Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Grief and reconcillation

My Mother
Lynne Hurd Bryant
14 x 11 charcoal
Pop's Christmas gift, 2015

I've had a long year of sorting things out, but finally coming to a point where I can write about things.

The year started with the death of my mother.  She was only 71.  As she was only 17 years older than me, it feels like she died terribly young.  She had polio in 1952 and was in a wheelchair for more than 60 years.  I was an accident that happened to a young girl who didn't know anything about anything.  Because of the polio, the doctor would have given her an abortion.  No one told my mother she was pregnant, but my maternal grandmother told my father. My father, at the tender age of 19, puffed himself up and said, "no one is going to murder my son."  My grandmothers were best friends, and together they plotted hiding all of this from my grandfathers, bundling my parents off to Iowa to be married.  They were married until I was 30, when they ended their long running mismatch.  After their divorce, I didn't have too much contact with my parents, and they wanted none with me.

At this writing, I have not seen my father since 2002 and spoken to him only once when my mother died.  The last time I saw my mother was in August 2011.  She died without us ever reconciling.  I suppose she felt it was up to me to do the work of making that happen. I alternately would want to, not know how, and ultimately was not up for more of the abusive statements she liked to make to me.  I think I hoped she would mature and soften some, but she didn't.  I don't know that this feels like loose ends for me.  My peace was made when I set my boundaries in 2011.  I didn't expect her to respect my boundaries, but I never gave her a chance to try.

What I know absolutely is that I am carrying a chip on my shoulder about our relationship.  As I have every intention of living a long life as my grandparents all did, I have a lot of living left to do and it would be better for me if I lost that chip.  She can't be mean to me anymore.  Her abuse of me is in the past.  There has to be a way to come to some sort of an understanding on my part.  I have actively sought that understanding this year, and it is only a matter of days until the anniversary of her passing.

I was not open with my mother about a lot of things.  I think I was always afraid of what she would say, and rightly so, given our history.  I never told her about my ex-husband forcing himself on me, or the children that ensued from those events.  I didn't tell her about him hitting me or threatening me.  I was afraid she would tell me I deserved it, the same way she often told me that I was not a nice enough person to be happy or have a nice life, I was unworthy.  I never told her my college GPA because it was only 3.7, and she would have told me it was not good enough because it was not a perfect 4.0.  When I became a medical transcriptionist on the heels of my own divorce, she told me I'd never get a job because I was not smart enough to pass the CMT exam.  Today, after 20 years in that industry, I could sit that exam this very moment and pass it in one, but I have never needed to have it.  I never showed her my bought and paid for retirement home because it is a mobile home, and I was worried she'd say I lived in a trashy tin can.  I never told her I am autistic because I thought she would say that I was grasping at straws to make excuses for being mentally unstable and for my "retarded" behaviors.  I kept a lot to myself out of fear of her disapproval.

She married my stepfather 10 years ago.  He comes from the UK, and I'm anglophile, so naturally I would want to know him.  He has 3 sons, she had my brother and me.  He always wanted a daughter, but my mother deprived us both of a relationship.  Late this spring, we were on Facebook briefly at the same time, and while he is not my connection there, we got to talking.  We exchanged email and snail mail addresses, and started emailing one another.  We have emailed a few times each week for months now.  He is twice widowed, and trying to take this second time a bit better than he did the first time.

My mother kept journals.  I didn't even know about that, but she had kept them a long time.  She had a set of beautiful cabinets fitted in her kitchen and dining room and a desk that she could wheel under there as well.  Pop, my stepfather, said that in the whole of their marriage he never once peeked in her stuff, he felt it was private. When she died, he was going through some of that, and for whatever reason, grabbed her journals to take back with him to the UK.  He didn't read any of them until this week.  She wrote about her love for him, and that what she felt for him had made her feel transformed.  They had met online and talked daily for years with emails, Skype and the phone sometimes.  When he visited her home in Denver 12 years ago, it was love at first sight for them both.  The journal entry he started with was the day he left to go home from that visit.  She talked about discovering love for the first time, and about what she hoped could be their future.  She never said anything of the kind to him directly, but all those journals from the time she met him were addressed to him.  He asked me why she couldn't have told him all of this directly.  He said, it would have made things a lot easier for him if she had, and perhaps they would have been even happier together.

I'm not a fool, and I don't expect there to be any entries that pertain to me, and that is fine.  All of this does make me wonder if, rather than being incapable of love as I have often thought, she simply could not speak of her feelings.  She was not one to pay compliments ever, quite the contrary.  Paying a sincere compliment made her feel weak as person.  Perhaps speaking of love and feelings of admiration also made her feel like a weak person.  Perhaps she thought someone would laugh at her.  Perhaps she said to me all of those mean, nasty things because it was easier than saying what she really felt.  Perhaps she didn't want me to over inflate myself and be disappointed.  Parents will often do that because they want to spare their children the agony of defeat.  I'm decidedly more direct and outspoken than than most people, and have no filters at all.  She, it seems, was just the opposite.

My Pop has been good for me.  He is older and wiser, honest, forthcoming, kind, generous, and thoughtful.  I have been able to ask him all sorts of things, particularly about my mother.  He has helped me understand her a bit better.  With his help, I hope to remove the chip from my shoulder.  It is Christmas Eve, and this one thing is what I really want for Christmas.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Autism Acceptance and why I'm not wearing blue today

April 2, National Autism Acceptance Day, not awareness day.  Awareness isn't enough.  Awareness means you know about it.  Who isn't aware of autism these days?  I'm more than "aware" I live with it. It stares back at me when I look in the mirror.  It moves with me every time I run into a wall, misjudge a step, forget to pay a bill, whiff someone's strong perfume from across a large room, every time I can see an oscillation in a fluorescent light bulb, or the deafening noise of the Walmart.  I am aware of it every waking moment of my life, all 54 years of it.  I've heard whispering behind my back about how strange I am.  I've been labeled as certifiably insane by my family of origin.  I've been teased, taunted, bullied and horribly, unspeakably abused.  I'm very aware of autism!

Some people are going to read this blog and say to themselves...ah! She's not autistic, she is too articulate, too educated, seems too "normal."  Possibly followed by, oh she must be "high functioning."  I'm here to tell you, there is no such thing as "high functioning autism."  What there is, instead, is experience, those things that change with age for everyone (even we autistic folks), learned behaviors, learned and finely tuned coping strategies, courage, determination and the strength of character not to be diminished by how we've been treated, no matter how inappropriate that treatment has been.  We have all had to "fake it until we make it" in this life on the false belief we will one day actually make it.  On so many levels, I am still faking it and I know I won't make it.  I fake it to get by, to keep my job, to preserve relationships, to do my grocery shopping, to see a doctor, to get any of a great number of things accomplished in life.  I will never be "normal."

To be fair, I don't want to be normal.  Being autistic has given me gifts I would not trade for the world.  I can say, without irony or sarcasm, that I have never been bored a moment of my life.  The ability to focus on just one thing at a time may be tested on a regular basis, but boredom has never been an issue.  It gave me both intellectual and creative giftedness, and to possess both is a rare gift indeed.  I have comorbid attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder with an emphasis on hyperactivity.  This means that I'm creative, too smart for my own good and have enough energy to carry out anything which resides in my imagination, and that is an imagination that comes as full color pictures in my head.  I'm very visually oriented and I often follow the pictures in my head rather than instructions because it is faster and easier.  I make a lot of things look quite easy.

I didn't wear blue today because I'm not broken.  I'm unique, special, different, challenged and trying my best, but I am not broken.  Blue in the autism puzzle symbol stands for an organization called Autism Speaks.  Well, Autism Speaks does not speak for me!!   No one on their board of governors is on the autism spectrum.  They are not after acceptance of differences, they are after prevention and "cure."  They would like to find that magic bullet that would make all of us normal.  They gather funding and use it to promote the idea that autistic people are broken and need to be fixed, that there is no reason to tolerate or accept our differences because they should be wiped out instead.  I find this stance repugnant, just as repugnant as the idea that people should not vaccinate their children because vaccines cause autism, which they DO NOT.  Out of fear, parents would rather risk their children's lives than raise a child who turns out like me, like any of us who are on the autism spectrum.  It is beyond words to explain the pain hurdled at autistic people when they are told they are broken, bad, damaged, despicable, lowlife humanity and being one of them is a fate worse than death.

What I need most, what the whole community of autistic people needs, is acceptance.  We accept who we are, just as we are.  We don't need or even want to be like neurotypicals and we're tired of being told to act "normal" or to "snap out of it."  That's awareness, not acceptance.  If we can accept ourselves as we are, why can't the rest of the world?

Don't wear blue today.  Don't don't wear blue next year on Autism Acceptance Day either.  Rather, try accepting what you don't understand.  That's what autistic people are doing everyday.