Wednesday 29 March 2017

Autism Awareness

This week is Autism Awareness week, so I thought I would share a little about what goes on in my head. My household is made up of three autistic children, me (diagnosed a couple of years ago and only then able to make sense of myself), my neuro-diverse husband and a string of usually male au pairs who work in teams of at least two. 
Until I was diagnosed, I thought I was a pretty flaky human being. Then I discovered the things that went on in my head, things that consumed my energy, were so little as to not even be "things" to a neuro-typical person. I know now that this concentration on detail and on the accumulation of detail as a way of interpreting life is what (I hope) makes my writing interesting. 
At the same time, life is like a game of minesweeper, full of hidden bombs and guesswork combined with fragments of information. It also feels like the descriptions given by sixties hippies on a trip, where tiny details explode into miracles of colour and sense. And a faulty computer, that reverts to DNA based protocols humans have not needed since we left the cave. 
Then there are jigsaw pieces missing. I can work out from the pieces around what must be there, but the part I craft from this knowledge is never quite going to replace that missing part. Gender and sexual bias for example. At uni I was forever hitting on gay men, or conversely sending out signals that suggested I was gay. I had owned bi-sexual as a label for a while by the time I met my husband but now I have a bigger lexicon I realise pan-sexual would be a better description. But I will never be able to work out your choice of labels from your behaviour. If I hadn't learnt a bigger frame of reference I would be in the same position as my children: if you have a ponytail you are probably a girl. Like football, probably a boy. 
This bit of writing has been triggered by needing to recruit a new team of au pairs for later this year. Inviting a stranger into your household is an intense experience and for me...well I've tried to be honest, but it is perhaps best analogised as explaining letter fonts to someone who has only experienced braille...

Ordinary moments become stretched and distorted, magnified or muted. The warmth from your skin as we work side by side hums through me triggering intruder alerts. Chemical messages rush, asking questions I cannot answer through conscious thought. Trying to establish the meaning of this moment. My body recognises both the warmth and the gentle scent of your skin and bodywash as being something important. A recollection. Excitement. An uncensored awareness of you as male and me as female. Danger. The explosions of adrenaline spike. I should move away. But then, the rational voice takes over. Points out I am fat and old and motherly. This heat is nothing more than when my children hug me. And, fuck, that stings. Little chemical knives to the heart and salt-pricked eyes.

Later, your hand brushes mine as you pass me a glass of water. I am as sensorially aware of you, of these seconds, as I am if you stroked me with a velvet glove whilst I lay blinded and tied. I am scalded by the guilt that washes through.

The unfamiliarity of you in my home makes every single scent and touch more vivid, and those with whom I am familiar fade to ghosts. I hear words they speak, but their meaning is lost as the sound of your breathing steals my focus.  

My body is programmed to respond to you in a way I do not want but cannot change. An organic infatuation that says less about you than it does about me, a remnant of programming from a teenage life, long shed. Lessons learnt twenty years ago mean the surface barely ripples. Rejection, repulsion and ridicule were the most common reactions to this lust, this need to drown in detail. Or it was read for what it wasn’t, an open invitation to a sexual encounter I neither wanted nor could enjoy. But an invitation I knew I had issued, so would honour, because no one likes a tease.

What if this is how you read me? A dirty old woman giving you the come-on. The saggy, wrinkly desperate mother wanting love and attention. Love my children and fall for me. I know how this could look.

I steal myself, don the mask and shield and become as normal as I can for protection. I make my actions appear unselfconscious although every second of this is planned and executed as a military campaign. I don’t want you to run.

Trapped on the page, this overload of inconsequential detail and focus on the tiniest hitch in your breathing becomes a love letter. The briefest second of eye contact becomes loaded with meaning because of the effort it takes. The pattern of your freckles and the way your hair grows into your beard are more familiar than the eyes of my lover, for he takes me with a different familiarity, in the darkness, with my face buried in the sheets. When you really know and love someone these details are not important enough for your day to day narrative.  

Love is the sound he makes when he comes and my contentment in knowing I know how that sounds. Lust is the slick and the softening of my cunt to let him in. However close this feels, however your proximity makes my heart race and my skin ache to touch you, it is a borrowed reaction. Borrowed from memory. This chemical crush is rollercoaster, demanding attention and drowning me in exhilaration, clarity against a confused backdrop. Love is the lens that clears the confusion and returns you to true importance.

So I write, because the words spill from every casual encounter. Words quantify and bind and dismiss the fire that dances across my skin in favour of the banked embers masking the fire beneath. Words have the power to capture the chemistry and place it a safe distance away. To rationalise my irrational reaction to you. 

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