Epiphany #59: “Silent Partner”

  I watched him as he sat looking angrily over the water, but seeing nothing in particular.  His arms were crossed over his knees as if he were giong to be able to fend off anything I might add to the moment.  It served the dual purpose of making him invunerable to actually listening as well.  I looked past him to the ocean and watched the sea crash against the bluff.  The waves rolled silently in, up and over the beach.

     “Do you ever think about how the waves take little pieces of the beach with them every time they come in?” He didn’t move.  His silence was rushing across me harder than the water would if I were sitting in it.  “Is this the way this day is going to go?’ I asked him.  I was trying to be gentle and keep my voice neutral, but I could hear it climbing up the scales of stress. Before long, it would sound as if I was whouting, even if I wasn’t.

     He finally looked at me. His blue eyes that were usually so clear, were stormy.  His body accused me. He only turned his head slightly. Nothing else about him opened up to me.  I didn’t know which crime I was guilty of today, but as always I imagined it was some huge relationship faux pas that I would never be able to fix. It had happened countless times before.  I had a thick cord of failed relationships that trailed behind me, tethering me to this moment, needing resolution and fearing that it would never happen.  By this time, he was looking at the water again.  His breathing was almost imperceptible.

    “All of my relationships end the same.  There’s anger and yelling, then silence followed by me crying and never understanding what went wrong. I always end up with that awful static sound in my head like when the record hits the last song and the needle skips back and forth over that little dead air space of vinyl.  Truthfully, if I get that something has actually gone wrong and I’m able to truly understand it, it’s usually too late for me to fix it. Are you going to be like all the others?”

     He didn’t move at first. I felt nothing coming from him that was a change.  I watched the water in front of us.  It rushed in and slowly drifted back out.  I looked at him. Watched him.  His hands gripped his knees until I could see his knucles glowing white. I waited.  He took a deep breath in and then blew it out.  The moment of his breath releasing seemed to take forever.  His hands moved to his head and he pulled his fingers through his tight blonde curls.  He looked down at the sand and stretched his legs out in front of him.  There was tension in his body still, but his arms went to his sides and his hands dug into the sand.  I could hear the water sweeping in and drifting out.  I could hear his purposeful breathing as if he was measuring every thought that was racing through his brain like gemstones and deciding which ones were exactly the right weight.  One leg bent back up toward his body and finally he turned toward me.  For a very long moment, I was afraid to even look at him.  I couldn’t  bear to even imagine what his face was going to tell me. I expected the worst so that I would not be disappointed. After an eternity, his throat cleared softly and I looked up at him.  He held my eyes in his gaze for the longest minute and then I felt tears well up inside of me to spill out of them.

     “Whatever I did, I’m sorry.”

     “I know, ” his voice was so quiet that I almost didn’t even believe he had spoken.  His eyes still had the hint of a storm in them, but they were clearing.  I bent my legs up and wrapped my arms around my knees.  He reached over and touched my hand.  Suddenly the whole world felt open again.

The Expectations of Pretending

      I realise now, that I have been pretending all of my life. Or at least the majority of it. When I was small, I watched everyone around me. Figuring out how they interacted, copying their words, and trying out different tones of voice. When I got older, I learned pretty quickly that something was very different abut me. It was difficult to copy what everyone else did because I could never figure out what would possess anyone to behave the way that they did. The nuances of flirting and small talk were beyond me. The girlfriend relationship of being connected by a phone cord and sharing everything trivial was lost on me. I found myself wandering through the halls of the high school feeling alone and completely detached from everyone around me. I had friends that appreciated my oddness, but it also made me a target for ridicule and character slayings. I wrapped myself up in writing fiction. I became my characters because it was too hard pretending to not be me.  I remember my parents desperately wanting me to be like everyone else. At least I assumed they did. They constantly were asking me why I couldn’t be like everyone else. So I started pretending. Because that what they expected of me.

     After graduation and a few years out on my own, I got married and realised that the life of married me was much worse off than life of single me.  My husband, who had seemed to be a soul mate at first, turned into another protagonist.  He was always asking me why I made things so hard for us and him, why I couldn’t be like the other military wives. He thought it was strange that I didn’t want to participate in clubs or other social groups. I didn’t want to go play bingo with them and put on little skits for the boys.  I did it, though, I started pretending. Because that’s what he expected of me.

     When I had my son, I suddenly realised that this little creature that I was holding in my arms was just like me. I stretched my wings out, growing with this child. Teaching him that being different wasn’t bad, just different.  I nurtured him and cultivated all of his little boy games. Suddenly, I was no longer alone. As he grew to be a man, I realised that I was pretending less and the little pieces of me that I had kept so carefully hidden behind clothes and smokescreens and other means of masks, were slowly slipping out. We managed, us two, being different together.  I was only pretending when I needed to, now. Because that’s what the world expected of me.

     As a teenager, my son struggled with some of his oddities. He was starting to realise that he was not the same. Several months later, we tripped upon the Asperger’s diagnosis. Suddenly, my world became crystal clear. All of the things about me that I didn’t understand were in front of me as if someone had put them on a big blinky yellow arrow sign and then pointed it right at me. It was delightfully simple!  We were both happy, my son and I because this meant no more pretending at all. Because this was what our happiness expected of us.

   Soon after my son’s 15th birthday, his father took me to court and got custody of him. I soon realised that I was going to have to go back to pretending. The court papers levied the accusation against me: “unfit for parenting because of autism issues”.  What did it mean? I had raised this child for 15 years with very little help, and in a moment, I was unfit for him and had made him mentally ill.  I started to learn how to pretend again. It had been years since I’d been in practice. But this is what society expected of me.

     It’s been three years since I had any regular contact with my son. In my world, I am pretending to be all of things that the court sees as fit.  I work full time and follow the little breadcrumbs through the office everyday, pretending to be okay. I take medications to keep me from screaming all day, pretending that it makes it so much easier to pretend it doesn’t matter that way.  I pretend that my heart isn’t breaking when my son calls me and says the awful things that his dad makes him say. I pretend that I have a handle on all of the feelings inside of me that are too big for anyone, especially me, to handle. I pretend to be normal. Because that’s what the court expects of me.

     I know that in his world, my son is pretending, too.  He pretends that the awful things that his dad says about me and him don’t matter. He pretends that the time will be over soon, even though it’s been nearly three years.  He pretends that he is normal because his dad does not believe that anything is wrong with him. I spent a great deal of time creating certain strengths in my son so that he would not have to pretend and now he is pretending. I guess what I really taught him was how to pretend.  Because that’s what his father expects of him.

      I don’t know when the pretending will be over. He’ll be 18 soon and maybe then it won’t matter if either of us pretend. What I do know, is that I hope that some day soon, the pretending will be over. I run all of the roles through my head and the only one that matters is the one that doesn’t make me pretend about anything anymore.  Because that’s what I expect of myself.