despair. Things only got worse.

As I said I had autism for the 2nd time the men behind me mentioned they now wanted no part in playing with me but the man who was issuing the orders said, "We reserve the right and sometimes in life you've got to do things you do want to." I was now cornered with no way out. I wanted no part of the back nine but I had that guy's clubs on my cart. Perhaps this is the epitome of a "fight or flight" episode and my reaction was flight.

I said something aloud, something along the lines of, "I'm done" and started to get the balls and tees and I stepped out and as I got to my golf bag the man said, "You don't have to leave! What's so difficult?" What's so difficult? If only he could have felt the unfiltered pain and anguish I was experiencing at that moment. To be forced into a social situation and then to be given a miniature lecture in a condescending way is something that my body does not react well to. On top of that I very much tried to avoid the situation; I made it clear this wasn't going to work and yet he persisted.

After his question of, "What's so difficult" I collapsed. I could sugar coat this story, or say that I was stronger, but on the 10th tee box I was reduced to a hyper-ventilating piece of rubble. The trio that had protested now were confused, and I think a little scared and they simply moved on as if my existence was irrelevant. The man who had caused the ordeal walked away and there I was, alone and shaking.

Time lost it's meaning and I don't know how long I was there, but eventually a different guy came there and said, "Sir, are you okay?" I tried to answer, oh how I tried, but it took a while. I had all this pure fear, unguided anxiety, and severe self-hatred within me. Self-hatred? Then, and now as I write this, I don't know if there has ever been a point in time that I have hated myself more because, as he so eloquently put it, "What's so hard?"

It took a bit but I got an answer and I guess someone had told him I had said the word autism because he then said, out of nowhere, "Are you aware of Asperger's Syndrome?" to which I simply replied, "I've got it." A short conversation then ensued as he told me his grandson has it, and then another group behind me teed off, and I was told to play after them, if I could.

I drove out to my ball with a smoldering fire burning within me. What had been such a relaxing day had quickly turned into the biggest social nightmare since an episode at bowling two years ago. I did hit my 2nd shot but I had no love of the game left. Love of the game, well, I had no love left at all. I felt destroyed, irrelevant, and inferior to everyone else because, "What's so hard?"

There was no third shot. I picked up my ball and drove back towards the club house. I was trying my best to not show my emotions as all I wanted to do was to break down and cry. When I got to the club house the man who has a grandson with Asperger's found me and asked me if I was okay and I replied, "I don't really know." He then went on to say he grandson is the brightest in class but in any situation there is anything as so much representing a confrontation the result was much like the one I was having.

I got into my car and as I pulled out of the parking lot the dam that had been holding back my emotions burst. A furious anger at everything poured out. I felt defeated. I travel the country, I work huge racing events, I speak in front of thousands and one man on the 10th tee box derailed everything. The only thing I was thinking was, "How can anyone without Asperger's understand this?"

So here I am at my sister's now. The incident happened about 80 minutes ago and I'm still a whirlwind of sadness. I don't know how anyone could understand how something that seemed so minor could have such a major impact. I don't know how anyone could relate to the feelings I had in those moments when before and right at when I was told, "sometimes we have to do things we don't want to" and, "What's so hard?" Perhaps this is the pinnacle example of the difficulty living with Asperger's Syndrome. I look normal (I think) I act normal (I think) and I go out and do normal things (if you consider golf normal) but one social situation can cause a total derailment. How can anyone understand that? How can someone without it relate to it? Perhaps this is another reminder about why what I do with my writing and speaking is so important because, while those that have no awareness or understanding may ask, "What's so hard?" perhaps my reason for being on this Earth is to say, "What's so hard? Let me tell you..."


  1. I have had many Asperger meltdowns myself, and I teach golf for a living! Just stand your ground keep standing up for yourself.

  2. When I was reading this I was so disheartened that even though you spoke up for yourself and mentioned autism, you were totally disregarded. However, upon finishing the post, I realize that by speaking up you DID advocate for yourself and were able to get your needs met. I guess sometimes we don't get what we immediately want, but by speaking up, God eventually gives us what we need.

  3. Today's blog is actually a great follow up to the question I posed yesterday as to whether or not I'd accept being on the Autism spectrum if it meant that I could fulfill most, if not all, of my life's dreams. I'm not saying that your experience on the course has made me say no, but it gives me a clearer picture of what it is I might unknowingly be asking for.

    I've always considered myself one who wears his emotions on his sleeve but I have always been able to handle myself well in most social situations. The only thing I dislike is feeling like I'm trapped in a crowd of people. I love craft shows and flea markets, but if I get stuck in a crowd that isn't moving and I can't see my way out I will definitely get short of breath and a little panicky. And I WILL start forcing my way out even if I have to be a bit rude and just bump into people.

    I'm not saying that's an exact comparison of how you feel in social situations, it's just one example of how an otherwise "normal" person (I don't even know what normal means) can have a social crisis at any given moment. I think what strikes me most positively about your situations is that even though you know how you might react, you still put yourself into places and situations where you might have to deal with people like the rude threesome or the dimwitted course ranger. You don't let the possibility of a confrontation keep you from doing what you love. And that's the crux of what I get from you. You know you have Asperger's, you accept that fact but you don't let it hold you back. Sure, you try to plan for every contingency, but in the long run, you deal with day to day situations as they come. And I think you deal with them very admirably. If I were a bit better at golf than I am I'd be happy to go out and play with you so you wouldn't have to get stuck with some lowbrow morons but I'm afraid you might get frustrated with this amature duffer!

  4. Aaron, first let me say that I applaud your efforts to advocate for yourself. Secondly, I believe that your takeaway is exactly on target....this is why you do what you do and why it is so important for you to continue on. Third, I understand the self-loathing but need to point out that it is just wrong. There is no logical reason for you to react that way. It was the insensitive guy that created this disaster, not you. He simply wanted to exercise his authority; he would have been insensitive to anyone for any reason. Last, please promise that you will try NOT to relive this experience over and over in your mind.
    Now, to my question. It seems to me that the guy with the grandson with autism was trying to help you. Is there anything that he could have said or done that would have helpful to you? Should he have acted differently?