Tuesday, September 12, 2023

An Aspie's Wedding: The First Broken Road

I've told and retold the story of my diagnosis. My doctor didn't really know what it was, I looked it up online, and the first thing I read stated that, "people with Asperger's will never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy." What I haven't fully described is what happened with Emily, so let's look back for the first time on the full story.

In my presentation I mention I broke up with her on Christmas, via text message. This is true, but then I'll say that I've only talked to her once since 2003. This isn't entirely the case as we did finish up that year's bowling league. However, there was no real conversation. Why did I break up, though? It started with her looking up Asperger's and her misinformation that added gasoline on an already explosive bombshell.

"Aaron, do you think that you say that, when I talk about love, you say 'I'd miss you if you were gone' is caused by Asperger's? I read that people with autism can't love, and I don't think you can." She harped on that for a week, and I was already thinking that I was sentenced to a life full of misery, and this was getting reinforced daily. 

If she had all of these thoughts about my inabilities in life, why was she still talking to me? To rectify this, I had to figure out if she still liked me. To do this, I decided I had to break up with her but with my inability to speak emotions, I resorted to a text message.

It's hard to think back to the phones back then, but I had a silver Nokia flip phone and text messages weren't all that easy. They cost 10 cents per message and the lettering had to be used by clicking each number one, two, or three times as there was no keyboard. Hard to imagine that now, right? Anyway, I sent the message and it just happened to be the evening of December 24th. I was riding back to Saint Louis from Indianapolis, and I think I sent it around Effingham, which is about halfway, and I awaited a response. And I waited. We got home, and the hours went by. 

I stared at my phone waiting for it to light up. There was more on the line that just this relationship. My future as a human was on trial. If she couldn't accept me with this diagnosis, then who could? I had known her for four years, and now with the new label I had, all had changed.

Sunrise came. It was Christmas morning, and nothing. No text back protesting my breakup, which that's all I was looking for. I wanted validation that I wasn't broken. You see, with the level of autism awareness that didn't exist, I allowed those words on the internet, and her words, to define my entire being. She didn't know it, and I didn't realize it, but I was being sentenced to a lifetime of solitary existence with just the slimmest chance of parole. Yes, I wouldn't be in a literal prison, but internally I was slammed into a state of stasis. As I finally went to sleep, I accepted the fact that no one could ever accept me as I was.

This is where the story ends in the presentation, but yes, I did see her on Mondays and Wednesdays. It was awkward, it was quiet, and I had no idea how to handle it. As the bowling season ended in 2004, I tried to call her one afternoon, but it went to voicemail. A few minutes later, her number called me, and I elatedly answered, but it wasn't her. It was some guy, and he said he had heard about me, and how awful I was, and that if I ever called her number again, he would make sure to break all of my fingers and toes. It was a very precise threat, too precise, but naturally I panicked about it, and any chance of accepting who I was became lost in these words.

Looking back on this it all seems so silly. Breakups happen. While I may have been 21 then, I was much younger than my age socially, but most of all it was the timing of my diagnosis. I knew that, more than likely, Emily was not the person for me, but with the damaging words I read, she became the only lifeline to normality, and when it was cut, I figured my chance at any life was over.

The next ten months were essentially lost time. I became proficient on racing games on the Xbox, and it was nothing for me to spend upwards of 16 hours a day climbing the leaderboards. With each game I became the best in the world, there was a hollow feeling. Eventually, I'd start writing Finding Kansas in 2005 and it wasn't until I finished it that I realized that I was more than my diagnosis, but nonetheless I would carry around the albatross of sadness from this broken road. I wish I knew it then, but it's these experiences that do let a person know that, when they find where they need to be, they'll know it even more.

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