WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: Excerpts from Chapter Ten of My Book Describing Having Asperger’s

Anyplace like this – open spaces, rolling meadows covered in bright green grass with mountains in the distance – is my happy place. Image courtesy of pngtree.com

 

Here are a few passages from my soon-to-be self-published book on my life having Asperger’s in the mainstream, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”.

These excerpts describe my experiences as a forty-something, approaching-middle-age adult on the high-functioning autism spectrum;

The chapter is called “Frustrations In My Forties, With A Helping Of Hope” – which I believe explains it all…

 

I would be anywhere – in my house, or out and about – doing my thing, when all of a sudden a flashback of something socially stupid that I did or said, or a memory of someone like Marlon* putting me through hell, even though it had happened decades before those horrible reminisces would suddenly pop into my head with such clarity, they might as well have occurred that day.

The trauma resulting from these flashbacks would be to the point where I would scream “NO!!” inside my head in order to try to get them out, Sometimes I’d scream “NO!!!” out loud because the flashback and trauma would be so overwhelming.

This PTSD, combined with the faux-pas I committed that was a part of trying to live, be accepted, and liked in the neurotypical world on my terms, all led to a level of frustration that was so pronounced that it got to a point of, well…

Remember the 1995 movie Leaving Las Vegas?

That’s the movie where Nicholas Cage won the Oscar for Best Actor playing a raging alcoholic who, when he loses his job and everything else due to his dependency on booze, moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death and ultimately succeeds in that goal, but not before meeting and falling for the proverbial “Hooker with a Heart of Gold”, played by Elizabeth Shue (who got a Best Actress nomination for her efforts).

Well, for a long time that’s how I felt, dating back to when I quit my last job as an after school teacher in Inglewood.

Did I start hitting the Jack Daniels or hook up with a working girl of the evening?

Of course not, but whenever I saw Nicholas’ character imbibing on the Vegas Strip and the surrounding streets, I couldn’t help thinking that I could relate to how he felt; how he saw absolutely no way out.

What triggered these urges in me were the acute feelings of oppression; being yelled at (in my mind), told what to do or what not to do in a way that (again, in my mind) made me feel like the one doing the yelling and ordering about saw me as an inferior less-than-human being, as that seemed to be the only time he or she ever communicated with me in any way when all I was doing was something that society has always said one should do:

Be Myself.

For practically my entire life, the messages I had received time and time again was that the world would universally respect, accept, and embrace me if I was myself and didn’t try to emulate anyone else.

Incident after incident, not just during my forties but seemingly my whole life, told me in no uncertain terms that the notion of “be myself and I would get respect” was nothing but a boldface lie – at least as far as I was concerned as I would never intend to speak for anyone else.

How does my being on the autism spectrum tie into all of this, you may be asking.

While I have described different episodes that highlighted my anger and frustration over being rejected, condescended to and bullied for the crime of just being me and – very important – not conforming to what was considered “normal” and “acceptable” in whatever group or endeavor I was involved in,

By the time I approached my late thirties and it became clear that nothing ha changed, my frustrations over seemingly failing to be liked, accepted, and successful in the neurotypical world got to be so overwhelming that I began to voice the suicidal thoughts that – judging from that time I went to jump off the top of SMC’s football stadium after I punched that girl when she told me to shut up – had been inside me since my late teens.

A decent example of this was at one of the places where I had worked. I had mentioned it earlier, about how I was told by the supervisor that I was no longer welcome in that place of employment due to the way I interacted with my co-workers and others.

“Well, there’s nothing left to do but kill myself,” I remarked, the reality of losing yet another job sinking in.

“You don’t need to kill yourself,” my just-became former employer replied.

“Yes I do,” I thought, as the spirit of Nicholas Cage’s character in Leaving Las Vegas nestled inside me.

There were quite a few gnarly incidents like that over the next several years, when anytime somebody said something in a certain way that would make me feel picked on, put down, or like they didn’t see me as an equal human being those negative (in my mind) words would bring out the suicidal feelings; although I knew I shouldn’t take things like that personally – and was told such many times – I didn’t know how to take it any other way.

And, I must admit, still have a difficult time doing.

Of course the fact is I’m not dead (at least as of this writing as no one can predict the future and tomorrow’s never guaranteed to anyone), which along with never hitting the bottle or meeting and falling in love with a prostitute are the big differences between me and Ben Sanderson – Nicholas Cage’s Leaving Las Vegas character – as I couldn’t go through with the actual deed of taking my own life.

By blurting out my desires to take my life and not going through with it, I reckon there were a few people who saw me as the proverbial “Boy Who Cried Wolf”; it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case.

The truth was, like every other person who has ever considered ending it all, I was in roughly forty years worth of mental and emotional pain as my blurting out my desire to end my life was akin to coffee spilling from a cup.

 

 

A VERY interesting photo of an Asperger’s brain compared with a neurotypical brain…

 

 

This next excerpt illustrates two personal traits of my Asperger’s – CONFUSION and ARRESTED MATURITY & EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT…

I was at the Culver City Library and had just finished with my online work on the public computers when this lady passed by me and suddenly, with this “Eureka!” look on her face, exclaimed “Derek!” like I was an old BFF.

I was thinking “Who the hell is this girl?” as I asked, “Do I know you?”

I won’t say her name in order to protect her privacy, but rest assured when she told me who she was – and old elementary school classmate who was in my 4th and 5th grade classes,  the memories came back.

And they were not good ones as she was, while not as bad as Marlon, was one of those who had bullied me, calling me an ape and a gorilla and not only picking a fight with me when I dared to stand up for myself, but punching me on the shoulder while I was trying to do the right thing and walk away.

The confusing part of all of this was that this girl didn’t always bully me. There were times when she treated me okay and I would think, “She’s my friend”, then for seemingly no reason she would turn on me, call me some nasty name, and I would get upset to the point of sometimes crying.

It was all a lifelong part of only being able to see things in black and white as in this case – and by my estimate several hundred other cases regarding my interactions with people – it was simply too hard for my brain to not see people as either a friend or an enemy, with no in between.

As far as I’m concerned, people either liked or hated me.

And I still struggle with that at times, because those shades of gray are too complicated for me to completely understand.

Fast forward roughly 35 years…

There we were in that library, me and my old classmate, and as the memories of her bullying me returned to my gray matter, rather than rejoicing over seeing her after all those years, my emotions were mixed as I voiced what she had done to me.

To her tremendous credit, her reaction was expressed by two words:

“I’m sorry.”

Even though I did forgive her, and even though we ended up having a nice little reunion that day, my mind still couldn’t avoid bursts of PTSD that stemmed from her bullying all those decades ago.

 

ARRESTED MATURITY AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

This was and is the other personal aspect of having Asperger’s Syndrome that over time I realized was a part of the disorder that really had a grip on me – and in some ways still has.

Starting in high school, and for a long time afterward, it became quite clear that I was emotionally behind the other kids in my grade as even though they, like me, were born in 1967, it seemed like they were older than me somehow.

They had signed up for driver’s education and had gotten their permits and licenses and cars the moment they were able to while I had not only waited until senior year to take driver’s ed, ending up with a bunch of sophomores, well…if you’ve been reading this book you know how trying to get my license turned out for me.

Many if not most of them were going to wild parties and getting smashed, while with the reputation I had even the slightest thought of inviting me to those soirees was pooh-poohed.

I always found myself interacting with younger kids not only in those days, as among other things I hung around my old junior high school a bit too much during my first year at Samohi and ran back to hang out at Samo at least one a week for the first couple of years I was at college; I was even told by a couple of well-meaning guys one night at a football game that I shouldn’t “make a habit” of visiting too much.

I wasn’t that clueless; I knew deep down that my choices in who I hung with were unusual. I knew deep down that the lack of interactions with my fellow members of the class of 1985 and my preference of befriending members of latter classes was, for lack of a better term, “socially (so-called) retarded”.

Even during the class reunions I attended, although I had a nice time and interacted pretty well with my classmates, I still felt like they were somehow older than me despite the fact that we were the same age.

The thing was, not only was I not driving and not partying, which seemed to me was what roughly 90% of my peers were doing back in the day, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that stuff even if I was welcomed to those shindigs.

I specifically remember during the fall of 1983 – my junior year – the Samohi marching band getting into HUGE trouble to the point of being pulled from all of our scheduled competition tournaments save one, because of the extreme partying that the majority of the band would do after games on Friday nights, some of them showing up to rehearsals the next morning hung over, and feeling left out and like I was seen as a loser because I had no knowledge of those parties, which meant I wasn’t invited.

Looking back, it would have been a Catch-22 if I had gone to them because all the drinking, drugging, and other madness would have been completely alien to me, like I was visiting from another planet with older folks as I still had that kid mentality of “Oooh, they’re drinking and smoking and having sex!”

They were going through the adolescent growing-up process and the wiring in my brain wasn’t allowing me to, which was frustrating, being mainstreamed into that neurotypical world, the level of frustration growing over the years to the point where suicidal feelings would manifest in me from time to time, for roughly thirty years after that.

Although I still sometimes continue to think that no one really needs me, that if I died people, at best, would mourn me for a bit and then move on as if I had never existed, their attitudes bordering on the “Good Riddance” variety, these desires to end my life eventually ended due to something that happened to me – and I’m still going through – back in 2012.

The root of all my social struggles stems from this:

HAVING ASPERGER’S SYNDROME IN A NEUROTYPICAL WORLD.

Allow me to make something crystal clear, however…

I am NOT, in any way, shape, or form whatsoever, speaking for everyone in the Asperger’s community. I know full well that there are plenty of people with this condition, including some big names like Dan Ackroyd, who are thriving in the NT community and have done so for many years with independence, lucrative careers, and the like.

I am strictly speaking for myself, for THIS aspie.

 

(* = Not his real name)

 

 

A good illustration of me during my formative years, I think.

 

 

 

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STRUGGLES IN THE WORKFORCE: Excerpts From Chapter Eight of “Walking On Eggshells”

This seems like a decent image of the hard times I had while in the mainstream workforce. Photo courtesy of yourstory.com

 

 

A brief update on the progress of my book, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”:

It’s getting closer to being done!

All ten chapters have been edited for the third (or fourth, I’m not sure) time and been printed.

I just have to go back to one chapter and possibly replace the name of a place where I used to work with a pseudonym, in case such place takes offense at its mention, the way I described my experiences there.

The next step? Getting my manuscript into a sort-of book form at the local UPS store and (finally!) sending it to Lulu.com for self-publication.

As I’ve mentioned on my Facebook page, if “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” is not in your hands by December 31st of this year, then I will consider myself as having failed at this endeavor.

 

As For Now…

I thought I’d give another excerpt of the struggles I had as an adult in the workforce due to what I know now stemmed from having Asperger’s.

My (mostly) bad times during those years toiling for a paycheck were so many, like my high school days I divided them into two chapters.

These excerpts are from the chapter I call “Failures In The Workforce, 1991-1998”:

 

As I obviously needed a job and it was, as Mom put it, “desperation time”, I went in, asked for an application, filled it out at home, brought it back, and a few days later I got a phone call from them saying I was hired. I remember promising Mom that  I would “work hard and do whatever they say”, feeling a sense of relief that I was gainfully employed again and was able to find something relatively quickly after such a monumentally terrible experience at Grant School.

That feeling of relief evaporated like water in Saudi Arabia in the middle of summer as my job as a salesman fast became what I call to this day “The Eight and a Half-Month Prison Sentence”, realizing quite rapidly that working in retail was even MORE of a wrong profession for me than education was.

I hated the concept in retail of “There’s always something to do”, even when no customers were in the store and all the luggage and counters were clean, polished, and stacked neatly.

I especially hated it when, just before the 10:00 p.m. closing time, which was the shift I was always given, what seemed to be a load of customers would come into the store and I would be forced to stay after having been there for eight full hours, gritting my teeth on the bus home and doing everything I could not to scram in anguish over slaving away at that plantation; for the record, it was the only full-time job I would ever have.

And I REALLY hated it when, on a scheduled day off which gave me a most blessed sensation throughout my being the phone would ring and it would be the store ordering me to come in and work because someone had called in sick, whom I would think would be faking so I would be tortured at that personal hell hole; there I’d be, so looking forward to a relaxing day at home watching TV and what not, and I’d be forced back into the salt mines.

And on top of everything else, in the tradition of pouring salt on what in my heart was a painfully gaping wound, there was one other thing that made tat place of retail a maximum security prison hell: A certain co-worker who, like Marlon roughly 15 years before, was a flat-out bully and a word-that-rhymes-with-witch.

I’ll call her Gina*.

(Gina) was short in stature – not quite like Snooki, but in that Jersey Shore girl’s league – with pale, pasty skin and long, wavy brown hair. She had an ever-present stench due to her being a heavy smoker, reeking of tobacco as a prominent image of mine regarding her was standing outside of the store with a pack of Marlboros in hand, dirtying her lungs, other people’s lungs, and the air with those wretchedly foul cancer sticks.

I’ll never forget one particular day when she pushed me too far and I snapped, going into one of those meltdowns which are common to at least some folks with Asperger’s…

Gina and I were standing behind the counter next to the cash register. I wish I could tell you what Gina said, but like so many other incidents before and since, I’ve blocked it out of my mind due to the extreme post-traumatic stress that it would cause to my psyche.

One thing was for certain: I was feeling low and depressed and Gina must have called me some bad name or made some bad gesture that pushed me over the edge. I do remember her putting her hands in her ears like Bullwinkle and making a taunting noise after I had told her to leave me alone.

 

 

A more accurate illustration of how I felt during my years working for someone else in the workforce. Photo courtesy of businessinsider.com

 

 

The next thing I knew, I was throwing some balled-up piece of paper at her and she reciprocated by spitting her Marlboro-laden saliva at me. No, I didn’t make any move to hit her – however much a word-that-rhymes-with-witch that Gina was, at least I had enough presence of mind and respect for females to not let it come to that – but it was another albatross around my hellish luggage store neck.

You would think that my experiences at that store would improve by leaps and bounds after Gina was finally fired for her evilness a few weeks later, the owner of the store dramatically pointing at the door and telling her those two words that I so wanted to her for the longest time, but nothing could have been further from the truth as my miseries went beyond that little Lady Voldemort.

That’s why it was a foregone conclusion that I would be relieved of my duties right before Labor Day, though in all honesty they beat me to it because I was planning on marching into the owner’s office right after that holiday and tell my oppressor, I mean employer, those two little words that I had desperately desired to tell him for so long:

“I QUIT!!”

I’m quite positive that many of you are thinking this right about now…

“You should have been glad to have had that job! You were just an ungrateful, spoiled little baby who need to suck it up and grow up!”

I can certainly understand that sentiment, and despite what it seems it’s not my intention to use my Asperger’s syndrome as an excuse for my fucking up at that store – and nearly every other job I had before and afterwards. I know that many Aspies have been successful in retail-type gigs and other professions where service with a smile is required,.

However, I’m about as far as those Aspians as one could get as not only is any gig of that persuasion isn’t any place for me, I knew even before that horrible experience that I was 1,000 times more successful in situations where I was allowed to do my own thing at whatever work I was involved in.

It’s like if I had a little plot of roses growing in this huge garden, and it was my responsibility to take care of those roses in that plot, keeping those American Beauties watered and the ground insect-free.

When an overseer, I mean employer, would criticize me on how I’m doing or micromanage me, he/she is – figuratively speaking – stepping on those roses of mine for what I see in my mind as no reason other than to be a mean bully.

That’s how I felt and, to be brutally honest, still feel. Even though I understand that employees need supervising and constructive criticism in order to achieve maximum performance, I couldn’t, and still can’t help from seeing that as bullying.

That was why I HATED evaluations…at least in my mind, evaluations were always a way for bullies, I mean bosses, to remind me that I was a lesser being in their eyes, which essentially and eventually ruined me as a person with ability to sustain gainful employment as far as working for someone else.

 

No, this wasn’t where I had such a horrible time but as it’s a place that serves the public, it’s in the same league as that luggage store where I toiled. Photo courtesy of themountaineer.com

 

 

 

 

MY ONE BIG PLAN FOR 2018

An illustration of what I’ve been working on for the past few years now. Photo courtesy of thebalance.com

 

I’ll make this as brief and straight forward as possible…

For the past few years – I like to say five – I’ve been working on a book that tells my story about my social struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome in a mainstream world.

The one plan I have in this brand new 2018 year is a simple one:

 

FINISH “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” AND HAVE IT (SELF) PUBLISHED ONCE AND FOR ALL.

 

I’m fully aware that I’ve been saying that I was going to have this book of mine finished for a couple of years, but life got in the way; that, and the fact that with all the editing it’s taken longer than expected (which shouldn’t be surprising, I know).

Which is the only explanation I have for the delay.

This time I’m determined to have it done by spring or summer – the end of this year at the utmost latest.

Especially since I’ve got only one more chapter to edit, plus another chapter in which I’m considering changing an important detail in the form of renaming a place that was important to me.

If “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” is not in your hands being read by December 31st of this new year, I will consider myself as having failed at this venture.

In fact, I’m going to start my final editing and printing of chapter ten, which I call “Frustrations In My Forties, With a Glimmer Of Hope”, as soon as I finish this post today.

Then after I do that other chapter, plus a little more additional cleaning up and editing so the book will be as clear and concise as I can make it,

It should be ready to be taken to the self-publishing site http://Lulu.com.

It’s a site that an old friend told me about; after I checked it out – and saw that it was free – I was convinced.

I have no illusions of this tome, I do not expect it to make any best seller lists.

Heck, if “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” sells any copies at all, I’ll be gladly surprised.

Particularly since my purpose is not necessarily to become like J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins (she wrote the Hunger Games trilogy) in any way, shape or form, but to simply tell my story.

And perhaps give other people on the Autism Spectrum Disorder who may read it an avenue of “Gee, I went through this too, I can relate.”

Later this month on this blog I plan to write and post another excerpt, most likely from the first of two chapters detailing my failures in the workforce – which is what the chapter is called, by the way.

I hope you take the time to read it.

In the meantime, hold good thoughts for me as I go on this once-and-for-all home stretch.

 

I like this picture; not only does it show what I’ve been doing for the past decade, but the glasses make a nice touch, as I’m in need of them whenever I’m writing – or online at all, for that matter. Photo courtesy of bendelanoy.com

WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: Excerpts From Chapter Six

I can certainly relate to scenes like this, because it happened to me many times throughout my school days. Photo courtesy of wisegeekhealth.com

 

My experiences as a high school kid with Asperger’s were so many, I had to divide them into two chapters.

These two excerpts of my (hopefully) soon to be self-published book, WALKING ON EGGSHELLS, is from the chapter I call “ROUGH TIMES AT SAMOHI, PART TWO”:

 

It was like there were so many areas of my life where I was behind seemingly everybody else: kids were partying up a storm complete with the obligatory drunkenness and debauchery with me never being invited to any of those shindigs. Kids were getting driver’s licenses and cars and God, seemingly, was telling me no to doing that same thing.

Not to mention kids, particularly in that moment in time, pairing up and hooking up like crazy…

In my mind at least, people were leaving me out of things because they generally didn’t see me as cool, which I fully admit I wasn’t, and that hurt. Every time I found out about some kegger bash which I was obviously not invited to, like this one huge blowout that the band had in my junior year in the Santa Monica Mountains, I felt humiliated, degraded, and like my peers regarded me as nothing but a waste of space.

But getting back to the prom:

There I was, without a date and feeling more than ever like a dorky loser.

Mom, who was dead set on my attending this rite of passage, made a call to one of my cousins who was not only a teacher, but the coach of her drill team at her high school.

The next thing I knew, I had a date to the Samohi prom.

Just in case you’re going “Yay, that’s wonderful!” right about now…

Don’t even bother.

This date was the classic nerd-getting-fixed-up kind, complete with a girl who, looking back, I suspect was compensated by my cousin either with money or in some other way; I sensed the why-did-I-agree-to-go-with-this-goofy-mark vibe when I talked to her on the phone a couple of days beforehand, and again when the big night arrived.

She wasn’t very outgoing or friendly; it was as if she was working a shift at McDonald’s, particularly as we rode in the town car on the freeway back to her house. As I tried to tell her what a good time I had and to hug her goodbye, she kind of pulled away from me, her body language saying “Yeah, whatever, just let me out you goofy-ass mark!”

At least, though she may deny it, that’s what I’m convinced that she wanted to say to me.

After that big soiree, I told everyone that I had a fun time, essentially lying to myself as I quickly saw the light of my situation and faced the reality of it all, which was this:

I should NOT have gone to the 1985 Santa Monica High School Prom.

 

 

Except for the gender, skin color, and hair texture, this was me in high school. Photo courtesy of  yourlittleprofessor.com

 

 

EXCERPT #2 FROM CHAPTER SIX: One Last Rejection and Humiliation

It was a couple of weeks before school ended, a gorgeous late spring morning…

That previous evening, the phone rang. Mom answered it, and a few minutes later she was in my doorway telling me that I was going to be “kidnapped”, along with all of the other band seniors, at around 6:00 a.m. and taken to breakfast, which was an apparent tradition, Mom telling me, “be sure you’re ready for when they come.”

As I went to sleep later that night, I thought, “This will be fun!”

So when I woke up at around 5:30 the next morning I made it a point to shower, shave, and put on some sweats and a t-shirt to look like I was in bed as it was supposed to be a surprise “kidnapping”.

As it turned out, the surprise was on me as 6:00 came, then 6:30, and no kidnappers; by 7:00 it was clear that they weren’t coming as I got dressed and walked to school as usual, feeling mighty low as one can imagine, this being the latest humiliating rejection in a series of humiliating rejections, three years’ worth to be precise.

When I got to school, in fairness to the “kidnappers” I was told that there was no time to pick me up, which was why I was stood up, but I was told that in a matter-of-fact was like they felt that it was no big deal to do what they did. I don’t remember hearing an “I’m sorry”, and they definitely could have called me and told me to meet them at whatever restaurant they were at if they really wanted me to hang with them.

That was what hurt more than anything else.

It was like when they realized that there wouldn’t be time to pick up everyone, they saw me as the easy odd man out, a case of “Well, we don’t really like Derek anyway, so why should we do something for him or spend any more time with him than we have to?”

Not that I was the simple helpless victim as over the course of me and my band mates’ three years together, my aspieisms, verbal and otherwise, aggravated too many of them more than they would have liked and certainly turned too many of them off to me as far as friendship was concerned; I wanted to be fair in emphasizing that.

So to quite a few of my music mates, I was seemingly nothing but a geeky jerk that did and said inappropriate things, consequently not deserving to be given the time of day.

The worst part of it all was that thanks to my autistic tendencies, I often thought that people were being mean to me for no reason, just like at Will Rogers and John Adams, and just like it would be throughout college and beyond as whenever somebody reacted badly to something I did or said, my first reaction would almost always be,

“What did I do?”

I sometimes still react that way.

 

This was likewise me in high school; just change the color of the hair and the skin, add a few inches, and take away the glasses. Photo courtesy of mysaspergerschild.com

 

THE FOURTH EXCERPT OF “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” – Being Rejected By People Who Looked Like Me

While I can’t draw anything like this guy and am higher functioning, I can certainly relate to him. Photo courtesy of intersecteddisability.blogspot.com

 

THIS EXCERPT FROM MY UPCOMING BOOK – “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” – FOCUSES ON MY FEELING ALIENATED AND REJECTED BY SEEMINGLY TOO MANY PEOPLE IN THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY, SPECIFICALLY IN THE INNER CITY AS MY FELLOW BLACK KIDS, QUITE SADLY, BULLIED ME MORE THAN ANY OTHER GROUP AS A CHILD, SEEING ME AS A “GOOFY MARK” BECAUSE OF MY ASPERGER’S TRAITS.

HERE IS PART OF CHAPTER FOUR: “The Black Alienation”…

 

Mom and I went to celebrate the…festivities at a (place) which was located in a pretty much all-black (at that time) mid-to-lower income neighborhood full of people whom the only thing I had in common with – quite honestly and regretfully – was the color of our skin.

To a nine-year old boy on the Autism Spectrum who had interacted almost exclusively with white kids up to that point, I’m being brutally honest when I say that the folks in that neighborhood seemed loud, aggressive, crass, and just not very nice.

I won’t lie; it intimidated me.

During that late afternoon, I was sitting on a front porch when I was asked something about knowing how to fight.

I fully understand today that (the guy asking) was trying to toughen me up, to teach me how to defend myself and to not be so vulnerable, but he may as well have been speaking Sanskrit as I had absolutely no clue whatsoever of what he was getting at.

The next thing I knew, all these fists were landing on various parts of my body, mostly my arms and shoulders, but it seemed like a lot more body parts than that.

My attempts at fighting back at the seemingly dozens of people who by now had joined in were quite pathetic and futile as it culminated with some big thuggish-looking girl, who looked about 17 and had a big cast on her arm, clocking me with that cast, leading to some hysterical crying from me and much unhappiness as I went home that night, that traumatic memory ingrained into my gray matter for all time.

Being a sheltered Asperger’s boy, in my mind I was being bullied and abused by people who looked like me for no reason.

In retrospect, that beat down was symbolic of my alienation, ostracization, and rejection from African-American inner city culture, though in fairness I have to emphasize that nobody knew anything about me having Asperger’s Syndrome – I wouldn’t know for another twenty years – and I don’t blame anybody for any conflicts that might have stemmed from our background and socialization due to the fact that they were so different from me…

Getting back to that incident:

That episode set the tone for many of my future experiences in (Santa Monica’s) Pico Neighborhood.

Because of where I came from, I had absolutely no knowledge of what was considered “cool” as I was now living in an area where there were four liquor stores in a ten-block radius, seemingly large apartment buildings, five times the number of children running around, and alleyways with strange-looking writings on them; what the hell did I know about gang-banging and tagging?

I had no clue that among many, if not all, black youth in the lower-income hoods, being academically intelligent and getting good grades was considered a nerdy “white” thing, nor did I know about having a good part of being “cool” depending on how tough and “hard” you were; your brawling ability and how many kids you could beat up.

I was likewise ignorant of needing to have good gross motor skills, needing to be able to catch, throw, dribble, shoot, and hit a ball to be accepted, and woe be to those who didn’t wear the “fresh” fashions as to not dress like the dancers on that TV show “Soul Train”, seemingly, was a crime punishable by social death.

In those areas of “Blackness”, I failed miserably and fell way, WAY short of the mark as with my autistic tendencies, it was sort of inevitable that I would.

…when my toughness or “hard” factor was tested by the other black kids in school (Marlon* mostly, but there were others) and elsewhere by being punched all of a sudden, I either ran to a teacher or I cried like a little so-called “bitch”.

(* = not his real name)

One can imagine how that went down, my reacting the way I did instantly relegated me to being “scary” and an easy “mark”, and being made fun of accordingly. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just leave me alone or accept me as a young brother in the name of that Black Unity concept that was still all the rage in the 1970s.

 

This sort of says it all. Image courtesy of ollibean.com

 

This “mind-blindness” aspect of the Autism Spectrum Disorder rendered me as more or less incapable of knowing how to do what was necessary to be accepted and liked among too many of my fellow black kids in Santa Monica’s inner city community.

Another prominent word that too many of my young black peers in the Pico called me on a regular basis was the same name as one of Walt Disney’s iconic characters, a certain tall, skinny long-eared black dog going by the name of…

“Goofy”

That two-syllable epithet was something I heard from various kids – some of them white and Latino as well as many of the black kids – for years as “Big Goofy” “Goofy-Ass Mark”, and (pardon the expression) “Goofy Faggot” were just some of the taunts directed to me at school, on the playground, in the street, and pretty much everywhere else in that part of town. Being that I fell well short of the Pico’s coolness standard, I suppose it was inevitable that I was treated the way I was.

I imagine that some people may read this and think that I’m blanketing all African-American youth, over generalizing and saying that every black I encountered treated me like shit, bullying me and calling me all those bad names.

That, I need to emphasize, was NOT the case as I want to make crystal clear that there WERE some African-American children in the Pico who treated me well and became my friends, three of them living upstairs from me and Mom.

A prominent root of this general black social rejection and alienation (as a youth), besides having Autism Spectrum Disorder, was that being from a rural community where I was the only black kid in the immediate area that I knew of, having exactly one African-American classmate in the four years I attended school there, I was essentially an “Oreo”.

This was exacerbated by the fact that because I acted so “white” upon moving in with my mom, the white kids, by and large, were the ones that were friendly and accepting to me, and it pretty much stayed that way all through junior high and high school.

The social rejection and alienation was something I felt even as an adult as for example, during my mid-20s there was this young dude who lived next door and taunted me by shouting “Like a virgin!” (you know, that Madonna song from the 80s) every time I walked by him When I called him on it after enduring months of his ignorance he very tellingly said, “You act white!”

Along with everything else, this showed how much it hurt to have people who looked like you socially reject you.

It actually hurt a lot, to the point where I don’t feel like I’m a real part of the black community nearly enough of the time, as I feel that Black American inner city culture in particular doesn’t want me, a so-called “Goofy Mark”, around.

The pain that was put upon me during my childhood and over the years was deep, lasting, and though I know it shouldn’t has stuck with me as an adult, which is why – most unfortunately I must emphasize – don’t feel as naturally comfortable in the inner city African-American community (I feel more comfortable among the black middle class and elderly, probably because I didn’t suffer any bullying and “Goofy Mark” taunting among them) as much as I could and should, sad to say, because among my fellow blacks in the ‘hood I was shown too many times that in too many of their eyes, I was “Goofy”.

A “Mark”

A “Faggot” (sorry for the term).

An “Oreo”.

“Scary”.

“Retarded”.

 

COMING NEXT MONTH:  Excerpts from Chapter Five, detailing my rough times in high school.

 

No, I did NOT dress like this, and I was not nearly as clumsy or had his high nasal squeak, but I reckon that more than enough of my African-American peers during my childhood saw me as similar to Steve Urkel here. Photo courtesy of chron.com

 

 

 

WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: Excerpt #3

One of my coping mechanisms for when I get stressed out due to my Asperger’s tendencies: Looking at nature scenery like this…

 

Just like I did for the first two chapters of the book I’ve been working on, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”, Which I still plan on (self) publishing by the end of this year, here’s an excerpt from Chapter Three, called “The Bullied Life: We Were Just Playing”:

 

I will always recall – not at all fondly – the moment when Marlon (not his real name – if you grew up with me in Santa Monica, CA you can probably figure out who he is) first started to torment me. It’s a cliché of course, but it was as if it was yesterday instead of forty years ago…

I was in the fourth grade and had just started Will Rogers Elementary School, being among a most ethically diverse group of kids, rainbow-like in that all colors were represented after having exactly one black classmate (she was in my first grade class) during the previous four years that I went to school in Riverside combined.

It was around mid-morning when it happened:

My class, room 404, was outside on he playground with another fourth grade class, milling about on the blackish-gray asphalt in the cool, gray overcast weather that Santa Monica is famous for, waiting for P.E. class to start.

I was just standing there in line with the other nine-year olds when all of a sudden I felt this hard, sharp punch on my arm. I turned around to see who had hit me and here he was, this cocky kid with a big, toothy, arrogant-looking grin, posing like Joe Frazier with his fists up saying “Come on!”, looking like a wolf who had just spotted his prey and was getting ready for a possible meal.

It’s obvious from the perspective of a middle-aged guy that Marlon, in the grand tradition of inner city African-American youth, was “testing” me to see how tough I was, a requirement for social survival among that crowd.

Unfortunately to a nine-year old aspie, it was not so obvious to me what was going on – at all.

I had absolutely no clue whatsoever about how one needs to have a certain toughness or “hard” factor to be respected in the “hood”; I was a weirdo on the Autism Spectrum Disorder from the country, what the hell did I know about needing to fight (among other things) in order to be seen by the other black kids as “cool” as up until that time, about 99.99% of the youngsters of African descent that I knew were cousins, and even there I felt there was a culture clash as I was a rural kid with cows and feral cats as pets, playing in open spaces and hearing roosters crow in the morning, while pretty much all of my cousins were city kids from L.A.

When you put all of those factors together, I suppose it was inevitable that I would be a target to Marlon.

That little punch that Marlon gave me that morning would greatly pale in comparison to what would happen two years later in the sixth grade, the reason being that great Satan and I would be in the same class, room 502, and his unadulterated evilness would result in grade six being the worst year of  my pre-teen life as to say it was nine and a half months of hell would be an understatement.

To be fair, Marlon wasn’t the only kid in that class putting me through such nastiness that year; I’d estimate that roughly a quarter of the class, maybe a little more than that, including many of the boys, either did something or said something to me that made me feel bad in some way. One boy –  not black (to show that it wasn’t just an African-American thing) – who was harassing me said, when I asked him what I did to make him be so mean, forcefully answered, “You came to this school!”, as well as warning me to not go to John Adams, the junior high school across the street, near the end of the year.

Actually, I should have known that my social life at Will Rogers wouldn’t be great the first month I was there…

It was yet another cool and overcast morning: I was walking to the playground and was just about to step onto the wide open part of the asphalt when about eight boys bum-rushed me and , in my mind, were bugging the hell out of me, tugging at me and pulling on my shirt sleeves as it felt like I was being attacked by an invading army.

It was all a blur; as far as I was concerned I was being attacked by strangers for no reason when I just wanted to be left alone…which was why I threw a mini-temper tantrum, commencing to push one or two of those kids away and taking off running afterwards, those kids yelling “get him!” as they intended to jump me and try to beat me up. I ran to a teacher and ended up hiding in a classroom until recess was over.

I specifically recall one time when the teacher had me, Marlon, and another boy in the hallway outside the classroom door because of some shitty thing that he and that other boy did to me in class. When confronted, I’ll never forget what Marlon told her:

“We were just playing.”

This is a commonly used phrase for bullies when taken to task for their evil deeds, the teacher then telling Marlon and the other boy to leave me alone.

Needless to say, it didn’t work.

 

COMING NEXT MONTH:

Excerpts from chapter four of “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”, called “The Black Alienation”, which describes my struggles with being accepted by my fellow African-Americans, particularly in the low to lower-middle income neighborhood I spent much of my childhood in, and my trouble with completely adapting to black social youth culture after spending my early childhood years almost exclusively among whites.

 

This reminds me of what I went through during my preteen years, especially in the sixth grade – only I wasn’t a red-headed kid with glasses. Photo courtesy of aceofgeeks.net

 

 

 

WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: A Second Excerpt

A good illustration of the process of my writing this book…

 

 

As part of the process of (self) publishing my book detailing my experiences with having Asperger’s, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”, I am posting excerpts of the book on this site on a monthly basis, to get it publicity and to hopefully raise interest.

Having started this last month with a few paragraphs from Chapter One, here is an excerpt from Chapter Two, titled “Shut Up, Derek!”, which describes the times I said inappropriate things and not only never realizing they were inappropriate, but feeling oppressed, like I was denied my First Amendment right, because I wasn’t being allowed to express myself the way I wanted.

Along with describing a pretty bad incident I did and a harrowing near-incident that if successful, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Here it is:

 

“…I would be expressing myself, using what I thought was my first amendment rights in saying things, and someone would look at me with an annoying expression and say in a puzzlingly angry way, ‘Shut up, Derek!’

And my brain would always wonder, sometimes verbally, why that was said since I had done nothing wrong.

Consequently, I saw anyone who told me to shut up as an enemy, or someone who saw me as one; who hated me – or at least disliked me – for no reason, someone who was maliciously trying to deny me my basic American right to free expression, which around 350 million other residents of these United States have.

It was like everyone had the right to express themselves however they damn well pleased except me, as every instance of someone trying to hush me up made feel like I was in a North Korean prison camp being straitjacketed and chained up like a pit bull, being unnecessarily restricted by what I could and could not say.

There were several of these negative events (people telling me to shut up in not a nice way, like they hated me) that I can recall as clearly as I can recall what I had for breakfast this morning, reminders of how my aspie brain had and still has rendered me as an annoying, insensitive dork with too many people as far as my vocal interactions.

…my reaction to…(seemingly) everyone’s assessment of me fluctuated between feelings of bewilderment over people having such negative vibes regarding me when in my mind I didn’t do anything to them, and anger over these people trying to deny my first amendment right to free speech.

This anger manifested itself by me forcefully saying ‘Shut me up!’, trying to fight the oppression that according to my Asperger’s brain those who were telling me to shut it were trying t do, but even that didn’t compare in the slightest to what I did to a girl one night during my days at SMC (short for Santa Monica College, which is how we all referred to the place), which is SO hard to think about today because it was SO unforgivably heinous.

It happened during an SMC football game – the minor leagues of college football – sometime during my second year there.

 

 

Too many folks didn’t understand me back in the day because of this, which I wouldn’t even know about until the mid-90s and which socially cost me SO much…

 

 

I was commenting about the football players on the field – I don’t recall what I said and I definitely didn’t think whatever I did say was bad at all – when this girl, whom I had known since junior high and was never really friends with in the first place, her seemingly finding fault with everything I said and commenting how dumb it was, told me to…

‘Shut up, Derek. Just shut up.’

Feeling like I was being treated like shit for no reason other than being myself by someone who I felt had oppressed me that way more than once before, dating back six years to that point, I snapped and did something that NO guy should EVER do to a female.

I hauled off and punched her on the shoulder.

You are now free to call me a loser and a punk for hitting a girl; I’ll wait…

Just as you would figure, everyone was understandably pissed off at me beyond belief; I still wonder why I wasn’t suspended from school for what I did.

What happened next was a continuation of me snapping, as I proceeded to go up to the top of the bleachers, which was easily a couple of hundred feet high if not more, and started to put one leg over a wall, intending to jump off. One other acquaintance who likewise never liked me sneeringly commented that I was trying to get attention, which I don’t deny – I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.

I obviously didn’t put my other leg over that back wall and go through what at that moment I had intended to go through, else you wouldn’t be reading this book.

It was also clear that what I was suffering from along with Asperger’s was something which I honestly feel had stemmed from all those people seemingly oppressing, abusing, and bullying me throughout my life:

DEPRESSION.

After I put my leg back on the safe side of the stands, I issued my apologies to the girl who I punched and everyone else, then sat in my seat…but not really giving my full attention to the game the way I normally would due to me feeling lower tan a slug buried sixteen feet under, which I wouldn’t have minded being that night.

 

Pretty traumatic stuff, eh?

While I never hit any girls or women or attempted suicide again, there were more incidents of me feeling like I was in a prison in North Korea due to people telling to shut up for what in my mind was no reason in this chapter.

For details, read the book when it comes out.

BY THE WAY: Next month I’ll post an except from Chapter Five, “The Bullied Life”, which is self-explanatory…

 

An illustration of how I wrote my first draft of WALKING ON EGGSHELLS…