Memory: Wait for Fred! Autism & the Other

IMG_3372Hallowe’en 1969. I am in the bride outfit which is hilarious because I never wanted to marry. There’s my brother the sheep (D3), my sister the old lady, then the oldest as a pirate (D1) and Frankenstein himself (D2).  I had wanted to go as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.  Or Puss in Boots. Or Fred Flintstone.

I am the 5th child of my father. The only one he had with my mother, his second wife. He has four other children from his first marriage and we were raised together as a family until he died in 1970.  And yet, if anyone asks, I am an only child. Not the youngest, not the weird one, not the blonde one. Only.

Autism was not spoken of or diagnosed.  My mother had taken me to the pediatrician and asked what was wrong. Good ole Dr. Dibadj said, “She has a huge imagination.”

And so I had. I was fascinated by Dorothy who rode a cyclone to a magic land. Once I got lost in Kmart.  My mother heard the clerk on the P.A. “Would Dorothy G-‘s mother come to the service desk?”

Also, Puss in Boots. Who wouldn’t want to be a magic cat about to defeat a giant and create the Marquis of Carrabas?

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Me in my mom’s go-go boots (Puss in Boots)

But most of all, I loved Fred Flintstone.  From his saber tooth tiger outfit to his blustery, Wilma-dependent gargle. I loved him so much. My mom sent away for the blow-up Fred doll on the back of Flintstone’s vitamins.  When inflatable Fred showed up, I stripped his plastic clothes off and put them on myself.  Fred could make mistakes and yet everyone still loved him. Barney forgave him. Wilma forgave him. And he knew how to order ribs.  I often referred to myself as Fred.

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On this Hallowe’en night, I was trick-or-treating with my father’s children. I was little and I was slow. I would run as fast as I could to keep up and yell, “Wait for Fred!  Wait for Fred!”  Autism has gifted me with a specific memory – moments as moving photographs – like my own personal GIF generator. I was seeing the group ahead of me receding, the movement of grey and black cloth, shadows thrown by streetlight framed by two mask eyeholes. Something in me was terrified I would be left and no one would wait for Fred. Or Puss. Or Dorothy. And least of all me.

Maybe it was my huge imagination. Maybe it was a symptom of the separation we would always feel.

If I put myself in my siblings’ shoes, they were not leaving me behind so much as being driven forward by the promise of unlimited free candy. We were five kids living in a small home with a single income.  My mom, at 23 years of age, was suddenly a housewife, a stepmom to four children aged 13 to 5, and a new mother herself to a demanding, hyper-imaginative 2 year old. My father worked at the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery. We did not see many treats or desserts.

Once, my mother saved up and made a two layer yellow cake with chocolate icing for all of us.  The two older boys took their fingers and licked all the icing off.  She locked herself in the bedroom and cried for about 3 minutes.  Then she came out and cut the cake down the middle and made each of them eat half.  She was awesome at making punishment fit the crime. Nothing went to waste and the boys got their cake – although way more cake than they bargained for.

So free candy night was crucial, Fred or no Fred.

My philosophy of seeing the world is that there is no OTHER.  We are all connected. And yet, I struggle with the knowledge that the people who share my blood are the most OTHER to me of all.

I don’t dwell on it and I don’t think about it a lot.  I have removed myself from their lives. Because I simply do not fit.  They are good people.  I still hold an image of my sister as a perfect person who is good to her core and has done all the right things.  And yet I have never been able to connect with her other than superficially.

We had visits while I was growing up and I never had anything to say to her. I knew somewhere in my core that I was an embarrassment. That I could never fit and never be right in her world. We had nothing in common.  She is the definition of nice. I am the definition of inappropriate in her world.

So I have pretty much chosen not to be in it. She is missing nothing.  I am escaping judgment and perceived failure on every level. Everything from her calling my stand-up  comedy “your little skit” to getting angry because I shut down last time I saw her.

Because the last time I saw her somehow felt like abject betrayal and I could not move past it for a while.

We had agreed to meet for dinner. I had moved back to town and I wanted to tell her in person that the real reason I moved back was that my mother was dying. It’s not a thing you text or chat about casually. I don’t know how she felt about my mom. I still don’t.

Because when she came, she brought her mom – who was healthy.  I never had any idea how her mother felt about me. I am happy that her mom is doing well. But I wasn’t about to unpack my own mother’s situation in front of her.  I just shut down.  I could not even do small talk.  The wall went up. Everything in my brain screamed to protect myself. My heart went to that familiar place of numb rejection.

I have never been great at asking for support. I may need it, but I would rather not have it at the price of being judged as needy or weak. I would rather not have the stress of trying to fit in on top of handling the situation. I will do it alone.

And she grew annoyed and then probably angry if I was reading her body language and tone correctly. She paid the check and they left. I had money to pay for myself, but she whipped out her card. Some days I still want to mail her $40 cash and an explanation. But it would be another wrong move. It may come across as petty or whining.

Honestly, in that moment, I was just sad. I can’t mourn the loss of a relationship I never really had. That moment – my personal GIF of her disappointed face – solidified what I already knew.  No connection. What did I expect?  Weird and OTHER as I am.

I write this now not to denigrate her in any way.  She probably had no idea what I was going to tell her. She is still amazing and perfect on a level that would be impossible to imitate. As if I could be like her or like them or belong. I am the OTHER in so many ways – blonde, autistic, weird. No one has ever waited for Fred. And no one needs to. We all have managed to create our own lives – happy as possible – without being forced to include the OTHER.

My struggle is to be at peace with that. Because in my own world – in the life I have created – I am loved beyond measure just as I am.  I have a wonderful son with a big heart.  I have an amazing partner who shows me everyday how much I matter to him. I have personal GIFs of his face when I make him laugh and my son’s face when I say I am proud of him.

I have friends that are a family of my own choosing. In my own way, I am a raging success.  They are my foundation for being accepting of anyone else who may feel their OTHER-ness.

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All the Freds and Dorothys and even cats who wear their mom’s go-go boots out there – you belong and you will see the world your own way and be happy in your own life. And the right people WILL wait for you.

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