When I was around ten years old, I read a series of books about a girl in the same age. This main character, we can call her Bee, is based on the author and the story took place a couple of generations back but in a neighborhood not that far from where I grew up. I recognized some of the places described in the books but a lot of things were different too, because the story took place around 50 years earlier.
Besides from being a wonderfully told story, these books gave me something that no other book, person or anything in the whole world could give me as a kid. As a ten-year-old, Bee was the only kid I had ever heard about who just couldn’t go to school. For Bee, school seemed meaningless and the way these books portray depression and exhaustion for a kid were so similar to what I experienced. From what I remember Bee isn’t overwhelmed as much as I was as a kid, but the experience of hopelessness are written in a way that hit me hard. The total darkness that hit me every fall, the impossibility of getting up, getting dressed, eating, going to school – I didn’t know what it was. And just like me, Bee just had enough one day when she was in her classroom and the meaningless of life hit her, and she got up and left. Even though my escapes usually were more dramatic, reading about Bee doing almost the same made me less lonely. Because even though no adult or kid could understand what I was trying to explain, I knew there was somebody out there who could at least imagine it well enough to write a book about it. I thought the books about Bee were pure fiction and that made me think that what I experienced was so weird that it was almost like science fiction. It was something that people made up, nothing that happened in real life. This was not a very nice thought, but I still adored these books.
A few of years ago I read an interview with the author and learned that Bee is very much based on the author herself, and the books based on her childhood. No diagnoses were mentioned but from her description of herself, she could very well be autistic. Even though I’m going to refrain from further speculation, I know from the interview that the episodes where Bee didn’t go to school were something that actually happened to the author. I read this interview when I had just really realized that I am autistic and I had started to make peace with the memories of being unable to go to school as a kid, and it was such a comfort. Like my childhood memories finally started to make sense to me.
I think reading the books about Bee was what made me really hooked on reading and writing fiction. It was through Bee that I found that books were the friends who never asked questions I couldn’t answer, but instead gave me a sense of orientation in a very confusing world.
I’ve been writing about Liz recently. The memories of her have been haunting me, partly because I miss her, partly because there were a couple of things about our relationship and what happened that I could never grasp. Feeling confused in relationships is so common to me that I take it for granted, however, with Liz my confusion was worse than usual. (I have a problem with delayed processing, which means that it takes time for me to process and understand interactions. I come across as indifferent or cold when I don’t understand what’s going on in the moment.)
Yesterday when I was writing about her, one of the knots untangled. I could finally phrase a question that I’ve had the answer to for a while, but since I didn’t know what question I was asking myself the answer didn’t help much. My post from yesterday is called Would you love me as disabled? and that’s what I’m wondering. The very painful answer is no, I don’t think she would. At the moment I can’t say if this is a rational assumption or just my internalized ableism talking, but I don’t think she would have had much feelings at all for the disabled me.
Being with her was exhausting because I was so exposed, so bare, and still I tried to keep up the appearance of being the non-disabled version of me. It was an impossible mission and that’s probably why I froze so many times.
Growing up, I was often accused of not asking adults for help when I needed it. My parents and teachers kept telling me that I should ask them for help more, but I did ask for help. I just didn’t ask for the kind of help they had in mind and my questions for help were rarely understood. I tried to ask for help with the sensory overload, being overwhelmed and the constant fatigue but that was dismissed as whining and moaning.
As a young adult, one of my (at the time being) friends called me the iceprincess. Because I didn’t let her in as much as she wanted, because I didn’t always share when I had a hard time. That was partly true, because when we had been friends for a couple of years, and before that partners, I never knew what to expect from her. Somehow it always got complicated when I tried to explain my thoughts and feelings. She took the liberty to redefine my situation and I got scared of being yelled at for something I didn’t understand.
Almost ten years later, I’m sad and scared and crying on my own. Because I don’t know how to be comforted. I’ve written about how I have a big problem with when people give me advice that I didn’t ask for (here and here) and I’ve written about how being comforted means risking to be erased, and that I’m easily overwhelmed and that makes it cognitively difficult to have a dialogue, but that’s still not the whole explanation. There’s something more in this. Something makes it unbelievebly hard to ask for comfort but to also accept it when somebody offers it. But I don’t know what it is. It’s there but I can’t grasp it. I can’t explain it.
I guess until I’ve figured it out, I’ll be crying on my own.
When I was a kid, me and my siblings used to play card games. Sometimes we got our parents to play with us, which was fun because with more players some games got more difficult and therefore more fun. Usually the atmosphere was friendly, at least I don’t remember anybody being upset from losing. None of us were skilled card dealers, meaning that we sometimes fumbled with the cards. For some reason this always made my dad remind us of that dropping a card while dealing wasn’t allowed back in the old Wild West. This comment was said as a joke, sometimes my dad formed his fingers to look like a gun and pretended to shoot himself in the head when he was the one fumbling. This wasn’t particularly funny but I considered it just another case of boring adult humor. Sometimes though, this was followed by something utterly weird.
In more than one of these occasions, my dad made a comment on how women like me wouldn’t survive a day in the old Wild West saloons. Meaning, women who spoke their minds and refused to conform to the traditional subordinate position expected from women. Women who were loud, wild, didn’t take orders from anyone and who questioned authorities. Women who were disobedient.
I don’t remember how old I was the first time this happened, but I can’t have been more than ten. When I think about my childhood, I have so many memories of this kind of comments from different people. Teachers, parents, relatives, and a bunch of other adults. They all made sure I knew that I was not like girls were supposed to be like. Very often, people made these comments in the same way that my dad did, not as an upfront accusation, but as a part of a joke. People sneaked it in and it always made me confused. If I confronted the person who made the comment I would prove them right. If I didn’t confront them, I was left confused. These comments made me feel ashamed, since I was obviously a faulty version of a girl.