My grandmother and my cousin Pam (who was a teacher) took me traveling a lot. We went to all sorts of historical sites along the East Coast. Sometimes my great-grandmother went, which always made things better. My mother never came because she had to work. When I was seven, she married her second husband. He immediately saw me as his child, I think. I don’t have many memories of having anything to do with them until I became a teenager, really.
The “discussions” between my grandmother and mother continued. I continued to try to be the peacemaker, despite being thwarted by my mother at every turn. When she would finally leave, my grandmother would just sit and cry, asking me what she had done to deserve being treated like that. I had no answer, and comforting has never been my strong suit.
The change from elementary to middle school was rough for me. Dynamics that I finally thought I’d worked out suddenly shifted, and I was back at square one. I was alone, bullied, and depressed. The workload dramatically increased, and I had no idea how to manage it. The predominant emotion I remember feeling is overwhelmed. Just overwhelmed with life. Then, I met Dollface. Dollface had been diagnosed with ADHD early on, and her therapist had taught her coping techniques for school and various other parts of life.
Dollface and I just connected. She just tuned into my weird ASD frequency and helped me fill in the gaps. She gave me my first planner and explained to me how she used hers. She knew I was bad for procrastinating so she would call me every night to make sure I had done my homework. When people bullied me, she immediately jumped to my defense when I tried to shrink into the wall. When people would come up to me and invade my personal space or ask me a quick barrage of questions, Dollface would intercede and become my personal shield. She knew when I was close to having a meltdown. She knew when I was shutting down. She would hold me and tell me it was okay. When I would have nightmares in the middle of the night and call her, she would always talk me through it. When I had no food to eat, she welcomed me into her home and fed me. When it was winter and I had no heat, she would invite me over to share hers. Dollface, in so many ways, is my savior, mentor, and mother. She still does all of this for me now when I need it, even though she’s taught me to do most of it for myself.
It was around this time that I was living alone. My grandmother had moved in with my great-grandmother, who had just broken her hip and needed round-the-clock care. Something that needs to be said here is that we’ve never had much money. My mother spends money first and worries about bills later. So when bills come due, she runs to my grandmother, and my grandmother always gives her the money. It’s like a family tradition. It’s just something that’s done. Whether we have food or not, whether the electric bill is past due or not, whether there was oil in the heater or not, my grandmother would hand over the money. I spent the majority of my teenage years wondering where my next meal was coming from, sleeping in a house with no heat in the middle of winter with my toes and fingers burning.
I managed to fall in with a rather rough crowd thanks to another “friend” that I’d made. We’ll call her Succubus. She was… to put it nicely – a slut. That particular fact never really bothered me until she got married, then continued to sleep around. Then it REALLY bothered me, especially when she expected me to help her sneak to and from her little escapades. That’s later though. Anyway, we got hardcore into pills. I dated her brother, and a few other guys because it’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I was raised in a Methodist household. The subject of homosexuality was never really talked about, that I can recall. However, I knew I was expected to find a man, get married, and become a baby making factory. Dollface made friends with her too, although part of me thinks it was to keep an eye on me. I would do things that Succubus didn’t like from time to time, and she would ‘punish’ me by not speaking to me for certain lengths of time. It really wasn’t so much a punishment as it was a relief. However, she would always come back.
When I was around fifteen or so, my father decided he wanted to move to Chicago and divorce his second wife (that he’d married twice). We packed up his little Subaru and drove to Chicago to the apartment that the company he worked for had gotten him. It was a lovely apartment, and I instantly loved it. I set up the house for him and stayed with him for about a month. Toward the end of my visit, he decided to sign up for an online dating service. Through this service, he met a woman I’ll call K. She came to pick him up that night, and I was left to wait. I was quite unhappy about this change in circumstance. I didn’t like the idea of him dating again and a new woman invading the relationship I was trying to build with him. Alas, the date went splendidly. The night before I was supposed to fly back home, he decided he was going out to the pub. He left about five. When 10 pm rolled around, I got worried. I tried calling him but got no answer. I held out until midnight before I called my grandmother and told her what was going on. She was furious. He finally showed up around 2 am, drunker than I’ve ever seen him. He puked on the floor. I had to change him and put him to bed. When it was time to take me to the airport at 7 am, he was completely out of it. I got into his phone and called the woman he’d been on a few dates with (by this point) and explained to her what had happened. Coincidentally, we had the same last name. She said she would deal with him and get me to the airport. That trip left quite an impression on me. My father was an alcoholic for years. His father was an alcoholic. My paternal grandmother died from cirrhosis of the liver at age 36. This trip instilled in me a sincere desire to break the cycle.
When I was in 8th grade, I attempted suicide. My stepfather found me and took me to the hospital. My mother said I was just being dramatic, but put me in a mental institution for good measure. I was locked up in there for a month and a half. I will say the routine was nice. It gave me a sense of peace and predictability that made me feel better. However, that was slightly overshadowed by the bars on the windows, the fact we were only allowed to write with crayons, and the fact that there were fights between the other juvenile patients about every hour. I missed my grandmother and Dollface. I remember my mother calling me once and visiting me a couple of times. I begged her to let me out, and she steadfastly refused. The medicine they gave me made me gain 80lbs. I don’t think the routine was worth the feeling of being imprisoned.
I dropped out of school in 10th grade because I was bullied mercilessly. I ended up beating a football player in the head with my science book because he put duct tape in my waist-length hair.
I’ll stop there for now. I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d had been diagnosed with ASD as a child, like so many boys. Maybe my family would have been more understanding of my struggles, maybe not. I still wonder, though.