Follow by Email

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Interview - Happened in March 1989

Life in the Shell House residence at Simon Fraser University was a case study of what happens when a person on the spectrum is allowed near complete freedom to live as he chooses, but is surrounded by people and desperately wants their attention and approval.  One of the biggest misconceptions that people have when it comes to Aspergers or Autism is that we are antisocial. Nothing can be further from the truth – at least in my experience. We definitely want to fit in socially and be accepted – it’s just that we have no idea how to do it. We go out into the world thinking that we are just like everyone else. It is only when we see how others respond to us that we begin to realize that something is wrong – with us. That is when the depression sets in followed by the intense yearning to “figure out how to fit in”. You neurotypicals are, for the most part, terribly insecure at that age – throughout high school and university, when you really have no reason to be. Imagine, if you will for a moment how insecure you would be when you actually do have a reason to doubt your own worth as a member of our society, because of how you perceive virtually everyone around you responding to you. Once you can imagine this, you will have some idea of how I felt on an almost daily basis throughout high school and university, and I don’t think that my experience is that much different from the experience of a lot of people on the autistic spectrum.

One way that this desperation manifested itself was that I went completely overboard every time there was a party with alcohol – which was every single week. I watched the way drunk people got what I perceived to be attention at the dorm parties.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that this attention was not the same as approval. It was more along the lines of “Ha ha. Look at that buffoon who cannot hold his liquor!”. Now, to some extent that could be a source of amusement to your fellow dorm mates and being the source of amusement, could, if you were likeable in other ways not hurt you socially. But of course, the people in my dorm who were popular and well liked socially were not liked because they got drunk every week. No, they would have been popular without the alcohol.  There is a really really fine line between being a source of amusement to people and being just downright annoying. I’m not sure to this day that I know exactly where that line is, but I suspect that it is just before falling-down-drunk and throwing up. I can tell you that I certainly had no clue back then that this line even existed, even though I could clearly see that I was one of the only people drinking to excess.

One Friday night in 1989, during my second semester at SFU,  I was sitting with about three of four of my floormates in Dave’s room, which was two doors away from my corner room. We were just shooting the shit and I was drinking a six pack that I had purchased for the night. I drank it quickly as usual, finishing it in about an hour or so. I was getting pretty drunk at this point and once the alcohol was gone, one of the guys said that his sister had given him a full gallon of home-made raspberry wine. You know those large glass bottles with the finger holes? We all agreed that it would be a good idea if he were to bring us this wine for us to drink.  So off to his room he went. He came back to Dave’s room with the wine and poured each of us a small glass. The wine was syrupy sweet and strong – not liqueur strong, but more like port wine. All the other guys were like “Oh god no.”. But not me, no sir. I loved this wine and kept drinking glass after glass after glass. This was at around 9:30pm. My last memory was laughing at a joke while taking a sip out of my glass.

Then, I woke up in a single bed that wasn’t mine. As I came to, I realized that I was in Dave’s bed. My clothes felt unfamiliar and I looked down only to find that these were not my clothes. I had a pounding headache and my eyes were hazy. As I struggled to gain lucidity, Dave comes in and gives me a gentle kick through the sheets and says: “Get up you bastard! A lot of people want to see you!”. I got out of the bed and began to walk with Dave down the hall into the dormitory kitchen, which was white painted with large motifs of orange slices. As I walked in, it seemed like the entire dormitory was gathered around the kitchen tables. On the tables were several dozen photographs of me in varying states of drunkenness and in the very centre of the tables was a large ghetto blaster. Dave placed a cassette tape into the ghetto blaster and pressed play. I heard my voice and that of some of the other guys in the dorm:

Guy: Chris, what do you think of Ghadaffi?

Me: He’s an astozit!

Guy: I think he means terrorist, guys.  Chris, why do you think he’s a terrorist?

Me: Beeeecauuse he killllsssss innnnoccent people!

Guy: What do you think should happen to him?

Me: Heeee should be rooooounded uppp and shot!

Guy: Do you know where you are now?

Me: I’mmmm in the dorm!

And on it went for another 5 minutes or so. This was frightening. I couldn’t remember any of this! Then a couple of the people told me that after the interview, I had stripped off all my clothes and danced naked on the tables. I didn’t quite believe them, as none of the pictures showed me naked. Dave was acting all weird and awkward toward me. So I finally said “Dave, I see all this and I can’t argue with any of you over this, but why are you acting so weird?” He looks at me square in the eye and in front of all the women in the room says: “Chris. I dried your nuts!”.
I’m told that I drank ¾ of that bottle that night.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Jumbo Sundae - Happened Sometime in 1978

When I was between the ages of 7 and 8 and living in Kelowna, one of my rituals with my Dad was to go to the local rec. centre and practice swimming. Afterwards, he would often take me to the local Dairy Queen for a hamburger and fries or an ice cream. It was kind of a reward for those times when I pushed outside my comfort zone, as I was generally terrified of putting my head under water. I’m sure that my general level of terror had something to do with being on the spectrum as I remember trying to breathe once under water and getting chlorinated water in my nose and how awful that felt. We Aspies are generally either extremely sensitive to certain stimuli, or not sensitive at all. So when we do feel certain things, we feel them to a much greater extent than Neurotypicals do. I think that my fear of swimming is related to this because most other kids had no fear of it, and the severity of the emotional meltdown that I had the first time my mother tried to take me into a pool with her just isn’t something that I ever saw at any pool where young kids were present again.  But, buy age 7 I had progressed to the point where dad could take me for a weekly swim.

On this one particular day, my brother came along with us. After we were done, on the drive home  dad suggested that we stop into the DQ for a sundae. I eagerly answered “oh yes! Yes dad!”.  Dad eventually turned the large Ford station wagon into the local shopping centre parking lot and we eagerly got out, prancing over to the DQ entrance.  As we waited in line to the sounds of “Knock on Wood” blaring from the jukebox located in the corner, dad said “Ok kids, you can have any sundae you want in any flavour up to a large”. Now in those days, Dairy Queen had what was called a “jumbo”. A jumbo was a cup about 4 to 5 inches wide and 3 inches deep. It would be filled with a couple of large dollops of soft serve and topped with an equally generous amount of flavouring. To a 7 year old kid, it was like eating a hamburger 2 feet across, or one of those 50 ounce steaks that you get for free if you can finish them.  They don’t even have them anymore, which is surprising in the current age of excess that we live in where the large of yesteryear is today’s regular size.  I wanted one of those. I wanted one bad. I was going to have one come hell or high water.

“I want a jumbo dad.” I said. “No, Chrissy, you can have a large. Look how big a large is.” “No! I want a jumbo!” I said raising my voice. “Fine. You can have a jumbo. On one condition. It has to be marshmallow, and you have to finish it all.” “Oh yes! Yipee dad!” I said, having absolutely no idea of what lay in store for me. Dad did though, and I’m sure it took everything he could muster to maintain his composure. After paying he handed us our sundaes and I skipped happily over to the booth where we were to be seated.  I sat down, got settled in and took my first mouthful of the sundae. It was heaven; sweet and creamy and everything a 7 year old with a sweet tooth could want. I smiled and dug in my little plastic spoon for another bite. Then another. Then another.  This went on for about 5 minutes or so and then all of the sudden a nauseous feeling came over me. My brother tells me that at that precise moment, I went a distinct shade of green.

“Dad, I feel sick.” I said as I looked up at him. “Only 2/3rds left to go son.” Was his answer. “We had a deal. You agreed to finish this if I bought it.” My heart sank as  I looked down on the mountain of now melting, sticky and gooey ice cream. “If I have to finish this, I think I’m going to throw up.” I thought, as I dug the spoon into the mass. I felt sicker and sicker with every bite. It seemed for a long time like the sundae just wasn’t getting any smaller. Every so often I would look up and see the serious and unemotional look on my dad’s face. I kept hoping that at some point he would say something like “It’s OK Chrissy, you’ve learned your lesson.” But he never did. I pressed on, taking longer and longer between spoonfuls as the sick feeling just grew and grew.

Eventually, I started to see the mass of gooyeyness begin to get smaller and smaller, and finally I took my last bite and collapsed with my head and elbows on the table in front of me. Dad just let me rest there for a few minutes before telling me “Ok Chris, let’s go. Bring your tray over to the garbage.”. He held the little door to the garbage bin open as I tipped my tray in. By now the sounds of Rod Stewart were blaring from the jukebox in the corner, and I absorbed them as we walked out towards the car.

We drove home in almost complete silence, with dad stone-faced at the wheel. I think he was trying to decide whether to reinforce the lesson of the night with a speech or other talk, but in the end, I think he decided that I had suffered enough and to do anything more would just be rubbing my nose in it.

I never did ask for a jumbo, or anything larger than what I was offered ever again. It also took until 2008 while on a camping trip with my ex and my son before I had the courage to eat marshmallows again. I’m sure that I probably did eat some that were included in other dishes over the years, but I NEVER sought them out again until that night in Algonquin Park in 2008.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Big Thank You to My Wonderful Partner Steph and Postscript

Before I post anymore stories, I want to give a big thank you to my wonderful partner Steph, whose idea it was for me to write this book. Others have since backed her, but it was Steph who told me one Sunday morning that I should write my story. We had been talking over breakfast and I was telling her one of my many experiences and when I was finished, her eyes lit up and she exclaimed "You should write a book! I know people would read it. Nobody that I know has had your life." At first I was skeptical and thought "What's so special about me? Why would anyone want to read about my life?". But I thought about what she said and I began to think about the stories I could tell. The more I thought about it the more I realized she was right. Steph initially wanted to be the one to write it, but I told her that I wanted to do it, and she agreed to help me.  We eventually kicked around ideas for a title and Steph said "It is as though you have lived three lives". I immediately recognized how astute her suggestion was. So we had our title: Three Lives Lived. I am completely indebted to her for her insights and creative suggestions.

These three stories all illustrate the sense of adventure and deep curiosity that I had for the world around me. Eventually, fear of authority and punishment would dull much of my curiosity, but for my earliest years, I was really quite fearless. "Down the Manhole" is really a story about our sensitivity to certain stimuli: sounds, smells, tastes and sensations. As aspies, we are either not sensitive at all to these things, or we are hypersensitive. Until very recently I was completely unaware that my reactions to loud noises, crowds, and clothing when I was little, were anything other than completely normal. I had to be a father myself to realize that not every child wants to run around naked. I had to be home a few months ago and have the alarm system go off with us in the house to notice that I was the only one freaked out by the sound of the alarm. Finally, I was on a date with Steph at a music festival when she pointed out that I really can't stand crowded places, and that I shut down after a few hours at them. I hadn't realized until she told me this why I hate Walmart and shopping malls so much. This realization was one of the ones that really convinced me that I really am on the spectrum. I did take a few online tests, which were designed by academic researchers in this field and those tests confirmed what I had long suspected: that I am on the spectrum, but am not a full-blown Aspie. Rather I am a mix of an aspie and a neurotypical, which I believe puts me in a unique position to write about my experiences in a way that many people can relate to. 

Stitches - Happened sometime in the Spring of 1976

As will become apparent if it isn't already, I was an insatiably curious lad. My curiosity nearly got me seriously injured or killed on more than one occasion, as you will see several times as you read further. This story though is one of those times.

When we first moved to Kelowna, British Columbia in 1975 the first place we lived was a street called Hammer Avenue. It was on the outskirts of the southern end of the city I believe. It was a brand new suburb that was in the process of being developed, though the house that we lived in had been there for maybe two or three years.  There were a fair number of construction sites on the street where new houses were being built. My brother, his friends and I loved to explore these sites.  I particularly loved going through the scrap piles looking for good pieces of wood, screws and other “booty”. Back in those days, these places were never fenced off. It was just understood that we were not supposed to go in and if we were caught there, some adult would just scare us off, by threatening to “call the cops”. That usually sent us running scared. It is hard for kids these days to imagine, as these places now are fenced and many have security guards posted on them 24/7. But such was not the case back then. I suspect that it is because parents, when I was growing up would never have considered suing the owner of a construction site if their child trespassed and got hurt. They would simply treat their child’s injuries, apologize to the owners and make sure that their child never did it again. But I digress.

So this one day, my brother, and his friend Charlie decided to go explore the latest site on the street. After much begging and pleading my brother agreed to let me come along. At this point I was 4 years old and maybe a few months from 5.  Now the houses that were being built at that time were two and three storey wood frame houses that usually got covered in stucco. Usually these houses would be framed completely before the exterior walls were added, or the roof was completed, so that once the frame was up, they were essentially 20 or 30-foot-tall hollow shafts.

We got to the house and I decided to go exploring in the basement. I ran on ahead pat Mike and Charlie inside and started scanning the floor for screws, nails and generally anything that looked interesting enough to take home. Michael and Charlie started climbing the structure and within a very short time they were on the roof. “How did they get up there? I thought to myself. I went back to scanning the floor and quickly spotted a pile in the room that looked promising that had all these little pieces of wood, nails, screws and other goodies. As I am looking through the contents of the pile, I hear my brother shout “Hey Charlie, look! We can make a see-saw!”. I looked up and saw my brother moving a large 2’x8’ plank. I thought nothing of it and went back to exploring the pile. After a few minutes, I grabbed a handful of T-nails and stuffed them in my pocket.

All of the sudden I heard “Oh shit!!! Look out!!!”.  Before I know what is happening, I am knocked to the ground by the most painful blow imaginable. The 2” x 8” had fallen off the roof and hit me square in the head. When I came to, I am screaming and wailing in pain. I’m sure the entire neighbourhood must have heard me. I felt my head and my hand was covered in red blood. My brother and Charlie tried to help me home as I continued to holler and scream. After a few minutes and half a block, we reached the house, where my distraught mother and very angry father called for an ambulance.

The ambulance ride to Kelowna General Hospital was a bit of a blur for me as I think I must have passed out from the pain. I vaguely remember the overhead lights inside the ambulance and mom squeezing my hand as we drove. I was quickly wheeled into emergency where I do remember the doctor who came to operate on me. He had this calm, commanding presence and he tried to distract me by handing me his Motorola pager and having his assistant blow up a surgical glove into a balloon and draw a face on it. I vaguely remember getting a needle and I could hear several people behind me working intently and talking as they stitch up my head, which I’m later told was split open by the force of the plank hitting me.

At one point after the pain has subsided and I stop crying, I hear the doctor say “It’s all over son. You’re going to be OK. Mom and Dad are going to take you home now.  I can feel mom tugging on my hand, motioning me to get up from the bed. Much to my surprise, I am able to get up, and as I do so, I see that the white pillow on which my head was resting is almost entirely stained with blood.

Surprisingly, this was not the last time we explored the construction sites on our street. I remember several other instances, especially during the winter, where we went into some other sites to check them out. This one time, we went onto a site, which was covered in snow and in -10 degree weather. Inside the house, was this propane heater, which consisted of a high velocity propane flame which swirled around a large circular chamber that was open on both ends. It is absolutely incredible that something so dangerous could be left operating unattended like that. But such were the times. Of course, boys will be boys and we all took turns holding piece of wood up to the flame to light them on fire. What is really extraordinary is that we didn't get caught. We simply played with fire until we got bored and left. 

Another time we climbed up a hill, which was really a small mountain that lay at the end of the street.On this mountain was a large quarry, which was operated by an excavation company that ran dump trucks up and down the street several times a day. We were forbidden from going up there, but that didn't really stop us. This hill was extremely rocky, but one day, Mike decided that it would be a good idea to take some cardboard boxes up to the top of the mountain and slide down the "natural slide" that we all thought we could see carved out the side of the hill. It did not go well.  We arrived at the top of the hill, some 200-300 feet up and laid out the cardboard flat on the "slide" and positioned ourselves before pushing off with our hands. "Wheeeee!" we all shouted as we slid down at high speed. All seemed to be fine until we got about 1/2 way down. By then, the sharp granite rocks had all but shredded our cardboard mats to pieces and we were now sliding down in our bare clothes. We were going far too fast to stop and besides there were no branches or anything we could grab to arrest our descent. Pretty soon the rocks ripped through our clothes and we badly skinned our exposed limbs. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, we were all crying from our injuries and limping home. 

The Jerk - Happened in Spring 1981

My brother and I each had a near miss with a pedophile when we lived at Simon Fraser University in 1981. The first one happened to my brother and the second one to me.

One afternoon my brother and I were returning home from school. Simon Fraser University is located on the top of Burnaby mountain in Vancouver and our school was located in Burnaby at the bottom of the hill. Every day, we would get on the 135 bus that stopped on the main street outside the school and it would take us up Burnaby mountain and drop us off at the entrance to the university – an imposing concrete block bus loop at the centre of the campus. Right near this bus loop there was a large concrete dais that rose above the Traffic and Security office that was located at the foot of the bus loop. What this dais was for, I’ll never know, but on this particular day it was occupied by a balding bespectacled man holding a V8 video camera. He was just sitting there and in order to get home we had to walk on a sidewalk that went past him. As we walked past he called out for us to stop and listen to a proposal that he had.

I remembered what dad had told us so many times about talking to strangers and motioned to my brother that we really should get going. He told me that I could go, and he would continue to talk to the man. So without thinking much of it I went home and let mom and dad know that he would be back soon. About an hour later my frantic brother comes through the door short of breath and panting. We all asked him why he is like this and he relays his story:

My brother: “Right after Chris left, the man told me that he was making a movie like “The Jerk”, and that he needed to get a shot of me with my pants around my ankles, just like the guy in the movie had. He said he would give me $5 if I did this.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie, “The Jerk” was Steve Martin’s first major movie. In it, in one of the very last scenes, he walks around in a bathrobe with a pair of pants around his ankles.  This picture of Steve Martin is what appeared on all the promotional posters for the movie. We both knew this, so to my brother, the man’s request did not seem that absurd. My brother continued to relay what had happened:

“So this guy walks me over to the large wooded area to the south of the bus loop and tells me to get out of sight and take my pants down like in the movie. I freaked out and ran straight home.”

Within a half hour dad had called Campus security and reported what had happened. We later found out that the campus security arrested the man. This happened right around the time that Clifford Olsen was abducting and murdering children in that area, so the incident seemed like a real near miss. I often wonder what would have happened to my brother if he had not run like he did. Now, you’d think that I would avoid getting myself into a similar predicament, but we often cannot see where a situation is headed until it is too late.

One thing that I loved to do at S.F.U. on Sundays was to roam the Academic Quadrangle. The AQ was a central area of the university in the shape of a square with four massive corridors that joined up into a square and around which all the lecture theatres and classrooms were arranged. The AQ had banks of vending machines and photocopiers on each side of the quadrangle.  Often, people would drop change on the floor that would roll under the vending machines and photocopiers. I could often find a dollar or two in dimes nickels and quarters – enough to go to the cafeteria and have a burger and a slice of pie or something else that I liked.

One Sunday I was doing exactly this when a young man who looked a lot like Mark Hamill from Star Wars comes to the vending machines to buy a chocolate bar. He was wearing a white lab coat. I can’t quite remember whether he started talking to me or I started talking to him, but soon I was talking to him, in complete disobedience of the rule that my parents had established.  Eventually he invited me to go see his lab, which I thought was really cool. How could I pass that up? He took me to a lab in the chemistry wing where there were tons of flasks, Bunsen burners, glass retorts and burettes. I have no idea what he was researching but he took a real interest in showing me the mini-computers there and what the various messages on the green LED screens were and explaining what they meant.

I must have been there for several hours, and eventually he suggested that we go explore, like I was doing before, but since he had access to places I’d never been and couldn’t normally get into it seemed again like an invitation I’d be crazy to turn down.  Eventually we wound up in lecture theatre C9000, which was the largest of the Chemistry lecture halls, designed for first year courses with upwards of 300 students.  He took me up to the front panel where the lecturer normally stands. There was a very large number of controls and light switches – all with labels: house lights, panel light and a dimmer switch for the panel light. There were also hoist controls for the projector screen that came out of the ceiling for overheads. He told me that there were tons of interesting things in the ceiling that he wanted me to go and get for him. He suggested that if he lowered the screen down to floor level, that I could climb on and he would raise me up and I could climb into the ceiling. By now I was getting scared. I knew that this was definitely not something that either of us were supposed to be doing, but I felt powerless to leave. He had just the right amount of authority, that I felt that I had to comply.

I reluctantly agreed and he lowered the screen. I climbed on and he raised it up. I got REALLY scared as I was now about 30 feet in the air and all I wanted to do is get down. I kept begging him and he kept saying that no, he wouldn’t lower me down. “I’ll jump!” I said. “No, don’t do that! You are over 30 feet up. You will get badly hurt!”. But initially he did not agree to lower me down. I kept threatening to jump. Finally, he agreed to let me down, which he did. Once I was back on the ground, he motioned me over to the central console. Then when I was there he turned out all the lights in the theatre and ran up into the seats.   Now I was really freaked out, as it finally dawned on me what was about to happen. I fumbled with the switches and turned on a switch to the panel light, so I could at least see right in front of me.

TURN YOUR PANEL LIGHT OFF! Came his coaxing voice from the lecture hall. I turned the dimmer switch to reduce the amount of light but did not turn it off. TURN YOUR PANEL LIGHT OFF! came his voice again. I dimmed it a bit again. “YOU’RE NOT TURNING IT OFF. THERE’S GOING TO BE TROUBLE IF YOU DON’T TURN YOUR PANEL LIGHT OFF!!” Oh shit! I was out of options and I started glancing around the room frantically. Then, at the moment my eyes met up with the entrance door, which was left open, I saw the shadowy figure of a campus security guard just standing there listening. He must have just arrived there and was trying to figure out what was going on. Suddenly, I flicked on all the light switches looked over at the figure and shouted: “There is a man after me right over there!” and I pointed to the empty seats. The man popped up from behind one of the desks where he had been crouching. The security guard went over to him and demanded to see is ID. The last words I heard him say were “I don’t have any ID on me sir.” I ran towards the door on the opposite side of the lecture hall and out into the courtyard. Once I realized where I was, I ran straight home without looking back. When I got home, I was in a lot of trouble for talking to a stranger.

I’ll never know whether he had ill intentions or was just playing an innocent game. But whenever I would hear about a young person being abducted and killed, I would think about my own experience. I would get an especially strong chill down my spine years later when I read about serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy; especially Gacy, as he appeared so innocent to his victims right up to the point where he decided to kill them with hi infamous “rope trick”.  I often wonder what would have happened to me if that guard had not been there at that moment.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Down the Manhole - Happened in Spring 1974

My memories of Winnipeg circa 1974 are very sketchy to say the least. I was not yet three years old, so my mind had not yet mastered the ability to remember. Nevertheless, I do remember some things: how the house we lived in had these big sliding pocket doors to the living room; how there was a bathroom right off the kitchen and a very grandmotherly woman named Mrs. Sutherland who lived just a few doors down and whose house burnt down one winter night. I can still remember the red flash of the lights from the fire engine and the loud sirens waking me up that night as they raced toward her house to put out the fire.

However, one thing I do remember vividly was my disdain for clothing. I think that at that age, my Aspie sensibilities found the stimulation of fabrics against my skin to be a bit too much. I’m not really 100% sure what the reason was, but I do know that I loved being nude – much to my mother’s embarrassment and frustration.

My mother liked dressing us up in nice clothes that she bought from the Bay, back when the Bay was known for its quality. One day early in the morning she took me to the Bay to buy a nice spring outfit. She bought a button down shirt, new pants, and matching shoes. They were all a really nice navy blue.  She bought a number of other outfits as well since her busy schedule as the housewife of a busy airline executive (my dad worked at that time for Transair – a company that hasn’t existed for decades) meant that she couldn’t get out of the house quite as much as she wanted to. So she wanted to stock up on as much clothing as she could. She was going to need it.

There was a large park at the end of our street, and going there was one of my favourite activities. I only have very vague memories of this park, but I do remember a very large tree and the swing set. I remember that there were always tons of maple leaves on the ground, and I liked walking on them because I really liked the sound they made when I walked over them. Right next to the park was our street, which ended in a dead end and at the centre of the street at that point was a large storm drain – the kind with the wide barred grill cover. This grill fascinated me. I would go up to it and put my hands through it. Then I tried my little arms and then finally my feet and legs. Of course I got frustrated when my thighs  blocked the rest of me from going through. But I realized quickly that I was too big to fit through the grate to explore this wonderful new world that lay beyond.

However, I did discover that it was the perfect place to dispose of these very restrictive garments that my mother insisted on dressing me in. I couldn’t understand it, but the grown ups always seemed to get upset when I didn’t want to wear these things. Made no sense to me at all.

So on this day after we came home from the Bay, I asked mom if I could go to the park for a bit. She said OK and off I went.  I wandered down the street and toward the manhole. When I got there I looked around to see if there were any grown ups. As luck would have it, the park was empty and there was nobody around. So I sat down and unlaced my new patent leather navy blue shoes. Then carefully, I held the left shoe over the grade and released my grip. Plunk! Into the black abyss it went. Then the other. My feet were almost free. Then came my socks one by one down the manhole they went. I looked around some more, but still nobody was around. So I undid the buttons to my shirt. When they were undone I took off my shirt. Then I carefully stuffed it in between the bars and down it went. I let out a loud laugh that nobody heard. Then it was time for the pants – the most hated of all my clothes. Off they came, one leg at a time. These took the most effort to get down the drain, but soon they too were in their final resting place.  

It was a warm spring day, so even as I sat on the road wearing nothing now except my underwear, I do not have any recollection of feeling cold. Nope. All I can remember is the immense feeling of freedom. I decided that it would now be a fine idea to go and explore the park – what with all this restrictive clothing all but gone. So off I went. I sat on the swings, ran though some bushes and played in the piles of maple leaves. But after a while I found that I still didn’t quite feel as free as I wanted to.

After some thought, I decided that the underwear had to go too. So I went back to the manhole and looked quickly around. Still nobody, so I quickly climbed out of my underwear and stood triumphantly over the manhole holding them in my outstretched right hand between my little thumb and index finger. I thought for a minute and then let them go, watching as they fell between the bars of the manhole grate. Back to the park I went, skipping happily and basking in my newfound freedom.

About 45 minutes after I had left the house, my mother answered a very loud knock at the door. A slender, well dressed and very proper looking woman was standing there, with her hand on my shoulder and me standing right beside her looking down at the ground. “Madam. Is this your son? I found him in the park. He says that he lives here.”. My mother just stood there for a moment aghast with embarrassment. She quickly collected herself though and said to the woman that yes, I was her son and she assured her that only 45 minutes earlier I had been fully adorned in a very nice navy blue outfit from the Bay. 

Postscript to the Second Three Stories

In the closing remarks of my last post, I had said that I would explain the significance of the second three stories posted as they relate to living on the Autistic spectrum, and why I chose to post them together.

Most, but not all of the stories in this book I am working on will provide a real life illustration of at least one aspect of life on the spectrum. Many of the stories will illustrate the same aspect more than once, which I hope will enrich the reader's understanding of our makeup and will better enable the Neurotypical reader to recognize instances where they are likely dealing with someone who is on the spectrum. Of course, this is not merely a book about Autism or Asperger's, but rather is a book about my life in which I attempt to illustrate what it is like to live with Asperger's. So I will include details and stories which I think are interesting or relevant to the overall story I am trying to tell.

These three stories illustrate the following behavioral or mental characteristics often associated with Asperger's:

  • Delayed processing of spoken words.
  • Literal interpretation of spoken words.
  • Obsessive thinking or general stubbornness. 
  • A tendency to not look to the experiences of others in forming opinions.
  • A tendency to think in extremes.
I will now try to explain how the stories illustrate thee things.

Delayed Processing of Spoken Words

One thing that often happens when others are speaking to me is that there will be a delay between me hearing what they are saying and reacting appropriately to what was said. Sometimes this delay can be a few minutes long, so that many people will assume that I wasn't listening to them, and may become annoyed or angered. In truth, what was usually happening was that I either got distracted by another stimulus (i.e. something I felt, smelled, tasted or saw) in that moment, or I was so engrossed in what I had processed just a few moments before that my brain has not had a chance to catch up. This is particularly the case if someone is describing something to me that conjures up vivid images in my mind. Sometimes, I can get so fixated on what my mind has imagined in actively listening, that my ability to process what the other person is continuing to say in real time is inferior to what a neurotypical is capable of. Other times, if I am focused on something and someone tries to talk to me I will often try to listen while continuing to do whatever it was I was doing before they came along. However, this rarely works out well, because I just do not have the ability to listen attentively and focus on something else at the same time. I actually doubt that many people do, which is why most neurotypicals in that situation will either stop what they are doing and pay attention, or they will indicate that they are too busy to talk and suggest that the person come back another time. But we Aspies do not like to switch gears, and often don't know how to tell someone to come back, so we try to do both, with often unfavourable results. 

In the story about the Strange Roof, I referred to the incident with Marcel where we found the abandoned fort/clubhouse with all the neat stuff inside. In this case, I became so engrossed by all the stuff we had found that I really did not process Marcel telling me that he would sic the bears after me if I didn't come home with him when told to. I kind of acknowledged that I had heard something and what I heard was "It's time to go soon.". So I just continued on doing what I was doing, which was looking over all the neat things that we had found. But then, within just a couple of minutes, my brain had processed the second part of what Marcel had said and by the time I turned around to respond, he was gone. That was when the panic set in. This brings me to the next aspect. 

Literal Interpretation of Spoken Words

It is a relatively well known fact that people on the spectrum tend to take things that they hear literally, being naturally unable to detect sarcasm, to tell when other people are joking, or to detect social situations where someone is trying to be gracious and does not mean what they say. Over time though, as we are exposed to more and more situations, we can learn to remember to recognize the real meanings, so that eventually we can learn to detect sarcasm, or jokes. The third category of what I will call "social pleasantries" are much more difficult for us to navigate, and some of my stories are about situations that arose when I took some of these pleasantries literally. Some examples:

  • "We should do lunch sometime" - most of the time what this really means is that the interaction felt awkward and forced for the other person, but they are too nice to adopt the Bill Lumburgh approach of "Yeeeaaahhh. If you could just go ahead and never bump into me in public again, that would be grreaat. Mmmkay?"
  • "How are you?" - need I say more?
  • It's not you, it's me" - It took me years to realize that it was always me. 
In the second story, I think that even most six or seven year old boys would instantly recognize the impossibility of Marcel going and seeking out a hungry bear, explaining to said bear that I was misbehaving, describing what I looked like and that bear coming after me. But somehow, it seemed completely plausible to me in that moment, and so I panicked. Over the years, I have learned to develop my critical thinking skills to the point that I am much better at recognizing BS when I see it or hear it. But I am still occasionally fooled by stuff that most people wouldn't be fooled by. 

Obsessive Thinking And General Stubbornness

The second and third stories illustrate two obsessions that I grappled with during my teens and early 20's:

  • The pursuit of a relationship with a woman.
  • The pursuit of the highest possible grades in my studies at school.
For most people, neither of these two things would be pursued to obsession. Most people would agree that it is a wonderful thing when you can connect with and form a relationship with someone that you are compatible with. However, most well adjusted people will avoid those who want to be in relationships for their own sake. Likewise, most people at school or university would agree that getting good marks is a laudable goal, but very few would destroy their mental and physical health in pursuit of those grades. 

In the second story about me losing my virginity, my obsession for the attention of women started with my desire to experience sex. Because I had experienced this before having developed a normal intimate connection with a woman, it altered my very view of what healthy intimacy was. Without understanding what was happening, I was consumed by a desire to experience a better feeling than I had with the woman in the hotel room. Where many neurotypicals in that situation would conclude that either they weren't ready to be having sex, or that sex with prostitutes actually sucks (no pun intended), my conclusion was that I just hadn't been with the right woman

Beyond that, I was also witnessing my fellow teens forming relationships with one another. It seemed like the perfectly normal thing to do and like most people on the spectrum, I wanted to be normal. So my solution was to try and obtain or experience, what I thought others around me were experiencing or doing. The problem though, was that I never stopped to consider what makes other people want to be in relationships in the first place. I did not realize that it often takes several casual dates for someone to assess compatibility, so when Sarah, in the second story broke off our relationship, it seemed almost like a betrayal to me, rather than a completely innocent attempt by her to end the relationship once he had determined that we weren't compatible. I took it completely personally, which I guess it was, but in retrospect, I can see that Sarah did not intend to hurt me. However, a growing sense of entitlement that took hold over me would not allow me to accept her wishes at the time.

In a sense, while I thought I wanted to share intimacy, what I was really doing was objectifying the targets of my affection. I was taking, rather than giving. This is why all these years later, I cannot even remember what Sarah and I talked about. The only thing I can tell you about her is that she loved baseball and the Chicago Cubs. In contrast, I can remember a lot of deeply personal details about my first two wives, even though my first, Lea has been dead since 2010 and we broke up in 2000 - over 16 years ago. Granted, we were together for almost a decade, whereas Sarah and I only shared a few weeks together. But my approach to my relationships had changed by the time I met Lea, which is why I think I was able to share real intimacy with her. At the time that the third story took place, I felt a very serious lack in my life at not having a steady girlfriend. I really felt like there must be something wrong with me, since it seemed to me like every other guy had one. Of course, that was not true, but to my mind at that time, it was. 

The obsession over grades was borne out of a desire to be respected, if I could not be normal. Back in grade school, I noticed that several of my classmates, who were also the top students in my class, were treated especially well by the teachers. They were generally taken at their word and usually believed in situations where it was their word against someone else's. So it seemed logical to me that getting good grades was they key to being respected. And so, without further consideration, my decision was made: I would do whatever it took to be the best student I could be. I would make my family proud. That decision was made when I was 11 years old in grade 6. For the most part, I was extremely successful, having some of the highest marks in high school and university, when I finally did graduate with an overall GPA of 3.99 out of 4.33 in April 1994. However, I never considered the possibility that this pursuit could be taken too far and that there was a point at which the extra accomplishment was probably not worth the sacrifice. 

This logically leads to the next two aspects. 

Not Considering the Experiences of Others in Forming Opinions or Making Decisions

I was pulling all-nighters on a regular basis at university and camping out in the AQ, and I was the only one! Most people would notice that nobody else was doing this and would think "gee, maybe I should take it a bit easier. Maybe I don't really need to memorize every single history reading word for word. Maybe I am not meant to study for 16 hours a day, every day." But not me. It never occurred to me that I was doing anything wrong. Last year I walked away from a lucrative position that I had as a partner of a mid-sized Toronto accounting firm. I was set for life basically. I would have made a guaranteed $150,000+ per year for as long as a wanted and I walked away. I did it to start my own business buying and selling postage stamps to collectors.  If someone had told me not to do it because either their business had failed, or they knew someone who started their ow business and failed, I would think "It was unfortunate for them". But I wouldn't think for a minute that it had anything to do with my own chances for success. I have heard from countless sources that most small businesses fail and yet that did not, in any way deter me. 

Yet, when I look around me I see many, many people living lives of quiet desperation in which they have given up on their dreams and instead of living, they are merely existing.  Why? I think it is because most people are very heavily influenced by the experiences of other people. Being in tune with others and learning from their experiences is seen as tapping into a collective wisdom, a social consciousness. I will consider the experiences of others, but I will not assume that someone else's goals are the same as mine, and for that reason, I do not typically look to the anecdotal experiences of other people when forming my opinions or making decisions about things. This is both a great weakness, but it has also proven to be a great strength. It is one personality characteristic that I have noticed is shared by many others on the spectrum that I have either known personally, or that I know of. 

By the way, I am told that almost mot writers fail to get their first manuscripts published, and yet here I am with something to say that I think other people would be interested to read. I may be wrong, but I hope not. 

A Tendency to Think in Extremes

In most of my pursuits I have always gone for extremes, and it is only recently that I have started to mellow out and adopt the attitude that less extreme is perfectly ok. In the second story, I felt this crushing guilt and shame for having sex with a prostitute for months, and then after confessing to my mom, I felt almost nothing at all, once my conscience was clear: two extremes. In the third story, I felt that life was pointless if I had no hope of getting Sarah back and my grades fell. For me it was either total victory, or total defeat. This extremism affected nearly every aspect of my life through my 20's and a about half of my thirties. By my mid-thirties, I began to realize the folly behind this way of thinking, and so I began to develop some self-awareness at this point. 

However, it is an ongoing battle and with the new business, not falling into old patterns is difficult and requires me to be constantly vigilant and open to listening when my current partner Steph notices that I am slipping back. 

So this hopefully sheds some more light on the significance of these stories to the overall story of my life with Asperger's. These two stories set the stage for much of what was to  follow for the next 15 years or so: past my first life with Lea and well into my second with Kay (not her real name). 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Of Unrequited Love and Attempted Suicide - Happened in December 1989

University, as I explained in other stories was a brutal experience for me between the time I started in September 1988 and the time that I met my first wife Lea in June 1990. A combination of social awkwardness, pent-up anger towards my parents, having my sense of self-worth totally tied up and defined by my academic performance and a complete lack of any structure or boundaries proved to be disastrous for me.  My dorm-mates tried to help me and for the most part they meant well. But they had never dealt with someone on the spectrum and certainly not someone who had all the issues that I had. In addition, I am an incredibly stubborn person and nearly every time I was advised by my peers not to drink too much, not to get too exited over a girl I fancied and not to over-do it on my studies, those pearls of well intended and freely given wisdom fell on completely deaf ears.

I made it through three straight semesters at SFU before the very deep cracks in my psyche became very clear to both myself and everyone around me. Toward the end of my third semester I came within two professor’s signatures of withdrawing from the university under extenuating circumstances from extreme burnout. My dad, in a frantic telephone call urged me to come out for dinner with him (he was in town briefly) and he managed to talk me out of not completing the withdrawal process. I finished the semester with a 3.53 GPA, which wasn’t bad, but far below my expectations of what I thought it should be, which is absurd when I look back on it. At dad’s and my uncle David’s urging it was decided that after the semester was over that I would go on a two week camping trip with my uncle David, aunt Melanie and their three children. I went and managed over the course of the trip to feel rested. I read Bernal Diaz’s “Conquest of New Spain”, which was required reading for the Latin American History course that I had signed up to take in the following semester, during the trip by the campfire. I felt ready to take on the world again just a few weeks later.

I should explain at this point that one of the reasons why I felt so burned out was that my dad wanted me to complete my university education in 8, back-to-back semesters without taking a break, other than the 2-3 weeks between semesters.  I had just turned 17 when I started, and his employer, City Polytechnic of Hong Kong was willing to pay for my university education until I turned 19. So If I went back to back, my university education would be almost completely free. I hated him for this at the time, though as a father now, with limited financial means I can understand where he was coming from. But from the time I was 11 years old dad had promised me that as long as I kept my grades up he would pay for my university education. He had never told me until after I started that he expected me to complete it in this manner. I looked around me and saw that nobody else even attempted to cram a 4 year degree into 2.5 years. So I felt in some way like he was reneging on his promise and passing the buck to his employer, since I had sacrificed most of my free time during my teenage years to study and keep a straight A average.

So with newly found piss and vinegar I started the fourth semester. I had signed up for a full load of history and archaeology courses as this was now going to be my major. After two semesters of science courses, I realized that although I could get A’s in science, I could not do so without an incredible amount of effort and I would never be like the guys who wandered into an exam and had forgotten that there was going to be a mid-term and then managed to blow the grade curve and get 98 anyway. Let me tell you that there is nothing more humbling then setting foot in a lecture hall of 300 very smart people for the first time and getting decimated on an exam. You can go through high school being the top, or the second from the top student in your school, as I did. Heck, by the time you finish you think your shit is so hot it could pass through solid steel. Nothing, and I mean nothing in high school prepares you to be surrounded by 300 equally smart or smarter people than you. Most people I think are used to dealing with this humility very quickly, but I was not one of those people. Rather than accept that I wasn’t going to be amongst the best, but continuing with my major anyway and doing the best that I can, I ran like hell away from it after just two semesters.

I did ok until week 4 and then I got sick. Very quickly my fitness routine went out the window and very quickly I fell behind in my readings and my term papers. The stress began to mount and once I recovered from the flu that I had contracted I went to my professors and told them that I wasn’t sure if I could make it through this semester. I had the option of unconditional withdrawal at this point with no notations on my academic record. So I wanted to convince them to let me withdraw later if the pressure got to be too much to handle. It seemed like a reasonable step to take. In the meantime I set up camp in the Academic Quadrangle (AQ) and began the long process of trying to catch up. My modus operandi in this regard was to find a spot along the AQ – they had many carpeted benches with long tables where you could work. Most of these had ashtrays where you could smoke as you worked. And the benches were long enough that you could sleep. What I did was attempt to pull as many back to back all-nighters as I could to catch up. I would bring my books, a change of underwear and load up on change – quarters, dimes and nickels and then head out and find a spot. When I got too tired to keep my eyes open, I would get up and walk to the nearest vending machine and grab a coffee. I would then walk once or twice around the perimeter of the AQ, which was four very long corridors about ½ km long and a good 300 feet wide, and usually by the time I reached my spot, I would feel sufficiently alert to continue studying for another few hours. Eventually, when I got so tired I absolutely had to sleep, I would set my watch alarm for 2 hours or so and would lie down on the bench and sleep. Sometimes I did this for a period of three or four days. I did it in the summer semester for my biology final, in which I got 91% in, so it was a method that at least in my mind produced results.

Eventually though my body developed a very high tolerance for caffeine and the effectiveness of the coffee began to diminish so that by the time I needed those “wings” to help me catch up on my readings, they weren’t there for me. I was always against smoking and had admonished my mother to quit my whole life up to this point. I knew if I smoked I would be a complete and utter hypocrite. However, I could not think of any other way to get the required fortitude to get through all the work that lay ahead. So I reasoned that I would just smoke as needed to get me through the next few weeks. With that I went to the Shell gas station that lay at the edge of Gaglardi Way, which was the main ring-road that surrounded the campus on Burnaby Mountain  and bought my first pack of cigarettes. They were Player’s light. Oh my god they tasted awful! But within about 5 or 10 seconds of taking that first puff, I felt this complete light-headed elation – quite unlike anything I had experienced before.  Now I finally understood why my mom smoked!

I found that with these things and copious amounts of coffee, that I could stay up and alert almost as much as I wanted. Very quickly, I began to not only catch up on the immense backlog of history readings that had piled up in the week and a half that I was sick, but I also began to come up for some good ideas for my history and archaeology term papers that were going to be due in the last week of the semester.

One afternoon, while I was sitting in the main study alcove outside the Archaeology department of the AQ, a girl accompanied by a little boy was walking toward the table and asked me if she could join me as the boy needed to eat a snack. She introduced herself as Sarah and we began to make small talk. I was stuck by the softness of her voice and her warmth. She had a round face with full cheeks and lots of freckles, which I keenly studied as we conversed. Her hair was a kind of mousy blonde bordering on light brown, long and straight. She had just started her education at SFU and lived over at McTaggart Cowan Hall, another co-ed residence on campus. I knew it, but not well, as I lived in Shell House and saw very little reason to go there. Practically everyone I knew was on my floor at Shell. After speaking for a while she got up and patted the boy’s head and said it was time to go. She said that it was nice talking to me and wished me luck on my studies.

After she left I thought about how warm and friendly she was, but went back to work soon as I doubted that I would see her again. About two or three days later, I was sitting in the same spot and Sarah came by and stopped to chat again, which surprised me. I can remember being so glad to connect with her that I didn’t worry about getting back to my studies the way that I normally would. She just seemed so tender and kind. After about an hour or so, I said that I had to get back to work. She said that she had to get back as well. So she got up to leave. Just as she was leaving she said: “Why don’t you drop by my place sometime when you aren’t so busy? I’m at room 219 at McCow”. I said I would stop by when I could.

After a few days of sitting out in the AQ, I decided that I had covered enough material that I could go and see Sarah. So I made my way over to her room. She answered the door quickly and invited me in and we sat in her room chatting about everything under the sun. She was so easy to talk to and was so non-judgemental. When it was time to leave she asked me to come over the next day after I had completed my studies, and then the next. I was only too happy to do so and was beginning to feel a growing attraction to her and thought that she may feel the same way. All these visits were beginning to interfere with my ability to catch up on my work, but for the first time since I had started at SFU, I can honestly say that I didn’t care. I was finally beginning to get somewhere with a girl that I like and I didn’t want to blow it by being too focused on my work.

The fourth time I went to see her my feelings were confirmed.  After the usual conversation started with both of us sitting in separate chairs opposite one another, we very quickly moved onto her bed and were lying down next to each other. At one point she looked at me and said “Hold me.”. I took her into my arms and looked I her eyes. She moved her lips close to mine and just looked into my eyes as she moved in for a kiss. It was not my first kiss, but it had been several months since I had experienced a kiss like this and before that several years – back to the night of my first kiss in Hong Kong, which is the subject of another story. It was heavenly and all I knew was that I didn’t want this moment to ever end. But of course, as with all things, it had to, and pretty soon I was leaving to go back to my room. Could this be? I thought as I made my way back to my room. Could Sarah be my girlfriend now? It certainly seemed from the way she was behaving as though she was. But we hadn’t actually talked about our relationship and where it was going. I was feeling pretty smitten though, as was revealed by my shit eating grin that was plastered all over my face.

I would go over to see Sarah nearly every night for the next three weeks, i.e. from weeks six through eight of the semester. I was continuing to fall behind in my studies, but not so much that I was concerned. To me, seeing her was more important than anything. Sometimes we would watch her favourite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, while other times we just sat in the kitchen and ate ice cream and talked.  The funny thing is that I don’t remember the details of any of our conversations now – probably because I was too busy basking in the elation that came from getting this kind of attention from someone else. A week in, I started to think I was I love and by week three I was convinced of it. Of course, I was just infatuated, but there was no telling me that at the time.
At the end of the three weeks, Sarah went to Victoria for the weekend to see her family. We parted with a kiss and I looked forward to seeing her when she got back. I spent most of the weekend in the AQ, trying to catch up, aided now by my trusty cups of coffee and packs of cigarettes, which I was now going through at the rate of 1 a day. When I went to see her on the Monday the following week, Sarah was cold and distant. I asked her what was wrong. I was completely unprepared for her response.

Sarah: “I don’t think we should see each other anymore Chris.”

Me: “Wait. Why Sarah? What’s wrong? What have I done?”

Sarah: “Nothing Chris. It’s just that when I met you a few weeks ago, I was lonely beyond compare. I’m not anymore and I just feel that this had been getting too intense for me right now”

I was just devastated. I couldn’t understand how she could be saying this after we had been holding one another and kissing after hours of sweet conversation nearly every day for three weeks. It just didn’t make any sense to me. Was there someone else? I wondered. It never occurred to me that having done this every day for three weeks might actually be the problem.

Me: “Is there someone else?”

Sarah: “No, Chris. There isn’t anyone else. I’m just not looking for a relationship right now. I think it would be best if you left now.”

Me: “Can we at least be friends?”

Sarah: “Yes, I think so.”

I left Sarah’s room, still in a state of shock and disbelief. I handled this shock in an all too familiar way: I went into denial mode. I figured that since Sarah changed her mind so suddenly about us, that she would surely change it back – especially if I continued to be really kind toward her. I had no clue. No clue whatsoever about how attraction works, much less than relationships. I would find out – the hard way. Many. Many times.  Over the next three weeks or so I tried hard to catch up and focus on my studies, but I just couldn’t get Sarah out of my head. My mind kept on wandering and envisioning all those moments where we held each other and I just couldn’t figure out what went wrong. I just didn’t understand that Sarah was not really attracted to me and it had simply taken her just a few weeks to figure that out.

As my grip on my studies slipped in weeks 9 and 10, I could see that there was little chance that I was going to avoid an academic disaster this semester. For me that was unthinkable as I had never had since grade 7, gotten anything less than an B+-average. Most of the time, I had A’s and only in the first and third semesters at SFU did I get less than that with a 3.29-3.59 out of 4.33, which I had not considered to be too bad, given all the difficulties I had adjusting to university life. But this semester, I felt I would be lucky to get more than a 2.0 (i.e a C). The impact on my cumulative GPA would be hard to come back from, and for me, this was almost more important than life itself. I sequestered myself in my room for several days while I tried to figure out what to do. I kept thinking that I couldn’t face my parents if I quit, because for me it would be a disgrace – a black mark against all that I had worked hard to achieve ever since that day in grade 6 when I decided that I would do whatever it took to be the best student in my class and make them proud. I felt it was my duty to them because of all that they went through with me in the years before. For two or three days, I felt that there was nothing to live for. I kept having fantasies of dying and ending the torment of Sarah in one corner of my mind, and academic failure in another.

At the end of the following week, which was week 11 (there were 13 weeks to the semester), we had a dorm social dance party to kick off the start of finals. I decided to go, despite how I was feeling. Bad idea. Very. Bad. Idea. I wound up getting extremely drunk to the point where I fell down twice. After the first time I fell, I spotted Sarah in the room and approached her.

Me: “Saaaarrrah.  Willllll you daaaance with me?

Sarah: “No Chris, you are drunk. You should go up to your room and call it a night.”

Me: “Pleeease!” as I fell over again.

These two guys who had been standing nearby said “Right! It’s time for you to go!” and they got on either side of me to escort me back to my room. They walked me up the basement stairs to my room on the second floor, waited for me to open the door and then said to me sternly “Stay here and don’t come back down!”.

Although I was too drunk to stand, I was not too drunk to feel. I felt so completely defeated. I had completely humiliated myself in front of Sarah and I was never going to recover academically. I just felt like life would just completely suck and would never get better.  I went over to the built in desk that was kitty corner to my built in bed, in my 6’ x 9’ room. Next to the desk was a built in shelf that had all my textbooks and other stuff on it. I reached for a small cardboard box and removed the contents: two arrowheads that I made for one of my archaeology classes from obsidian. Obsidian is a form of volcanic glass, that is razor-sharp when chipped. It was the material that ancient native North Americans and other peoples often used to make arrowheads, knives and other cutting tools. I looked at the two arrowheads, and then at the soft, white flesh on the insides of my wrists. I knew that I could end it all in just a matter of minutes. I shifted my gaze back and forth between the arrowheads and my wrists for a few minutes before I decided to slit my wrists. But first, I had to say goodbye – first to Mike and then my parents. I picked up the phone and called Michael in Australia, where he was living at the time. I explained to him why I couldn’t go on anymore and after much begging and pleading with me, I agreed to not go through with it. After I hung up the phone, I went to call my parents collect, which was how I usually called them.

By the time the operator came on the line, I was barely coherent. I slurred out my parent’s telephone number and let it slip that it was really important that they accept this call as it might be the last time we would speak. At this, the operator must have called the RCMP, because I had passed out in the middle of the call and awoke to two RCMP officers dressed in yellow jackets in my room, along with Neil, an acquaintance of mine who lived on the 4th floor where I had lived in my first semester there. They laid me on my bed and I passed out again.

When I awoke the next morning with a pounding headache, I was surprised to find Neil sitting outside my room on the floor, next to my door, with his back to the wall.

Me: “Neil, what are you doing here?”

Neil: “Chris, I need you to promise me something.”

Me: “Ok Neil, sure. I need to get some more smokes. Why don’t you tell me on the way to the gas station?”

Neil got up and started to walk with me, down the hall and out the south exit of the building. There was a large lawn that we had to walk up and across and this eventually led down to a street, which in turn led to Gaglardi Way, where the Shell station was. We arrived there and Neil stood silently at the counter while I paid for my cigarettes and then we headed back to my room.

Neil: “Chris, I need you to promise me that you will never, no matter how bad things get, try to kill yourself again.”

Me: “Oh my god. Is that what happened? The last thing I remember was drinking at the dance and some vague image of  two RCMP officers in my room?”

Neil: “Yes Chris, they were there. You had tried to call your parents and were going to slash your wrists. The operator called the police and they came up here quick. I happened to be walking by when I saw them come to your door. I asked them what was going on and they told me. Then they asked me if I knew you. I told them that I would keep watch on you. I was worried Chris.”

Me: “I’m so sorry Neil. I promise I won’t. But I know that I have to quit. I can’t finish the semester. Not now. My parents will have to listen to me this time.

So within a few days, I had met with the head of campus security and the head of the residence about what had happened and then I began the process of withdrawal that I had negotiated with each of my professors weeks before. I called my parents to tell them of what was happening. My mom was very understanding, but my father surprisingly still tried to convince me to finish. I was firm and told him no. Then the tone of the conversation shifted to how my return to Hong Kong was to be arranged, and what was to happen while I was there in order to ensure that this did not happen again after I came back.

About a week later, I had obtained a part time job at my favourite stamp shop, Weeda Stamps in Vancouver. I had taken it to just fill in the two weeks I would be in Vancouver before I had to leave to go to Hong Kong. The job went so well initially that Mr. Weeda decided that I would have a job to come back to when I returned. I did wind up deciding to take the job rather than go back to school, much to my parent’s dismay. I spent almost two months in Hong Kong convalescing and getting my head together. Sarah was still not far from my mind and even after all that had happened, I was nowhere near accepting that there was just no future to this relationship. In fact, the entire time I was hatching a plan as to how to win her back when I returned. That all but fell apart about a week after I got back and I went to go see her. She basically asked me to leave and told me that I needed help. Even after that, I occasionally ran into her on campus, and each time it was painful, though less so as time went on. It wasn’t until I was with my fiancĂ©e Lea, that I ran into her another time, after three years had passed that I was completely fine and we sat and had a normal conversation.

I never had that feeling again -that of wanting to end my life; at least not that seriously to the point where I was ready to act on it. However, this would be the first of two romantic rejections that would have a devastating effect on me emotionally, despite the fact that in both cases, neither relationship had ever really gotten off the ground. The next of these would come six months later in September 1990. 

This concludes the next three stories that I have posted here. In my next post, I will explain their significance as it relates to living on the spectrum, as well as why I chose to post them together. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Strange Roof and The Vampire - Happened in 1977

My father had at least six or seven half brothers and sisters who were much older than him – between 20 and 40 years older than him in fact. This was because my grandfather, who I never met and who died at the age of 82 in 1962, had married twice. He was horrible to my dad and really fucked him up in a way that I could only begin to comprehend just recently, a few years after my dad passed away.
However, there was one half-brother, Taft, that my dad did have a relationship with for a number of years. Taft would have been in his 60’s when I was little and he was a very nice grandfatherly type. He lived in an area of Kelowna called Uplands Drive. Now Uplands Drive was in the section of the city where all the vineyards were located, and in the Okanagan Valley, there were many of these. Taft’s house was located on top of a hill at the end of a long winding road. His house was built on the hill so that when you went out into the back in the upper floors, you could walk out into the fields behind his property if you climbed the fence. At the basement level, there was a back yard, but it was a good 30 feet below the surface of the fields above. So there was a huge concrete retaining wall built to effectively prevent the ground from subsiding and effectively burying the back yard and every one in it.

Anyways, we loved to go exploring – me, my brother and my two cousins Marcel and Andreas. Marcel and Andreas were the sons of Taft’s daughter.  We would climb the fence and just go exploring in the vineyard fields of the properties bordering Taft’s – sometimes for hours on end. Like I said earlier, the 1970’s was a very different time. Yes this was private property and we were definitely not supposed to be on it, but as long as there was no real danger, nobody really cared. If we got caught we’d be scared off the property by the owner’s most likely or taken back home by them, where they would have had a polite chat with our parents. If something happened to us while we were there my parents would never, in a million years, dream of suing the owner of the property.
This property behind the house was a large vineyard that seemed to go on for miles, but in reality, I’m sure now that it was probably only 10 acres or so. We would walk along the property towards the point where it ended in the highway that bordered it. Uplands Drive was located off this highway, so you can get some idea of what I am referring to. On the way down to highway, the property had a feature that I have never seen anywhere since: a roof protruding no more than 2 feet from the ground. Obviously, there was a subterranean building that you just couldn’t see from the ground that must have been accessible by some kind of corridor, but it was completely baffling to me, my brother, Marcel and Andreas. We came to call it the “strange roof”.

This property would be a favoured hangout spot every time we went to visit Uncle Taft and aunt Edith. One time I went exploring on the property alone with Marcel before dinner. This time we stumbled across an abandoned kid’s for that contained all kinds of interesting stuff – an old radio, pop bottles, old licence plates for cars and hockey cards. I of course was enthralled with this new find and wanted to stay and check everything out and possibly take the loot back with me. Marcel, very shortly  after we got there told me that it was time to go back home for dinner. Well I didn’t want to go just yet. How could I? What with all this cool stuff to explore and check out. So I made my objections known and said that I would stay and check the stuff out. Marcel said that if I didn’t come home now the bears that frequented the field were going to come after me and would eat me if they caught me.  In fact, he was going to tell the head bear about me right now and off he went.

Now, at this point I do not think I was quite 6, so my reasoning abilities had not yet fully developed, nor had my ability to judge plausibility of such outlandish claims fully developed. Also, as most of us aspies can attest to, there was a time delay between my brain hearing Marcel’s words and processing them fully. I remember that for a few minutes after Marcel had left, I continued to explore happily away until suddenly, Thud! It hit me “I was going to die! I was going to be ripped limb from limb by bears! I started to panic and cry as I ran with as much speed as my legs could muster back toward the house. The entire time, all I could think of were the bears getting closer and closer and gaining on me. Twice I tripped and fell, skinning both knees and I can remember as clearly as if it were yesterday the sheer terror that gripped me as I jumped over ditches on the property and scaled two barbed wire fences to escape the clutches of these bears. Finally after what seemed like forever and with my lungs feeling like they had been torn to shreds, I caught sight of the house. I ran with my last surge of energy toward the front basement door and pounded on the door. Marcel calmly answered and I exclaimed “quick let me in!”. He shut the door behind me and calmly said “I told him to find you, but it seems like he couldn’t.”

Another time, all of us went down past the strange roof toward the road. Across the road, we could see these two houses one of which was clearly abandoned, but the other just looked scary. There were old rusted out buses and cars on the property and even an old rusty clawfoot bathtub. We were all intrigued and had to explore what lay over there. So we all went across the road and onto the other property. It was the absolute scariest place we had been. It is hard to explain, but there was just this vibe that if anyone caught us, we would not live to tell the tale. We sensed that there was someone or something in that house. Marcel dared me to go up and knock on the front door. I reluctantly agreed.

If you have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know the part in the beginning where Indiana Jones is walking in the Incan or Mayan tomb toward the golden effigy just moments before he gets ready to steal the artifact. Remember the suspense that builds as he walks along the floor and tries to avoid setting off the booby traps? Well that was exactly how I felt as I took each step toward the door – this impending sense of doom. When I reached the door, with the panes of frosted glass to the sides, and the huge brass door knocker, I just couldn’t do it. So I backed away. We eventually settled on exploring the abandoned house that was on the property and the cars and buses. It was incredible. The stuff had been there for years. The house still had overturned furniture in it and tons and tons of ivy along the floor and walls. All I could think was to wonder why it was abandoned like that.

Eventually once we were done exploring, we decided to retreat back up to the other side of the road and to watch the property from the safety of the strange roof. We sat there for what seemed like an hour and then we saw a long black car emerge from the driveway on the far side of the property. As the car pulled towards us we caught a glimpse of the driver. We saw what appeared to be a black cape lined with blood red. He was a vampire! That was our consensus as we left the property and began to walk back toward the house. We never went across the road again. 

Popping My Cherry - September 6, 1985

It is the coveted right of passage for every young adult: the moment we lose our virginity, by having sex with someone. For some of us, we are fortunate enough to lose it to someone we care about, while for others, we lose it to someone who in the longer term is completely inconsequential to us. For some of us, we manage to retain our virginity into early adulthood, while for most of us, we lose it when we are still in high school and are the least equipped to deal with the emotional ramifications.

My moment would come shortly after I turned 14, a week after arriving in Hong Kong.  I had been building up the urge to experience live sex for some time:  the past year at least. I was a very horny young teen and shortly after discovering masturbation, became really quite hooked on the high that I got out of an orgasm. Of course, popular culture in the form of Penthouse Forum stories and movies portrayed sex as being the ultimate in pleasure that one could experience and the media’s portrayal was very, very convincing to someone on the spectrum. We aspies are generally much more impressionable than most people are, especially when the information coming at us is coming from a source that we think is reputable. I was no different in this regard. I completely internalized most of the messages that I had absorbed like a sponge about sex and its importance, that I had been exposed to from the age of 8 onwards. My older brother was also very influential, constantly bragging to me about his exploits  (all of which were pure fiction, unbeknownst to me at the time). This only served to fan the flames of my curiosity and desire.  Towards the end of our time in Australia, around early 1985, my brother offered to take me to see a prostitute if I would save up the required amount from my weekly allowance - $35. I was tempted more than once, especially when he described how amazing it would feel. I, being impressionable of course, would immediately begin to imagine women, like those that I had fantasized about delivering the ultimate to me in pleasure, and because I was so young, doing it in a very caring manner. I had so much to learn about reality – and learn it I would as my other stories will illustrate.

At one point early in 1985 I told my brother that I wanted him to take me. For the next two weeks every time I touched myself I would fantasize about the upcoming visit to the ultimate prostitute.  However, I was conflicted with what I perceived as the immorality of the act. While I absorbed and internalized the messages that the media portrayed about sex, I also absorbed and internalized all the messages about morality that I saw on the news every so often. At that time prostitution was actually illegal and it was referred to as the profession of ill-repute by the media. One of my strongest motivators throughout most of my life, except for a period where I just lost myself during my second marriage, was to “do the right thing” – to “be a good person”. So as much as I wanted to experience this release, I was concerned that it wasn’t the right thing to do, and that I might not be able to live with myself if I did. So during that two-week period between me telling my brother that I would take him up on his offer, and the arranged date of the visit, I would oscillate between excitement and dread. Finally, the day before the event I chickened out and told my brother that I just couldn’t do it. He seemed to be very understanding about it, which came as a surprise to me. That would have been about 4-5 months before my 14th birthday.

Shortly after this, my dad announced that he had gotten a new lecturing job – in HONG KONG. We would be moving there shortly after my 14th birthday, at the end of August. My mom would not be coming with us, staying behind in her job until December of that year. Why would remain mystery to me until I was old enough to understand the true state of my parent’s marriage at that time.  We arrived in Hong Kong at or around August 30, or August 31, 1985. I can still remember vividly the view as the airplane descended to the long-defunct Kai Tak Airport in Kowloon, as well as the blast of warm, humid air that hit us as we stepped out of the plane onto the metal stairwell that led to the tarmac below. Yes, even in 1985, we actually walked onto the tarmac. The long-mobile corridors that connect jumbo jets with the gates, that passengers take for granted now were not yet in widespread use and it was still customary to exit directly onto the tarmac and make our way into the terminal buildings.

Those first few days in Hong Kong were overwhelming in terms of the different stimuli that greeted my senses: sights, sounds and smells that I was not used to. We stayed in a hotel called the Empress, which was located in a popular tourist area in Kowloon called Tsim Tsa Tsui. The Empress was not a luxury hotel by any stretch of the imagination, and certainly by Hong Kong standards.  However, looking back it was not bad. We stayed there for a solid month before our apartment would be ready for us and living in any hotel for a month is hard. One of the things that was really difficult for me as an aspie were the constant noises. There was a crew of road workers who literally jackhammered at the pavement what seemed like 24 hours a day and were right outside the hotel. There were many nights that I couldn’t get to sleep until very late.

One other thing that really struck me and got my juices going was the widespread availability of pornography. Everywhere you walked in Kowloon, there would be several street vendors with newsstands. These newsstands would feature an entire wall of newspapers and magazines, many of which were pornographic. There were no hard core magazines of course, and these didn’t appeal to me anyway. But there were large numbers of soft core ones. Some were the usual well known Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler, while there was also a generous selection of locally produced Cantonese magazines, which piqued my curiosity. Coupled with the fact that there were topless bars in nearly every block near our hotel, meant that I was almost constantly bombarded by sexual stimuli several times a day:  in the morning on my way to school; on my way back and every night at dinner, as dad made us roam Kowloon every night looking for a suitably affordable restaurant at which to eat. I can still remember his cut-off price for dinner: $30 HK per person. That is about $5 CDN for dinner, which sounds impossibly cheap, but surprisingly there were lots of places that you could eat at that time for that price, and sometimes even cheaper than that.  Of course, that probably has a lot to do with the very lax regulations that likely existed back then as any walk down an alley past the open back doors to many kitchens would reveal.

This constant stimulation proved to be almost too much for me. Within the first couple of days, I began to seek permission from my dad to go out on my own with some of my savings in search of appropriate wank fodder to try and relieve some of the sexual tension that had been building up. My brother must have noticed that this was happening because about 4 days into our stay in the hotel, he said he could arrange to have a girl come right to the hotel.  We actually had a unique opportunity in this regard: dad had for some reason arranged for my brother and I to have adjoining rooms, but his room, that he stayed in with my sister, was located at the end of the hall in the corner. There was at least one room between my room and his. Thus he would never be able to hear what went on in our rooms. Again, I begin to get excited at the prospect - all the more so now because I was curious at the thought of losing my virginity to a Chinese woman.  I had grown to regard them all as beautiful, with their high cheekbones, straight black hair and delicate eyes, although this perception would give way to a less romanticized perception of their beauty the longer I lived there.  So my brother arranged that on a Friday night, which was September 6, 1985, I would call an escort to come to the hotel. I know that my first day of school was the Wednesday of that week, so this happened on my third day of school.

In the evening after our usual dinner routine, dad, my brother and sister headed back to the hotel. My tension started to build. My brother had told me earlier that week that if I backed out this time that he would never help me get laid again, but I do not believe that he ever intended me to actually go through with it. I took this to heart, so that this evening I was determined to go through with our plan. We got to my room and flicked on the TV. There was a large easy chair in the corner of the room where my brother sat, while I picked up the Yellow Pages and looked up “escorts”. I found a number and picked up the phone to dial it. I dialed the number and a voice answered: “Whey?” (hello in Cantonese). I asked “How much is a massage?”. The voice changed to English and told me $200 HK ($40 CDN).  I had $1,500 HK in savings that dad had given back to me earlier that day. I said that I would be interested in having them send a girl over and proceeded to give my hotel details. I hung up the phone and began to wait for the inevitable knock on my room door.  On the TV was some obscure made-for-TV movie that escapes me now. My brother and I settled in to watch. 

After about half an hour my brother sat upwards in the chair and said “Chris, it’s OK. You don’t have to go through with this. You have proven yourself. I can call them up and cancel.” I was long past the point of no-return now. “No, I’m doing this.” I said. We argued for a few minutes, and at the end my brother accepted that this was happening and said “Well OK Chris, but don’t spend more than $500 HK ($100). A few minutes later, came a loud knock on the door. I went to go answer it. My brother scrambled to get to the door between our rooms, but I opened the door before he could get there. So instinctively, he ran back into the open closet that faced my bed. It was full of clothes, so he wasn’t easily visible, but he would have had a completely unobstructed view of what was about to happen.

The woman at the door was indeed Chinese and probably was about 5’6, with short, jet back hair. She must have been in her 40’s or maybe her late 30’s but was not young at any rate. She came inside and asked me “You with someone?”. I said that I was alone. Then she asked me “You 14?” I said “N, No, I’m older.”. I asked her how much it would be for “everything”. I really didn’t know what else to say. My brother had told me that if I asked for everything, I would get laid. She responded that it would cost me $800! I told her that I couldn’t afford that and the most I could give her was $500. She insisted that it would be $800 and that it was normally $1,000, but since she could see that it was clearly my first time that she would make it $800. I reluctantly agreed and heard a small “thump” in the closet, which must have been my brother hitting the ground and thinking “Damn it!”. The woman got up and went to her purse. She pulled out a red paper envelope and handed it to me. She explained that what was inside was “lucky money”, and it was tradition to give it to a man at the moment he loses his virginity. I opened it, and inside was a crisp $10 HK note. So the whole thing would only really cost me $790.

I went over to the bedside table and took out a box of condoms that I had bought a day before. Even at 14 I was well aware of the risk of AIDS. The famous actor Rock Hudson was in the news then as the first celebrity to be suffering from the disease and would die just a few months later.  I quickly stripped down to nothing but my socks and sat on the edge of the bed. The woman helped me put on the condom and then lay back and prepared for me to enter her. I did so and immediately I felt almost nothing. I was so incredibly disappointed. This was nothing like what I had been led to believe this was going to feel like. “It must get better”, I thought. So I began thrusting inside her. While the sensations got a bit better, it became very quickly apparent that I was not going to reach orgasm this way, so the woman directed me to get up and lie down beside her. She removed the condom and in a very caring manner stroked me until I came.  Then she got up to shower.

Almost immediately a wave of regret hit me like a ton of bricks. The feeling of guilt and shame that overcame me over the next few hours was almost indescribable.  I just felt numb. After a while I knocked on the bathroom door. She answered, revealing her soap covered body. I asked her if she needed a cab and she said that no, she would make her own way out.  I went back to the bed slowly and just sat there.  Eventually the woman left and then my brother emerged from the closet asking me “why did you spend the $800 bear? I told you to spend no more than $500!”. He must have seen the despair on my face, because he sat down beside me and put his arm around my shoulder and said. “What you did isn’t wrong Chrissy. But you must never tell anyone about this. Not even mom or dad.”.  For the rest of the night we watched movies on the Hotelevision system which ran movies like Wrath of Khan and Trading Places back to back in a continuous, never ending loop. I did anything I could to keep my mind off it. The guilt and shame would haunt me for the next four months until mom came to Hong Kong and I unloaded my burden on her.  Turns out my dad knew about it all along, as the hotel manager had approached him the next day to tell him that an escort had gone up to my room. I guess either he wasn’t comfortable confronting me about it, or he decided to let me sit with what I had done, which in a sense, was the worst possible punishment.

Mom’s reaction was not what I expected. I had thought she would be disappointed, but she seemed to be more in wonder of how I could undress in front of an older woman and have sex with her. She told me that if I ever wanted to do this again, I should talk to my father who would make sure that I didn’t get ripped off again. While this was a relief initially, for some reason it didn’t sit well with me. I felt some awkwardness for a few days after, but gradually, the guilt and shame began to recede until eventually I felt completely normal.

This would turn out to be probably the most pivotal event in my life, for reasons that would not become apparent for many, many years. One of the things that guides us morally is the concept that we will be unable to live with ourselves if we do certain things. That notion prevents us from taking many unkind, ill-thought-out and selfish actions. However, I learned with this experience that while it was very difficult and uncomfortable for me to live with myself for a time, it was indeed possible. As a matter of fact, it got easier when I did the same thing all over again, this time on my own. It forever changed the way I would view intimacy and sexuality and turned the whole process on its head. While most teens progress from holding hands and kissing to sex, my development was completely ass-backwards. My first kiss wouldn't come until late in 1987 at a pool party in Hong Lok Yuen.