Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
I don’t even know where to begin. When I think of all the ways Asperger’s has affected my life, it is mind boggling. Then when I think of how NOT KNOWING I was Asperger’s, then I see how that added more layers to the chaos and confusion. I know there are good things, some really good things, about the way our brains work. But without knowing it, I messed up every step of the way. It’s pretty daunting now to find a way to keep going, since now I’m second guessing myself on almost everything. Let me start by exploring one simple aspect of my (and everyone’s) life: my finances.
I am a worker. I’ve had a job of one kind or another since I was six years old. Yes – SIX! I was a paperboy. My older sister was actually in charge; it was her paper route. But by age eleven, she was feeling the conflict of after-school activities vs her job delivering the daily newspaper to sixty-some households in our small, mid-western town. I had no conflicts, being in the first grade, and besides, she was social and athletic – I was neither. So Monday through Saturday, I took over part of her job: I delivered around twenty-two of the papers. And for my labors, my generous sister paid me the sum of sixty cents a week.
It soon morphed into more, as her activities became more regular and demanding. Soon I was doing the whole route on the afternoon’s she had some team practice, or a game, or whatever. And soon I got to take over part of the weekly collections – a ritual I soon learned to abhor, because it involved social interaction which meant teasing, joking, impatience, even anger at times. We got to ring our customers’ doorbells, usually starting on Thursday evening, after delivering all the papers, and hit them up for their thirty-five cent bill. We had collection cards for each customer with tear-off stubs to give them after they paid. For those who weren’t home, we’d return on Friday night, or Saturday morning. But we had to take the newspaper company the invoice amount we owed by Saturday morning at 11 am. All of this seems pretty mundane and doable, even by a child of six or seven. I managed to complicate it in pretty short order.
First of all, all the time I was growing up, I remember whenever I’d get myself into a mess, my mother always repeated the same “constructive” comment. The first time I ever heard it had to do with the paper route. It seems as I took on more and more of the actual work of the job, my pay stayed the same. I don’t remember ever questioning it: it is what my sister said she’d pay me, and who was I to argue with her? I had nothing to spend money on anyway, at that age. And that led to the next conundrum: my sister would actually “borrow” most of what she paid me to pay for her social life: movies with friends, soda fountain treats with friends, new records or books or jewelry. Her “needs” far exceded mine, and as long as she was 1) nice to me, 2) told me about her “adventures,” and 3) shared some of her “secrets” with me, I felt adequately compensated. I especially liked hearing about her social life – it was like young kids today following their favorite celebrity on twitter or facebook. My sister was my “celebrity” and I got to hear about everything first hand. I especially liked hearing about the kind of things that we’d hide from our parents: her holding hands with a boy in a movie, going to her first dance and rubbing up against a boy’s “stuff,” liking a boy that another girl liked, and how she’d find “feminine” ways to get his attention. Her middle-school life was like a tabloid to me.
Anyway, an occasion arose for which I needed money. Every fall, usually in early October, my elementary school would hold a fund-raiser, called the “frolic.” Tickets could be purchased for a nickel each, and for one ticket you could go on the “cake walk” one time; for two tickets, you could go to the “fish pond” or the “duck pond” where you’d win some cheap trinket or other. Or you could go to the “village store” and purchase a roll with five comic books in it, for one ticket. There were so many exciting things and this was my big splurge for the entire year. I’d need forty tickets to start with, minimum, as I really needed to win a cake or two, and really had to up my already massive comic book collection. (It never occured to me that a lot of the comic books I’d buy were ones that came from my collection as my mother scoured the house to see what she could donate to the PTA for the frolic, in the first place.
I turned out that after being a subsidary of my sister’s newspaper enterprise for about a year, I found myself without the necessary funds to finance my frolic needs. And here is the part where my Asperger’s comes in: I never once associated my past lack of stewardship over what was rightfully mine, or my willingness to let it all slip through my fingers in what my mother surely saw as misguided loyalty to my sister, with the fact that instead of having some twenty or thirty dollars saved up, I had exactly forty-five cents. I just though that I could repay my mom with future earnings, and so was expecting an easy and quick hand-out when I approached her for $3 for the frolic. Instead, I got a look that could kill, a shake of the head, and a “you don’t have a lick of common sense, do you?” This was her constructive criticism; I have only recently figured out what she meant.
I’d live to hear this phrase repeated multiple times in multiple situations over many years, and honestly, I had no idea at the time what she meant by it or how it was I was supposed to get “common sense” seeing as how I had none at all. I did learn pretty early on that it was a rhetorical question, and any attempts at a verbal exchange with my mother to reassure her that I did in fact have a lot of sense, and that to me, what I’d done made perfect sense, and how her failure to see the logic in my actions was a short-coming on her part, was only likely to get me a smack alongside of the head. As it was, I got no loans from my mother for the frolic that year. But my sister, clandestinely overhearing the exchange I’d had with my mother, was able to elicit a whole string of frolic tickets from some male admirers whom I supposed she let peek down her blouse. This of course forever negated the intended lesson my mother thought she’d just taught me, and set the precedent for a life-time of shoddy money handling, record numbers of loan applications and credit card defaults and bankruptcies.