Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November 11

I was on my way to the post office to mail a package, and kept having to yell at the car radio. A commentator would say "vetrins," and I'd yell, "Veterans!" One guy on NPR did an amazing job of switching back and forth, back and forth between "vetrins" and "veterans," clearly putting a lot of effort into whatever it was he was trying to accomplish. Anyway, after listening to stories about veterans all morning, I arrived at the post office to mail my package. The doors were locked, the lights were out, and I was the only person on the grounds.

"But, why are you closed?" I asked the locked doors, and stood there trying to remember if it was some kind of holiday.

It sure sounds like Asperger's to obsess over the details while having no idea what's going on, but it could well be that I am just a idiot.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Any Little Thing


One day I put in the next Star Trek: Deep Space Nine dvd and started the first episode on the disk. Majel Roddenberry's voice said, "Previously, on Enterprise." Now, Star Trek: Enterprise was a show that I did not own and had not put into the dvd player. Someone else might have said, “What?! What is this?!” and hopped up to eject the dvd to take a look at it. I just sat while my brain went haywire. I call it "disorientation," but I’m not sure that word does the experience full justice. It’s like when the unexpected happens, my brain gets socked in the stomach and needs time to get its breath back. It feels horrible. That day my brain needed over a minute to start understanding what was happening. Then I said, “What?! What is this?!”

I took the dvd out to look at it. Deep Space Nine. Put it back in. Nope, still Enterprise. This does not happen. Maybe if these were illegal, bootleg dvd's it could happen, but this set was legal, straight from the factory or wherever it is dvd's come from.

So I called my children and asked, “Are you who you think you are today?” I was making a joke out of it, but I sincerely needed to hear their voices talking about their lives going along in a smooth continuation, the way the universe is supposed to go along. I needed to be re-grounded.

If this is what some autistic people are experiencing when they have a fit over some little unexpected change in their routine, I don't blame them for having a fit. I hate that feeling when my brain can’t keep up with events. If someone had warned me ahead of time, "You're not going to like this, but this dvd is defective--it's got the wrong show recorded on it," I'd have experienced surprise and disappointment, but not that horrible feeling. (Well, maybe briefly, since I still say this kind of defect just isn't possible.) I wish all unexpected or improbable things could be preceded by a voice explaining to me what I'm about to experience. It isn't so much the change that's the problem; it's the inability to understand what's happening to me during the change, that feels so awful.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

First Entry Since Moving to Bristol, TN

Greeter on the sidewalk in front of the church this morning:

"Good morning! Looks like the sun is giving you trouble this morning. Can you maneuver the steps? We've got an elevator around the corner."

What I said:

"Thank you, I'm all right."

What I thought, once I figured it out:

"Thank you, but this is my normal gait and facial expression. I'm an Awkard Person, not a hung-over race fan."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Garbage Rules

I've been moving my dad from his home of 32 years into a condo. It was hard, hard work, and my dad is not the easiest person in the whole wide world to get along with.

The last day I was there, Dad and I argued about the garbage. It started when he said he'd worn out a pair of pajamas and needed to throw them away. "How do you throw away pajamas?" he said.

The problem is that he's used to having six (6) (SIX!) outside garbage cans, plus the two recycling bins. I'm guessing the reason one man had to have six garbage cans is that he's used to administrating lots of different departments at work, and he has been taking that mentality home. All these years he has had a bin for paper and a bin for cans, one garbage can for cardboard, another for yard waste, one for kitchen garbage, and three others for I-don't-know-what, but apparently one must have been for worn-out pajamas, because he was incredulous when I told him that worn-out pajamas now go into the trash can under his kitchen sink and eventually from there into his one (1) outside garbage can.

He argued with me that it cannot possibly be right to mix kitchen garbage with worn-out pajamas. Then he argued that he couldn't fill the kitchen trash can with worn-out pajamas because then there wouldn't be room for his kitchen garbage.

I said I'd tie the bag up and take it out to the outside garbage can.

But no, he argued, that wouldn't do at all because then the outside can would fill up, and he only has the one.

I pointed out that the garbage can would hold three bags and only had one in it, that the garbage truck would be there the next morning, and that he didn't have to worry about not having enough room in the can since the two of us hadn't managed to fill it in a week so he wasn't likely to fill it by himself.

He kept arguing and kept arguing, and I kept trying to explain Garbage Math, and finally he told me not to do anything with the worn-out pajamas because the woman who cleans for him would know what to do with them when she comes on Tuesday.

I'm only 53 years old and consequently don't understand garbage.

That was our last argument before I left, and the only big one of our last half-day together. Discounting the little skirmishes (like the one over which one of us was going to walk across the room, pull out the second drawer of the desk, and pick me out a birthday card), we averaged one garbage can-sized argument per half-day, which means we had approximately 32 of them.

And today when I started telling some friends this story, one of them said that Dad sounds just like me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Open Window

People with Asperger's tend not to handle new and unexpected experiences well. One reason I have difficulty knowing what to say or do in a new experience is that my brain just stopped. For example, the first time I experienced a flat tire, the world faded around me, and when it came back, I was still standing there motionless, staring at the tire, but now a nice man was changing it for me, a pleasant surprise but rather disorienting. (For other examples, click on "Coping with New Experiences" in the left column, near the top.)

Fortunately these shut-downs are not usually so severe that I lose time like that. Usually when the new and unexpected happens, I have a jolt of disorientation and freeze up, but I'm still vaguely aware of the world as it moves on without my participation. Sometimes I also have a rush of agitation, which may be similar to the flash of anger humans often experience when we get hurt, and perhaps that's also why people with autism sometimes rage when the new and unexpected happens to them.

It seems like the kind thing would be for the world to fall still and silent to give us time to gather our wits and get caught up. But the one time that the world actually did that for me, it turned out to be anti-helpful. I'd gone to sleep with the window over my bed open to let the cool night air in-- I must have been very over-heated and sleepy when I decided to open that window since it has no screen. I'd long since removed the screen so I wouldn't have to keep getting up in the night to see if a naughty cat was finally ready to come in. Anyway, sometime in the middle of the night I woke up aware that Mmander was climbing in through the blinds over my head, though I hadn't known that he was outside. He was making a racket with the blinds, so I sat up to assist him.

We got him through the blinds okay, but then he stopped with his front paws on the head of the bed.

"Come on, Mmander," I said impatiently. I was too sleepy for this.

He didn't budge.

"Mmander!" I said.

Then I saw that something was wrong with Mmander's tail. The fur was missing.

"Oh, Mmander," I said in distress, reaching for the bedside lamp. "What happened to your poor tail?"

The light came on, I found and put on my glasses, and Mmander was a possum.

"Oh my goodness," I said.

The possum responded the way possums respond to unexpected things like when suddenly being nose-to-nose with a human. He or she froze.

"Oh my goodness," I said again. "Oh my goodness," I added.

The possum stayed frozen. We kept staring into each other's eyes, just inches from each other.

"Oh my goodness," I announced.

I guess that even though I'd never had a possum on my bed before, I'd had plenty of possum-sized cats on my bed, so the situation was similar enough to previous experience that I still had some electrical activity taking place in my head. I was, after all, still capable of speech.

"Oh my goodness," I said.

So okay, not a lot of electrical activity. Actually, I might still be sitting there oh-my-goodnessing today if the possum hadn't eventually unfrozen, backed out through the blinds, turned on the window sill, and climbed down the way he or she had come. Then my brain started functioning again, and I closed the window. Gently. It occurred to me that I didn't want to be rude in addition to having disappointed the poor possum, who probably hadn't gone to all that trouble because it wanted to be oh-my-goodnessed at.

Apparently I need the world to keep moving, as agitating as that can be. If it freezes with me, there's nothing to kick-start my brain, and then I'm capable of out-possuming a possum.

Anyway, I sat there for a few moments remembering who and where I was, and then got up, walked into the living room, and turned on a light. The General looked up sleepily from one cat tree, and The Commander looked up sleepily from the other cat tree.

"You're in the house," I accused Mmander.

He just slowly blinked at me and put his head back down.

I was ashamed of my rudeness. "Oh, I'm sorry I woke you up, boys. Never mind. Go back to sleep." And as I turned out the light, I added, as much to myself as to them, because the world is a strange and dangerous place, "Everybody . . . watch your tails."

Gen-Gen and Mmander came in and out through this window so many times in their thirteen years, the slats of the blinds broke off. This is the hole in the blinds that the possum had difficulty maneuvering through in the dark, so I assisted him/her.

This is the wooden "ladder" that I put under the window to assist Mmander because he was never as agile a jumper as Gen-Gen was. Its presence disturbed Gen-Gen, who stood looking at it apparently thinking, "How am I supposed to jump over this thing?" Mmander, who had unusually high spacial intelligence, took one look and understood it immediately. He climbed up, came in through the window, ran to the back door, and circled around the house to do it again.


And here's the new kitty, General Korrd, trying out the window-ladder for the first time. He likes to sit on the top of it each morning after breakfast, taking in the morning air, and listening to the birds. The hole in the blinds is too small for this big fellow, which means that I could replace the blinds now. But I won't. Someone might need it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Excuses

Sept. 2009


This morning I was late to class because a spider was building a web in my car. I explained to him or her that this would be a fruitless endeavor, but you know how it is trying to reason with spiders. And I told this spider what I was about to do, in its own best interest, and then started chasing it all over the car-- hoping no one was watching, particularly when I toppled into the back seat like a large sack of uncoordinated potatoes-- until I lost track of the spider and had to leave it there. All I could do was pray it would look for and find its own way out before the heat of the day killed it.

I wouldn't have been running late if one of the construction workers across the street hadn't been standing in the road waiting for me to drive by so we could have a long, friendly chat about the vulture I've been tending.

And I wouldn't have been running behind to begin with if a woman hadn't called this morning to ask me to measure my wrist. While I did that, she measured hers too, so we could then discuss our results and their ramifications. (This was not totally nonsensical since I ordered a tzitzit bracelet online yesterday, she was out of the size I'd ordered, and she was trying to make sure I got something I'd be happy with.)

I had not allowed time for talking to wrist-measurers, bird-watching construction workers, and recalcitrant spiders. That's why I was five minutes late to class.

For sixteen years my students' excuses have always involved alarm clocks and logging trucks. There's a lesson or a message or something here somewhere, but I don't get it and never have.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Naming the Bear



My daughter Elizabeth knitted a teddy bear for me. I don't understand how it's possible to knit a teddy bear, but she accomplished it, and very well indeed. He's all fluffy-hairy, but if you squeeze him between your fingers, you can feel that he's knitted. Very cool.

Perhaps because he was a prototype, or for reasons of her own, Elizabeth didn't add eyes after she was done. He has a nose and mouth, but no eyes. So one day, while General Chang the cat, the bear, and I were sitting on the bed in the afternoon sun, I was trying to decide if the bear would be hurt or offended at being named "Blind Bear."

To pave the way, I started telling the cat and bear the story of the time Elizabeth and I were watching a video when our electricity went out. I was sitting there all disappointed that we wouldn't get to finish the movie, when Elizabeth said something-or-other from where she was standing by the light switch instead of from where she'd been sitting in the chair beside mine. This meant that unnoticed by me she must have gotten up and walked to the light switch, and the only reason I could think of to do that would have been to flip the light switch. This meant that when the light had gone out a few seconds ago, it was because Elizabeth had turned it off, not because the power had gone out, which meant that the movie must still be on. Then sure enough, I could see and hear that it was, which was a happy relief.

My eyes and ears work okay, but my Aspy brain has to use reason more than neurotypical brains do in order to work out the information it gets from them.

The point of this story, I explained to the cat and bear, was that I was naming him "Blind Bear" because, like me, he sees and hears with his brain. So his name is an affectionate reminder that we are soul mates with special powers.

He sat in my lap seeming quite happy and agreeable with that, and then the General climbed up into my lap too, so I told them the story of his naming-- how as a kitten he'd so closely resembled Christopher Plummer's General Chang the Klingon, the name had seemed a natural fit for him. As I told them this story, Blind Bear and I watched the General's eyes squinting and blinking in the sunlight from the window, and we asked ourselves if this cat needs sunglasses. I was trying to figure out how to make him a pair, but then Blind Bear suddenly remembered that he's a Klingon too, so I said then he needs a warrior's sash, perhaps in blue to match his nose. And this would be great because I happened to have the authentic materials to make it from, and here we even had a knowledgeable Klingon general present to oversee the project.

We got so excited over this we woke the General, who started grumping to Blind Bear that if he could just get more naps around here, people wouldn't go around saying he needed any stupid old sunglasses, while I ran to fetch blue spray paint and bubble wrap.

It's a good thing spray paint is quick-drying, because by the time the sash was ready we were all practically beside ourselves with excitement. Blind Bear and I woke the General, and we had a very touching presentation ceremony and the General ate lunch. Then Blind Bear asked if his Mommy Elizabeth could please make him two blue eyes to match his blue battle sash. This disturbs me because next he might be asking me to change his name, and that's just so darned time-consuming.


The Generals Chang. (The children then wanted to get a second cat just so they could name him after Mark Lenard's Romulan commander, but I declared that insufficient motivation to take on the care and feeding of yet another family member.)


Klingon warrior sash, 1960's version. Made from cutting-edge technology, a product called "bubble wrap," spray-painted gold.


Then Elizabeth gave us a lemming.



and a groundhog            



                                    And she knitted a rat.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why Tell Stories

1989


One evening I was, as usual, running late taking young Elizabeth to Awana, and it'd been raining all day, so the roads were wet. I was going my usual running-late speed when I approached the Yield sign where there was NEVER anything coming-- so my habitual concession to it was to ease up on the gas while taking a quick look to the left to make sure nothing was coming. Only this time there was something coming: a pickup truck.

So I slammed on the brakes. But instead of stopping like cars are supposed to do, always do, and therefore have to do, this car skidded right through the Yield sign into the intersection, where it began spinning in a circle. This was disconcerting because in my experience, elements of scenery-- like green foliage and red pickup trucks-- are supposed to whoosh by on the sides of our vision; they are not supposed to cross the front of our vision from left to right, and certainly shouldn't soon thereafter put in a second appearance. I hate new experiences. A person cannot know what to do in a situation they've never experienced before. Well, neurotypicals often manage it, but that's because they have some kind of magic or something.

While the scenery was behaving so incorrectly, I was drawing on my memory for any kind of help understanding this, and I remembered having read something in a magazine about driving a car in a skid. I remembered it was a small-format magazine like the aptly-named Guidepost or better yet Prevention, but more likely it was a Reader's Digest. The passage had been on the left-hand page, right column, near the top. It said "when you're in a skid," something something "take your foot off the brake." I thought, "It could hardly be any worse than this," so I took my foot off the brake. This made the dreadful noise and spinning stop, which initially was a tremendous relief. But then I realized that the car was slowly rolling toward a deep ditch.

I had plenty of time to choose whether or not to re-apply my foot to the brake to prevent our going over the edge of that ditch. I definitely did not want to go into the ditch, but the directions had said to take my foot off the brake. We're always supposed to follow the directions. In fact my last coherent thought as we went over the edge and plummeted down was, "BUT I'M FOLLOWING THE DIRECTIONS!"

We weren't hurt, just-- terribly wrong. Gravity was pulling us forward instead of down, at least it seemed to me, in a manner that was most ungravity-like, and the children were now dangling over my head in their carseats, their little legs swaying in the air. After a moment of stunned silence, we all started talking at once.

Toddler David was shouting, "That was FUN, Mommy. Do it AGAIN, Mommy. 'Specially the DOWNHILL part!"

Young Elizabeth was muttering that this was like something she'd seen on Granddad's TV; she thought it was called "Demolition Derby."

And I was yelling, "I WRECKED THE CAR! I WRECKED THE CAR! I WRECKED THE CAR!" This is what I always say when I drive into something, or fall into something with the car. It's just a public service for the passengers, if any, in case they have not been keeping up with events.

The man in the pickup truck, who had realized even before the bad parts started that I was going too fast to yield, had slowed to a stop to watch from a safe distance, and when he saw that I was finally done, he walked over to tell us that he'd go to the little gas & grocery up the road to call for help. Then he came back to make a statement for the police, which turned out to be unnecessary because they said they don't have to file a report for a one-car accident. I looked at the poor car, nodded ruefully, and said, "Yes, I did this all by myself."

Or did I? While we'd been waiting in the ditch for assistance to arrive, I remembered that what the magazine article had said was, "When you're in a skid, don't panic and take your foot off the brake."

I submit that I did not panic. Don't you think it was pretty darn level-headed of me to remember as much of the article as I had? Clearly the problem was with the directions-- they should have been more memorable. And the thing that makes directions memorable is a story. That's one reason why your pastor tells stories during a sermon, to help you remember the point. So if the magazine article's author had given the directions and then told a story, (perhaps one about a wild woman in a station wagon running a Yield sign in the rain, taking her foot off the brake to stop a skid and consequently rolling forward into a ditch), and then reiterated the directions, that I might have remembered and been able to pull from memory in its entirety even when under duress. So this whole thing was obviously not my fault.

All right, so the next time I was in a skid, things went much better. We'd been caught in a snowstorm in Chattanooga. The highway was still fairly clear, but the exit I was taking wasn't, and I was going too fast for the conditions. The car skidded and slipped around in all kinds of different directions. I kept my foot firmly on the brake this time, having memorized the directions, though whether the directions applied to snow I wasn't sure, and I searched my memory in case there was further assistance available there. I remembered reading an article about an early airplane pilot who found himself in a spiral dive towards the ground.

The article had said that early pilots were taught that a downward spiral was a hopeless situation because a man cannot turn a wheel hard enough to fight against the pull of an aircraft and a planet. But this pilot acted against instinct-- instead of trying to fight the spin, he turned the wheel the other way, into the spin. Instinct says that this should make the plane plummet toward the Earth faster, but it also put centrifugal force in his favor and threw the plane outward, out of the spin. So he lived to tell the tale, and pilots ever after were taught new directions about what to do in a downward spiral.

It was a well-written article, with a gripping story that cemented those directions in my memory. So when I tried to exit the highway too fast in the snow and lost control of the car, I remembered quite clearly: when your plane is spiraling towards the ground, turn into the spin. If those directions had been relevant to my situation, they would have been enormously helpful.

Fortunately the car eventually stopped moving, all was well, and I sat there gripping the wheel recovering my wits and wishing someone would write an article of directions, with stories, about everything I was apt to do wrong on the road and everywhere else too.

To make the directions memorable, include a story.

And when you’re dealing with a person with Asperger’s, you might later tell a story or two about someone having to adapt the directions to changing circumstances. For example, when the sign says "Don't Walk," we're not supposed to leave the sidewalk. But after the person with Asperger's has mastered that direction, you might show them the scene from Rainman in which Dustin Hoffman's autistic character is already in the crosswalk when the sign changes to "Don't Walk." He stops walking in the middle of the crosswalk despite the car horns and shouts for him to get out of the street. I did much the same thing when I thought the directions said to keep my foot off the brake, so I did it even when I saw that following these directions was about to cause me to wreck. I'm not sure why I have this imperative to follow the directions. Maybe it's to compensate for lacking that magical element neurotypical people have. Maybe it's part of the compelling drive for everything to be Right and Good, or maybe it's a way of dealing with a world that is otherwise just too darn confusing. Certainly it shows literal thinking. For whatever reason, we Aspies can get ourselves into trouble when we try to follow the directions to the letter in all circumstances. So after an Aspy has mastered the directions, perhaps the next step should be to start telling stories about how people have to alter those directions when the conditions change.

Monday, February 28, 2011

But IS a Play a Thing?



At four, David saw a musical stage version of Anne of Green Gables. When the character named Matthew died, David, sitting in my lap at that point, whispered, "Is he really dead?"

"No," I whispered back. "It's just a play-- pretend."

"Are they real people?" he asked.

I had no idea how to answer that question.

We talked about the nature of theater and acting in the car on the way home, but I wasn't sure he got it, so two days later we went to see Wind in the Willows on stage. David asked me if the animal costumes were real.

I wasn't sure what he was asking.


So we talked more about theater and acting and costumes, about the differences between television and stage, and the differences between cartoons and live-action. David turned five, and over the following months we made costumes and acted out scenes at home as part of his schoolwork, to help him learn about famous moments in history and about theater simultaneously. I figured he got it.


But then we went to a living history museum, and when one of the actors asked David how he got there and he said, "in a car," she said, "in a cart?"

"In a car," he said.

"In a cart?"

"In a CAR."

We kept telling him that she was an actress playing a role of a woman in 1790, so she couldn't know what a car was, but he was so convinced that he could get through to her, we had to literally drag him off. In the car we started talking about the varied nature of theater.

When he was six and seven, we took him to see Shari Lewis and Lambchop on stage, and to Fiddler on the Roof, to Horn in the West, and other plays. He went backstage and got Ms Lewis' autograph, he got a Lambchop doll for his birthday, he started watching the Zero Mostel Fiddler on video incessantly, he laughed and grew sad at all the appropriate spots in Horn in the West, and he recognized someone he knew playing a role on the stage at a local play. I figured he finally had the concept of theater down pat.

Then we went to see Arsenic and Old Lace. It's a dark comedy, but David was eight years old by then, and he had watched our copy of the Cary Grant version on video many times, so I figured he'd be okay. But in the scene where the character Jonathan had the policeman tied in a chair and was getting ready to kill him, David stood up and asked in a worried voice, "Is this real?"

I said in his ear, "It's a comedy."

He immediately started laughing uproariously.

I don't know. I just don't know.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Conversation After I First Noticed the Trouble with the Kitchen Sink Drain



"I need a brain drain," I said. “I mean-- a brain de-clogger."

"A brain de-clogger?" David asked in a mystified voice.

"She means a drain de-clogger," Elizabeth said.

"What did I say?" I said.

"You said 'brain de-clogger.' Actually, you said 'brain drain' and then you said 'brain de-clogger.'"


I hate it when people tell me what I said.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fruit Flies


I can't for the life of me do visual detail-work. This is probably due to an unfortunate combination of 1) severe astigmatism, 2) a neurologically-based visual disorder that often accompanies Asperger's and is called Prosopagnosia because we're just doomed to get stuck with multi-syllabic diagnoses no one can pronounce or remember, and 3) the Asperger hand tremor that makes us accidentally scatter the detail-work all over the table-top because the universe apparently thinks we need yet another frustration here.

One particular day, the detail-work I kept scattering was unconscious fruit flies. We were supposed to be looking at them under a little cardboard scope to choose one male and one female for our high school genetics study.

I took so long scattering and retrieving and failing to see any difference between one fruit fly and another, they started coming around from the anesthesia and moving about, ignoring my pleas that would they for the love of an A hold still, so I gave it up, picked two at random, begged them most earnestly to be male and female, and put them into my jar. Then I pondered my history with random luck, and decided I'd better increase the odds. So I added a third fruit fly and wished them a good and productive weekend.

To my great relief, on Monday I had a good-sized herd of fruit flies. Then I spent the rest of the class period trying to figure out which were the mommy and daddy and other, and which were their wee ones, and if I couldn't see any difference in their size, I sure couldn't make out the specific characteristics of their wings or noses or whatever it was we were supposed to be tracking. Then the entire lot of them woke up and flew away, so I hid my empty jar from Miss Blaylock and spent the next two class periods making elaborate charts about the generations of my fruit fly family without their input.

In the meantime, they made their way to the school cafeteria, where they started raising their children and grandchildren with enthusiasm, and if their progeny live on, they have my blessings.




The visual disorder, Prosopagnosia, is most commonly discussed as a facial-recognition disorder, even though people who have it often have difficulty recognizing far more than just faces. Click here for more information about Prosopagnosia being more than just faces, and note in particular the last two sentences of the paragraph beginning with the words, "And at 77, Sacks writes . . . ."


Here's another link to Prosopagnosia beyond faces: see the second paragraph.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Losing My Son at the Pool



Since conversation is difficult for Aspies, I get tired quickly. So one day by the side of a friend's pool when I'd put out all the words I could, I fell silent, and my friend chattered on to fill the silence, the way neuro-typical people often do. When I reached the point where I'd also taken in all the words I could, I looked around the pool for an escape.

And immediately saw it. Where the dickens was my son? There was my friend's son in the pool, but I didn't see mine. I stood up in alarm.

My friend said something else, but I ignored her. Rude, but hey, even neuro-typicals have difficulty with conversation when their child may be drowning.

I walked the length of the pool, scanning the bottom, but he wasn't there, so my pounding heart started easing up. I stared hard at my friend's son to make sure he was hers and not mine. Most pre-adolescent males look alike to me, so I'd had to put red shoestrings in my son's shoes in order to differentiate him, but the child in the pool wasn't wearing shoes, so he could have been mine.

So I took a chance and asked him, "Where's David?" busily planning what to say if he turned out to be David.

The child shrugged, confirming my hypothesis that he wasn't David, and I turned to go look for my son.

I crossed the grass and went into the trees beyond, doubting that my son would have gone there, but it was an appealingly isolated place to continue the search. After all that talking, I really needed some alone-time. And then I heard him calling me from up ahead: "Mom! Mom!" His voice sounded strained, low, and . . . sorrowful.

So I ran. Oh, how I ran. I was gasping for air by the time I cleared the trees, and worrying what I'd do if he couldn't walk; how in the world could I carry him the distance to the house, but how could I leave him alone and injured while I went for help?

"Mom!" he called again. "Mom!"

I ran clear of the trees and nearly smack into a barbed wire fence, which brought me up short, and I saw that I'd arrived. Only the voice hadn't been saying, "Mom! Mom!" It'd been saying, "Moo! Moo!"

"You are not my son," I told her with uncommon certainty.

"Munh?" she asked in a distressed voice.

"I'm sorry," I said.

She blew through her nose.

"I can't find my son," I explained.

I walked back feeling quite foolish and found my son playing with a toy car in the dirt just outside the pool area.

"Where'd you go?" my friend asked.

"Little walk," I said, and sat down ready for some normal conversation.





Click for more information on Asperger's and Prosopagnosia.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Naming the Closet


I was thinking that after 22 years in this house, I ought to name the closet across from Elizabeth's room.

But then I dreamed that Elizabeth's room wasn't Elizabeth's room but rather a plush carpeted stairwell leading down to the dinner theater. The closet across from this stairwell was still called the closet-across-from-Elizabeth's room, so I woke up understanding that this is its name. So I guess in my next home I'll call the place where I store luggage and light bulbs "the closet-across-from-Elizabeth's room" even if it's a corner of the garage.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Plumbing



One day in the fall of 2009 I noticed a water-running sort of noise behind the bathroom wall, and immediately launched all my defensive missiles, which is to say I walked out of the bathroom and closed the door behind me. After all, a doctor had once told me that most physical problems don’t require treatment-- given time, they resolve themselves without interference.

Then I got one of those notices from the city saying they’d like me to leave some water for everyone else, thank you very much, so would I please kindly do something about the leak pronto and without further notice. So I took a steadying breath and marched myself into that bathroom, where I stood looking at the wall. So far so good, but I had no idea how to proceed from there.

Then, “Plumbers,” I thought. So I called, one came out, and he peered about here and there, noted in a despairing voice that the house is built on a concrete slab, took things apart and put other things together, walked back and forth between the bathroom and the main, and adjusted this and that.

“Ma’am,” he concluded. “How much do you like this house?”

I answered with the sort of sound a puzzled squirrel makes when you step on its tail.

He told me he’d rigged something, but that it wouldn't hold for long, so I should consider putting the house on the market. Real soon. Priced low enough to sell fast. In fact I should just take anything I could get and go.

But I couldn't follow that advice because a long series of electricians have expressed incredulity over my wiring and have warned me that it would be illegal to sell this house. So the only way out of here would be to cut my losses, pack up in the middle of the night, and disappear without leaving a forwarding address.

Here’s another problem with selling the house: by the conditions of the divorce settlement, when I sell this house, I won’t get enough of the principal to buy another house, of any size in any neighborhood anywhere, and my salary is too low to qualify me for a mortgage on another house. I know this because in the days when anyone with a heartbeat could get a mortgage, a banker accidentally laughed aloud in disbelief when she looked at the figures I gave her, and I found myself out the door and back in the parking lot before my car had quit dieseling. My salary is also too low to cover rent on an apartment with water and electricity. My salary is also too low.

Here’s the problem with selling the house that makes those other problems inconsequential, irrelevant, and moot: As a person with Asperger’s, I can't handle the unexpected. I stand blinking with no electrical activity taking place in my head. I also can't handle the unknown, change, dealing with people, or the messy chaos of packing. So after being entrenched in this house for over twenty years, there's no way I could move without at least a couple years' notice. Sorry. Couldn't.

It was a complex situation requiring time to hope it would go away. So I did that for five days, and then the noise came back and brought some of its friend and neighbor noises with it. So I called the plumber back, he looked things over, and he called in two other plumbers, who went to get their backhoe, and then a bulldozer, and some kind of industrial pump-thing on wheels, and then . . . they brought . . . a jackhammer.

Oh, my, the jackhammer. Since I didn't want to do one of my little Asperger's re-enactments of the smoke-detector-freak-out scene in Rainman, I told the plumbers I could not be there for the jackhammer, and they tried diligently to give me advance notice. But apparently plumbing cannot be trusted to always do what plumbers expect it to do, so a couple times I had to throw on my coat and gloves, grab the car keys and run out into the cold rain with no time to think about where I could go.

The jackhammer also laid a thick coat of dust on every surface of every object in the house. And it made four very deep and wide holes for me to fear falling into in the middle of the night.

I don’t have the command of language necessary to describe the overall mess of dust, mud, tools, tool boxes, men, plastic sheeting, plumbing parts, hunks of concrete . . . . Plus I'd had to empty two bathrooms, the kitchen, and the laundry room, piling the contents of those rooms into all kinds of places where they didn't belong. There was a toilet in the-closet-across-from-Elizabeth’s- room, and I couldn‘t find the mop or my underwear. The cats moved under my bed, so I had to put their plates and water bowls and a litter box under there, and the plumbers thoughtfully made a plastic sheet-shield for the foot of the bed to protect the cats from the dust and to help them feel a little more secure, and I wanted a plastic sheet-shield too.

The plumbers shoveled mud into buckets to haul outside to the dump truck parked next to the van, the pickup, the bulldozer, the backhoe, and the industrial pump-thing on wheels. And one evening I came alarmingly close to toppling into the bathroom pit while I was trying to get water from the tub faucet without letting any go down the tub drain which didn’t exist any more, in order to haul the water to the kitchen to at least soak the dishes and pots I couldn’t wash because there wasn’t a working sink in the house. For two weeks I showered at other people’s homes, and I didn’t ask anyone if it was illegal to use the woods at night because I had to whether I was crimeing or not, and yes I know that isn’t a word, but it doesn't make sense to expect people who pee in the woods to use proper English.

One day at work, while I was teaching, someone came into my classroom with a note saying that I'd just gotten an emergency phone call from the plumbers in my home. This seemed ominous, but you know the way some Aspies talk incessantly about train schedules, or frogs, or computers, or . . . ? Even a mild Aspie, when given the floor to discuss her subject, to a paying public no less, isn't pulled away that easily. I once taught in clothes so drenched I dripped all over the carpet and sloshed around in my shoes, and my wet hair hung so low over my eyes I couldn't see out; I wasn't about to be deterred by a note. All I had to do was put it in my pocket, and that took care of that.

Later I learned that the plumbers had dealt with the crisis on their own-- just a minor explosion, really, more frightening than dangerous. But they did suggest I get an electrician out there, and since I’m me, I asked if they’d recommend someone and, uh, would they mind making the call for me. (Conversing with people I don't know--or people I do know-- is difficult at the best of times. Sometimes I lose the ability when under stress. Asperger's at work again.)

It seems that a house needs something called a ground wire, and that in days of yore, builders used to sometimes attach the electrical wiring to the plumbing to make the water pipes act as the ground. Over time, the plumbing gradually rusts and begins to disintegrate, and then one day someone touches the plumbing and he or she becomes the ground. According to the plumbers, I had long been at risk of touching a faucet and being cremated, and they told me some gripping stories about people this has happened to. Cremation is actually my intention, only I thought I'd have it done after I died.

After a few weeks, the electrician hadn't come and still hadn't come, during which time the plumbers kept finding new things to dismantle and I kept jerking awake at night in order to ponder my bursting into flames. So the plumbers recommended a different electrician and made that call for me too, and the second electrician came right out and said that putting in a ground wire is a cinch, but that's because he hadn't met my house yet. Sure enough, he soon announced that he'd never seen wiring quite like mine before, and he made many exclamations of incredulity, but in the end he assured me that now my house was legal and completely safe, except for all the pits in the floor.

That watery noise behind my bathroom wall triggered an ordeal that lasted months, usually starting at 8:30 each morning and going well into the evening hours. On weekends, when the plumbers took time off to count their money, and Christmas week, when they took off to consider their blessings, the dust gradually settled, and the jackhammer stood silent in the laundry room corner like Tiny Tim’s crutch. On one of those December days when the plumbers weren’t home, a friend dropped by, so I invited her to step over the mud-mound that made a complete circuit around the house like a moat turned inside-out, and I guided her carefully around the house, a tour she concluded by announcing, “You. Cannot. Stay. Here.”

She invited me to move into her house, where I could have my own room and bath, and as an Asperger's-friendly friend, she even said that I wouldn't have to speak to anyone if I couldn't handle it. She was beyond kind, but there was nothing she could do about my being stuck Aspie-tight, refusing to budge. So I stayed.

Then the manager at work said that for reasons he was not party to this was my last week of employment.  This was my last week of employment.  After 17 years, this was my last week of employment.  So I created a spot in my living room free of plumbing-related chaos, put up the Christmas tree in it, sipped eggnog, and listened to Bob Segar sing, “We got tonight. Who needs tomorrow?” *

In January the floor man came, the plumbers took the toilet out of the-closet-across-from-Elizabeth’s-room and re-installed it in the bathroom, and finally everyone packed up their things and went home.

The day after they’d all gone, the new water heater under the kitchen sink spewed hot water while I was in the shower that is still hooked up to the old water heater and therefore should not have any effect whatsoever on the kitchen water-heater. The kitchen stopped spewing shortly after I stopped showering, which confirmed this unexpected and improbable cause-and-effect relationship between the shower and the kitchen water heater. I pulled out the owner's manual for the new water heater to try to figure out what to do in the presence of spewing, but the manual was clearly for a water heater that was not my water heater or even a distant relative. So I put a towel under the new water-heater and closed the cabinet door, determined that this time the house would just have to deal with its own problem, and for once it did. For the last year there’s been no more spewing that I’ve been able to detect with the cabinet door closed tight and no peeking.

The plumbers said they’d have to wait until the ground dried out before they could smooth out the inverted moat around my house, and in the meantime they left their machinery in my yard and their box fans and pile of plastic sheeting in my tool shed.

Elizabeth suggested, before I paid the final bill, that I sell the machinery on Ebay and then when the plumbers arrived for their check and asked where in the world their machinery was, I should look bewildered and suggest they must have the wrong house. Since bewildered is my natural facial expression, I could possibly have pulled this off, but I lack initiative, courage, and willingness to risk incarceration, so I didn’t.

It was a wet winter, so they didn’t come back until spring, and in the meantime I could not persuade the cats to jump over the inverted mud-moat like I did, so for months I had to deal with little muddy paw prints all over the floors, rugs, table tops, counter tops, furniture, bathtub, bedspreads, sheets, and my pillowcase.

Time has passed. The new pipes keep delivering water splendidly to the places where I want it, and since my water usage has plummeted to bottom-of-the-barrel levels, it must not be going anyplace where it hasn’t been invited. I still occasionally find evidence of The Great Upheaval-- a casserole dish turns up wedged between the phone books, for instance-- but I’ve stopped bursting into inappropriate bouts of laughter. I didn’t exactly lose my job after all, but my hours were cut back two-thirds, placing my salary much to close to the negative numbers, and now after a year of that, I'm starting to take the first steps towards necessary change. While not a lightening-fast response, a year's stagger-time is actually not bad for me. Coming unstuck is a slow process because change is very hard, frightening, and messy, but I’ve been thinking maybe I can deal with the messy part.



* The Bob Segar song is about a guy wanting to spend the night with a woman he doesn't really care about, which is disgusting, but that evening at Christmas time it was about taking a temporary respite from chaos and career loss. I also listened to Carrie Underwood sing "I guess it's gonna have to hurt. I guess I'm gonna have to cry. I guess I've gotta go through some things to get to the other side," which is much more uplifting.




Click for more information on Asperger's and resistance to change.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Gift


December 2003

"She asked me what I thought she should get for you. I didn't have any idea what to tell her." Dave shrugged. "So I said maybe something for the house."

He paused to examine the object again. "It isn't my fault," he added.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Little Pictures Have Big Ears

One day when Elizabeth was barely three, the story time lady at the library asked, "Does anyone know what a baby frog is called?"

There was a long silence, and then Elizabeth shouted, "An amphibian!"

So I dove behind the shelf of paperback westerns.

A few minutes later I heard Elizabeth take a pass on the juice and cookies. "No, thank you," she said in a loud and clear voice. "They might give me a headache."

So I was pretending to be engrossed in a western and wishing to goodness I'd chosen a more interesting hideaway, when suddenly a fellow mom was at my elbow.

"That's your child, isn't it," she accused me.

Long silence.

"Umm," I said.

"She's over here," the mom called to a couple of her friends, and they came over to look at me.

So I just stood there for a few moments being looked at.

"She's adopted," I said.

"She looks like you," one of them pointed out, sounding unreasonably certain of her facts..

"I'm-- adopted too," I said lamely, already suspecting they weren't going to buy that either.

They kept on not going away or never being there, so I sighed and launched into the perfectly reasonable explanation for my young daughter's vocabulary and health concerns. But it's long and boring, so you can skip it if you like:

Elizabeth was allergic to anything with wheat flour in it. She'd learned the hard way that cookies gave her a headache, plus she didn't seem to have much of a taste for things made with flour, so cookies had never been very tempting to her. And lately she'd been listening to her Critter County record incessantly, the way young children today watch the same video or dvd over and over and over and over-- (this was before videos)-- so she'd heard the woman on the record say a few dozen times that a frog is an amphibian.

See? Boring and perfectly reasonable. Any child could have done the same. But those three women left the library that day still clearly convinced that they'd met an eccentric three-year-old.  Honestly.



"I am affronted," I muttered when we got back into the car.

"What's affronted?" Elizabeth asked.

"It's when--" I stopped abruptly.  A three-year-old who started saying "I am affronted" would definitely be judged eccentric.  I had to start being more careful.  So, I thought, this is what people mean when they advise young parents to watch their language around their babies and young children.

"I know, let's sing 'Old McDonald,'" I said, and launched right in: "Old MacDonald had a farm . . . ."

"What's affronted?"

"EE I EE I O!" I shouted.

"What's affronted?!" she demanded.

"ICE CREAM!" I shouted. "Let's go home and eat ICE CREAM!"

So we did. I thought I'd won, but as soon as supper was over that evening and I was busy cleaning the table, Elizabeth asked that awful man her father what "affronted" means, and he told her. Some people have no parenting skills whatsoever.

After that I heard her say "I am affronted" to the eight-year-old boy across the hall on a few occasions but not, as far as I know, to any adults, and since the boy didn't understand, he just ignored her, she gave it up, and then in the way of very small children she apparently forgot all about it.

My daughter grew up hearing the "amphibian" story many, many times, but in the interest of not re-teaching a child to say "I am affronted," I don't think I ever told her that part of the story. Now it has occurred to me that since we're approaching her 27th birthday, it's all right. So happy birthday, my love, and please be affronted to your heart's content.


affronted: (like "offended" merged with "confronted")  when someone goes out of their way to speak (or let you know that they think) harsh things about you and/or your three-year-old. (Posting a story about someone online for public viewing could possibly be interpreted as an affront, but I think it shouldn't if the story is harmless, the intentions are loving, and person it's about is extraordinarily understanding, kind, peaceful, generous, fair, open-minded, wise, forgiving, compassionate, thoughtful, beautiful, insightful . . . . )

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Kitchen Sink

1992

On Monday, the kitchen sink clogged. That awful man worked on it while I carried water out in buckets and poured them out in the yard. By nightfall, tools and rags were all over the floor, the countertops, and the kitchen and dining room tables.

On Tuesday that awful man moved the refrigerator to the left, took out a section of the cabinetry and moved it to the right, and scattered the four drawers and their contents all over the room. The eight-year-old and I carried water out in buckets, and I bought plastic forks and spoons.

On Wednesday that awful man borrowed a 60-ft. motorized drain snake from a plumber. I taught the four-year-old to carry water out, and I bought paper plates and plastic bowls.

On Thursday that awful man dragged in the garden hose, stuffed it down the drain, and tried to push the blockage free with water pressure. The eight-year-old came in from hauling water and announced that it was raining off our roof. That awful man got the ladder, climbed up on the roof, stuffed the four-year-old's Nerf ball into the opening of the pipe the water was spewing out of, and wrapped the pipe opening with thirty feet of duct tape. He then pumped up and down on the Nerf ball like a plunger, and felt the moment the clog gave way.

On Friday I discovered that the dirty dishwater we'd been pouring onto the yard had been flowing downhill into a giant anthill, and sometime during the night the ants had packed up and moved-- into our kitchen. They’d found, unnoticed and forgotten by us, behind the tools, dirty rags, stray drawers, and bailing pots, the children's rock candy experiment.

I dragged the garden hose out of the house, put everything away, set the rock candy experiment next to the ant hill as a combination peace offering and incentive for the ants to return home, and scrubbed the kitchen down.

Over the following days and weeks, the ants and the humans struggled for dominance in my kitchen. When the ants found their way into the cupboards and drawers, I cleaned everything out of the kitchen and replaced all the shelf-paper. The ants seemed to appreciate this re-decorating project on their behalf, and they invited their friends and neighbors over to come see.

When they invaded the laundry room, I took everything out and scrubbed that room down wall-to-wall and shelf-by-shelf, to the ants' gleeful satisfaction. They started forays into the bedrooms and across my sleeping face, which started shouting, and when I started jerking awake several times a night because I may or may not have felt ants on my face or my toes or crawling up and down all over my body, I started asking around for suggestions and doing research into ant-lives and ways.

One person told me to put out bay leaves, another suggested salt, and I read that garlic would do it, or talcum powder or cream of tartar or chili powder or borax or paprika or damp coffee grounds. One by one I tried them all, without noticeable effect. Next I set out a mixture of molasses and yeast because I'd read that after an eats it, the growing yeast causes him or her to explode. I hated myself for that one, but when even that didn't faze them, I decided to use the information that a dead ant's body secretes an alarm scent that warns other ants away, so I killed about fifty of them-- I’d already crossed that ethical line with the yeast-- and I laid out the corpses in a pan under the kitchen sink because that seemed to be a popular gathering place, perhaps because it was nicely airy yet private, large enough for their conventions, and had good acoustics.

The next morning I saw that they'd carried off the fifty-- I don't know, for burial maybe-- so I killed and laid out thirty more. Those corpses were still there the next morning, so I replaced them with fresh-kills, which became an easier and easier daily routine, a clear example of a sheared conscience. Next I tried placing the dead on the various ant-paths across the countertops and floors. That meant we had to be careful to keep up with where the bodies were so we would remember to step over them and to clean around them. When I asked a friend to try not to step on my dead ants, she told me to march myself to the store for poison and be done with this nonsense.

So I went out and bought a set of those little ant houses. ("Ants go in; they don't come out.") Only these ants wouldn't go in. Day after day the little houses stayed empty even though I tried location, location, location. Ants would walk up to the door, peer in, turn up their noses and walk the long way around the little house rather than taking the short cut through it. In desperation I tried pushing a couple of them into the ant house, but they lowered their heads, locked their knees, and refused to be budged.

By this time I was starting to gibber in public places, so I broke down and bought a can of ant spray, but, like department store shoppers at the perfume counter, they just walked right through it and then went on their way. I started to wonder if the dirty dishwater in their anthill had somehow empowered them, a sort of ninja-turtles-in-the-sewers effect. And now that their little feet were tracking toxic spray all over my house, the children and I would probably die off, and the ants would take our place in the scheme of things, soon evolving enough to open the refrigerator door and to operate the faucet at the kitchen sink.

Then Mother said to try a product called Terro; ants track through it, carry it home to their wives and children, and then everyone dies a lingering death. This was horrible, but unethical behavior is a slippery slope, and I had long since lost my grip. So I bought some and put it out. That finally did it, except for a few daily stragglers, but I understand from the late-night movies that after any chemical disaster there will inevitably be a few survivors, mostly death-carrying mutants.

The ordeal of the clogged kitchen sink had lasted seven really difficult weeks, but it did not end there. Because what that awful man had felt that night through the Nerf ball on the roof was not the clog giving way, but the pipes giving way. So unknown to us, the dirty dishwater was now pooling under the house, sinking into the ground when warm, dry weather permitted, forming a cesspool when it didn't, and quietly sustaining colonies of a variety of molds, mildew, and what-have-you. For the next 3 1/2 years.

Then one very cold day, when the ground was frozen hard, I ran the dishwasher three times, and with nowhere else to go, the cesspool, molds, mildew, and what-have-you rose up and moved across my kitchen floor in a stinking, rolling, foaming gray wave.

The reason I'd run the dishwasher three times that day was that we were holding both children's birthday parties at the time. So the house was full of people who did not stay long.

It took two plumbing businesses, a bulldozer, and the better part of that winter to correct the Nerf-ball-induced damage, and then for some reason the bulldozer stayed on for weeks after all the plumbers had finally packed up and left. So later that spring I called its owners to inquire about this new yard ornament of mine and was told, "So that's where it is. We were wondering."

And that's the story of our kitchen sink getting clogged. So I recommend calling a plumber right off to avoid a dismantled kitchen, forgotten sugar-water projects, disturbed ninja ants, cesspools, disrupted parties, and fleeing guests.

Total time to fix it: 3 ½ months spread over 4 years. Total cost: $1436, countless lives, and my sanity.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Dad Drives


Dad woke up in the passenger's seat. "Where the hell are we?" he demanded.

I gripped the steering wheel tighter. I'd hoped to get away with this one without anyone finding out about it.

"No worries, Dad," I said. "We're doing great, and you can go back to sleep."

"Yeah. Where the hell are we?"

Clearly he wasn't going to just let it go. I was busted, but I'd gotten us into this, and by golly I was going to get us out.

"I'm on top of it, Dad. We're doing great. Go back to sleep."

"I don't believe I'm sleepy," he said in a calmer, conversational tone, and for a moment I thought I had him buffaloed. But then he asked, in a mildly curious voice, "Where's the interstate?" and I realized he'd started using that falsely calm voice people use when they're trying to talk down an armed lunatic.

So I tried my hardest to sound perfectly reasonable. "I have accidentally and temporarily misplaced the interstate, which by the way could happen to anyone, but I've got things well under control."

"But why did you get off the interstate?" he asked.

That really bugs me when people go and dig up ancient offenses instead of letting the past go. It's past, people. Live in the now, I say. Carpe diem and stuff.

But Dad has always been unnaturally stubborn, so I had to describe the repetitive thumping that had me concerned that we were losing a tire or possibly the undercarriage. ("That was just the way the highway was paved," he said, so I told him I knew that, and he said if I knew that then why did I exit the highway, and I said okay, I know that instead of knew that.) Anyway, I'd pulled off to check the tires but had found myself in heavy traffic and couldn't turn left to get us headed back in the right direction, so I'd ended up turning right, but again due to heavy traffic couldn't turn where I wanted to, and then a very rude little blue car had prevented me from taking my second choice either, and one thing had led to another, and now here we were.

Now that I was finished with the nuisance of having to explain every little thing, I went back to concentrating on my driving, which after all was the important thing here, and spotted a gas station we'd been about to pass so I took perhaps an overly-sharp right turn and barreled us almost up to the door of the station.

"What're you doin'?" he shouted.

"Committing a crime, Dad. I'm stopping to ask for directions." By this time I was getting out of the van. "It's no good trying to stop me because I'm a hardened criminal." And for a dramatic exit I added, "It was my upbringing."

Just as I preparing to slam the door in a a theatrical finish, he asked, "You need me to come in with you?" in a tone of sincere concern and a desire to be helpful.

I gave a strangled howl of frustration.

* * * *

"Do you know where we are?" he asked as soon as I opened the door.

I climbed into the van.

"Do you know the way now?" he asked politely.

I leaned over the mess between the seats and started pawing through it.

"Which way do we go?" he asked impatiently.

I was too busy with important stuff to fool with conversation. Finally I found a pencil and paper and turned to go.

"Pam," he said insistently. "What are you doing now?"

"I AM GETTING PENCIL AND PAPER TO WRITE THE STUPID DIRECTIONS DOWN ON!" I yelled at him, and stomped back inside the service station.

So even though he's never mentioned the incident again I'm pretty sure that's one of the reasons why Dad always stubbornly insists that he's going to drive.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Part-Time Cat



A stray cat kept running into our house. Since he wasn't lurking in our driveway all the time, just a couple times a week, we'd forget and leave the door open a crack so one of our two cats could let himself in. We'd hear the door pop open, and there'd be this stranger cat. He'd gobble our cat food, drink out of our kitty fountain, climb our cat trees, sleep on my bed, and leave.

So we shrugged and did what we could to appease our two boys, who thought that they should be the only people allowed to eat their food, drink out of their fountain, climb on their trees, and sleep on my bed. The children and I kept the peace as best we could. It was an odd situation-- the cat was well-groomed, very well-fed, and didn't seem to either need or want a home. He just wanted our stuff. So we didn't give this part-time cat a name; we just started referring to him as "Sweetie" because that's what my sister-in-law called her children and it seemed so much nicer than the things I tended to call mine.

One day my daughter Elizabeth discovered that the cat we called Sweetie had ticks, and she picked six off him, including several on his behind of all places. Her working on him back there made him nervous, which made him gassy, which made the task quite unpleasant, and he wasn't even our cat. But once she knew that the cat needed help, it would have been ethically wrong not to provide it.

Being de-ticked was so traumatizing, he had to run into the kitchen to gobble up 4 plates of cat food to make himself feel better, and then to jump up on my bed to throw it all up again. I had just made myself a nice plate of spaghetti and had gotten all ready to curl up on the bed with the newspaper to have my lunch when this occurred. Since the 4 plates of cat food were accompanied by some very long, squirming worms, I did not have lunch that day, and that's when the cat formerly known as Sweetie came to be known as Biohazard.

That evening a neighbor told us she thought the cat might belong to some people on the next street over, so we went over there to ask because they needed to know that their cat had worms. We found the right house all right, because there was Biohazard with his two identical siblings. But which was a sibling and which was Hazzy? We examined their noses, listened to their meows, and thought we maybe had identified him in the line-up, but we weren't sure.

Then Elizabeth said that while removing those ticks she'd spent a lot of time staring at his behind, so she was sure she'd recognize it.

So THAT'S why we were standing in a stranger's front yard at night, holding one of their cats head-down and examining his butt by the light of their window.

And being people of good character, we'd do it for any of you too. Watch for us.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Dentist


"Bite down," the dental assistant said.

I did. The plastic plate dug painfully into my gums and pinched my lips and cheek.

After the x-ray, my tongue explored the hurting spots, which tasted of blood. I leaned back, breathed in deeply, and tried to pretend I was somewhere, anywhere, else. But my gums hurt, I was freezing, and my imagination couldn't tune out the high-pitched scream of a drill going in the next room.

The dentist came in, we exchanged brief greetings, and I leaned back, trying to relax. He tried to hide the needle below my line of sight, but we both knew darn well it was there, and I felt the cold of the metal a moment before it actually touched the skin. There was a little prick, my eyes and mouth suddenly watered, and my tongue twitched with the instinct to investigate. I held it firmly to the opposite side of my mouth, but my imagination was suddenly working again, and I could almost see the needle impaling my tongue.

I felt cold liquid moving into my jaw, then a very sharp pain as the doctor removed the needle. He turned his back to me, so for a moment I enjoyed being miserable in private.

He turned around again. I leaned back and closed my eyes. This time the needle went to the roof of my mouth, and I wondered how things could progress from bad to worse to even worse to much, much worse, and didn't like the direction we were headed.

The dentist walked out, leaving me to my thoughts. Mostly I thought of all the days when I hadn't been at the dentist's, and I wished that this were one of them. After awhile the side of my face felt kind of solid, so I patted it, testing, and heard rather than felt the pat. The roof of my mouth felt swollen. That made me think about allergic reactions to bee stings. People die of allergic reactions to bee stings. Their throat swells up, and they can't breathe. I stuck my tongue out, just in case it might be swelling up so I couldn't breathe. I took several very deep breaths just to make sure I still could. I got dizzy, which I'm almost sure can be a symptom of oxygen deprivation and impending death.

Someone walked past the door so I quickly pulled my tongue back in and tried to smile wryly, but the numb side of my lips and face didn't feel like they were doing it right, so I stopped. I'd probably looked like a stroke victim. Hadn't I read somewhere that emotional stress can cause a stroke? I breathed in deeply again, trying to convince the arteries in my head that I wasn't under emotional stress so they shouldn't have a stroke. That made me think about the state of those arteries-- could the numbing drug have made them as swollen and hard as the side of my face was? Wasn't that called "hardening of the arteries," the well-known cause of heart attacks? Come to think of it, the drug must even now be creating a full-body circuit of hard arteries. I started breathing hard again as my heart fought valiantly against the drug, trying . . . trying . . . to . . . keep . . . beating.

"Are you good and numb?" the doctor asked as he whisked in.

And like all those times I've lied into the phone, saying "Oh no no, I was already awake," as though being caught sleeping were something to be ashamed of, I inexplicably concealed from my doctor the fact that I'd stopped breathing and was having a simultaneous heart attack and stroke.

"Yaz," I slurred with false cheer. "Aw umb."

"Good," he said. "Now we can get started."