My love and I have not always had the perfect relationship. Oh who am I kidding, we still don’t; there’s one fairytale that will never ride off the silver screen on a white horse. Sorry ladies.
Allow me to rephrase that. He and I have not always excelled at communicating our feelings to one another. For my part in that I will say that I avoid confrontation like it’s coming for my dogs. If (when) I convince him to start guest posting here he can add his own end of the wishbone, but lacking that, I’ll say that he has a history of not just social isolation, but human isolation.
These days I call his personality textured – one of poetic quirks and beautiful strangeness. He calls it Autism.
It was our first summer of dating when things abruptly broke down. It happened quickly and without warning. It happened when I moved in. Now before you roll your eyes and snicker at my predictability, let me add that he was all for it from day one. I was hesitant. And bitter. And fresh out of a relationship that crashed and burned in my living room. I liked what we had and didn’t want to risk pulling the wrong Jenga block. I suck multiple unwashed asses at Jenga.
We discussed long and hard the pros and cons of my coming to live with him, but in the end we decided that counting the minutes until a reunion when we were apart made it seem silly to continue sleeping with 25 miles between us simply on the “too soon” principal.
So he bought a pickup truck (he insisted he’d been meaning to anyhow), and came and collected me and my life in Sharpie-labeled boxes from my dad’s house (hey don’t judge, even at age 30, there’s no place more comforting to tend your post-explosive-screaming-crying-hurt-each-other-as-much-as-possible-because-fuck-you breakup wounds than at your dad’s house – especially when the dad in question cooks you delicious vegetarian dinners on the nightly).
But then a curious thing happened. We just stopped talking. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. Like, ever. He didn’t like to be touched. Every muscle in his body seemed to tense upon contact – I could almost see him counting the seconds until he could have his hand back.
He hated loud noises and changes to his routine. He bristled if I wandered into his office on a Saturday while he was writing, as if the reality of my presence shattered the world within the screen at which he stared – lost, entranced.
Go with the flow? There was no flow to speak of. Not a single flow did live within these walls. Only a stone path of rigidity, walked silently and without deviation. I felt lonely, out of place in this big house full of things that weren’t mine, on shelves upon which I did not perch them, with only my boxes – half unpacked – and my dogs and bird for company. I couldn’t understand why I felt so utterly alone here in this house with this man who’d just a few weeks prior had easily gotten lost for hours and days in a soul-baring wilderness with me. Mostly over text or cocktails but it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t translate.
Having emotionally invested in two serious relationships that both came to dramatic and painfully incompatible ends, and with no desire to sign up for that raffle again, I did what any (ir)rational being would do – I packed my shit and I left. Phew! That was almost another relationship disaster. Good save, girl!
And then an even curiouser thing happened. He was devastated. I frankly expected never to hear from him again, both of us hunkered into our sheepish corners, feeling silly, feeling relieved… feeling awkward. Regrouping and going on with our lives. But instead, the love I thought I’d disemboweled with a can opener suddenly burst back to life and color. We returned to talking in the way we did it best – text and email – all day, every day. I still have those digital exchanges. In them, he told me a secret. And it explained everything.
About 10 years ago I was under a lot of stress so I made an appointment to talk to someone. We figured it out almost immediately. There’s a Liv Tyler movie with an autistic kid – I related to him in a lot of ways, so I started researching. It all came together in that first session. I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. It’s called Asperger’s Syndrome. I’ve read about severe cases on the internet. I’m not that bad. I have all of the benefits (and there are many) and only a handful of the negatives. It became far more easy to manage after I learned what it was. For the most part, I get by fairly well. You just happen to be a very perceptive person and immediately noticed some of the issues.
I’m Rain Man with a bigger vocabulary and better hair. Think you can still put up with me or is it enough to scare you away? Aside from what I’ve read, I’ve never been treated for this. I think therapy could help us. I can seek out a specialist. I want to break out of this shell as much as you want me to. I don’t want to spend my life trapped here. We can do this, together. I am absolutely, unbelievably in love with you. I can’t learn that. I can’t mimic that. I feel every breath you take in my heart. You’ve brought me so far in such a short time. I can come out of this. It isn’t your future, it’s my past. For as long as I can remember, I put up walls. You’re the only person I’ve let past those walls in over a decade.
We can get through this, PB, but you have to be willing to try. I won’t give up on us. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love you. Together we’re unstoppable. We can make it work, I’ve never been more sure of anything, ever. We can build a beautiful life together.
I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you. Please come back. Give me the chance to make it right.
Therapy??? But, we just started dating! That does not bode well. Red flag. Giant, Texas-sized red quilt constructed entirely of red flags. Stitched together with red yarn, stained by the cursed blood of a hundred thousand relationship deaths.
Red flag, Homeskillet.
Funnily enough, it was my dad who swooped in and saved the day – or my life (how’s that for hyperbole?). Only it’s not because this is my life. The beautiful blue-eyed boy who wrote that italicized confession up there is my love. My friend. My biggest cheerleader. I was convinced beyond a dream of a doubt that we would and could never work, this blue-eyed boy and I. We were just too different. I was Daryl Hannah to his Tom Hanks, and he could never follow me into the sea, nor could I ever be fully alive in his New York City.
My dad offered some sage advice, as dads tend to do. He sat down on the edge of my bedspread, on the little twin bed in his spare room that offered me so much comfort when I felt that so much was lost, and, picking at a stray thread, began to speak. It went something like this:
“No relationship is perfect, Seal.” (“Seal” is my nickname, I beat my feet together as a baby; it sort of stuck – happily it’s endearing as nicknames go.) “But the thing is, you can’t ever hope to know a person if you’re mired in the mess. Why is it only acceptable to wait until the relationship is in dire straits, or broken beyond hope of repair? People are all so different. Autism, limits, baggage, old wounds that never really healed, it’s all the same and we’ve all got it.”
“How any of us manage to get along and cohabitate without homicide is a miracle of no small proportion. Therapy can be good. You have a neutral referee to call each of you out on your assorted bullshit and childish me-isms. I think that if we all learned to speak each other’s language, listen better, and fight the good fights in the beginning, then we might more often know the rewards of great love. This guy is asking you to come to therapy, to do the work, to hold his hand and give this thing a try together. Don’t discount how rare that is. We’re men. We don’t even like to ask for directions. He’s asking for a map and a compass and a partner to help him choose a trail. Look at the map, Seal.”
So I did. And it sucked. We went through a lot of really bad therapy sessions. There were tears on both our cheeks. We had a lot of spectacular fights. We still do. I have written about all of it: the paths we took to find our way home again — the texts, the emails, the emergency therapy sessions, the crying, and the lessons we both needed help to learn. But I’ll save them all for some day(s) soon. It was not easy. But there’s that pesky old cliche: Nothing worth it ever is.
He still insists on eating the exact same thing every day, in the same order, with the same seasoning. I still spend way too many minutes (hours) cuddling in bed with a book on a Sunday morning. He still requires eggnog be available whether it’s December or July and will order it directly from McArthur Dairy if his need falls outside the season.
I still insist on hugging him without warning, and he still shrinks back for the slightest of moments when I come up behind him at the sink and touch him, put my arms around him as he brushes his teeth, my head resting on his bare shoulder.
He still faces an inability to break his after-work habit of walking two miles wearing an 80 lb weight vest. He will walk if it is pouring rain. Better to get soaked than interrupt the routine that comforts him. And I still look at him incredulously when he expects me to lace up my Nikes and run right out in that rain behind him. And I still stand dripping in my towel after a shower and watch him at the mirror, and he still tries not to hate it.
But you know what? I think in the end, we both drowned a little, and grew the fins and gills to live in a whole new world, one we created just for us, halfway between my mermaid sea, and his NYC.