I like to hang upside-down -from trees. My favorite tree has always been the Dutch Maple in front of my parents' house. Hanging there would help put life into perspective. Sometimes it would even help to remind me how ephemeral life is. Like the time the branch broke and my knees clung to it as I lay on my back, winded and suddenly looking at the world from yet another perspective. I laid there silent until I heard my parents tell me to get into the car; it was time to go to my grandparents' house.
I tried hanging upside-down from other places; jungle gym bars, pipes, rock-walls, but they weren’t the same. Life was too predictable from those areas. I knew it was only a moment before I’d be interrupted by someone else who was clinging to the bars or scaling the wall, or worse, a nervous teacher who told me to stop or I’d get hurt and send me to the principal’s office when I tried to tell them I was fine –I’d only fallen on my face that one time.
Somehow hanging upside-down from trees was my, “just right.” Depending on the branch I chose, I could watch an ant-hill without interrupting, make patterns from bark, sweep away footprints and magically disappear, watch Paul-Michael break his arm showing off, sneak up on my sister, or do just about anything.
The fact is, everything was better when upside-down in a tree. When I walk around like everyone else, it’s like a head-rush. I feel too much blood throbbing, not enough air circulating, and my thoughts don’t flow clearly. Although I have to tolerate the overwhelming vicissitudes of thought-clot for longer and longer periods of time as an adult, it hasn't cancelled out the fact that my life simply doesn't work the same as other people's.
Somehow I've lost the knowledge that childhood provides. Growing-up became a death-sentence. I remember how I once remedied that; climb up, hang upside-down, and let my thoughts line themselves up.
I keep trying to live my life right-side-up to fit in, but I don't. I have poor social graces, and know so much I sound like an idiot. I've been taught not to like that about me. But it's not right. I'm no child; in fact, I have children of my own; by now I should accept that my life is upside-down... and that I'm approaching it all wrong.
I'm not like other people. Adult Aspergers Syndrome makes life a confusing ball of being called out on "poor-judgment" -helping at-risk kids on their ground instead of chiding their behavior, providing the comfort when a child enters into the hell of an isolated anxiety attack so she can stay grounded, understanding a language that is unspoken.
I guess that's why onlookers let people die in the street instead of help; why people follow learned rather than natural behavior. I don't get it; I never will. I can pretend I do, but the more I pretend, the further from myself I fall. And there is no branch in the bend of my knee to sooth me out of fear. At least then I was still oriented, I could still understand what happened.
Right now I'm a confused adult living in fear. Without a tree to hang from, I fall into its quicksand. The more I struggle
against my natural inclinations, the deeper my fear sucks me in. No branch. Not even a rock to help me get it over with.
I struggle daily with being afraid. With the fact that my thoughts need more than a tree to grab. The funny thing is, I know what I need. I need acceptance. Not the kind that comes from other people, but the kind that comes from within. I need to stop being afraid of my ex-husband, and face my life head-on. But it's so confusing; so overwhelming. And I need to climb to the tallest of trees so that I can think straight. To get back to who I am. Because maybe it was never about hanging, but the climb.
Lists make us feel better. They tell us what to buy at the market, what to do in a day, what order to play songs for an audience, and in the case of successful people, provide long-term goals and remain on an individual -in a wallet or dresser-drawer -serving as a map for what measurements should hold true.
I had such a list; two, actually. One contains what I want in life, areas I want to improve and constantly strive to continue to work at such as being a good mom and honest with myself; the other a theory I have aligned with major findings in philosophical trends atomically found in both linguistics and education.
Not very surprisingly, I remembered my media theory and forgotten my life-goals. To an even lesser extent, I've found that the list I'd been following for the past two years wasn't even my own, but that of conformity to more traditional "norms" established by the puppeteers who hired me for innovation and talent. They may have been the ones to ultimately cut those strings, but I was the one who tied them to me.
I lost myself.
I didn't even do so with inspiration, art, or vision. Rather, I lost myself trying to compete on a playing field that wasn't right for me. The job was, but the choices I made to try and satisfy the movements of the district did not come from within me. They came from a failed attempt to give what I thought they wanted of me. And it wasn't enough; not for them, but really not for me either.
I create. I do so well. I have passion, charisma, empathy, and love not only for vehicles of understanding, but for love. I have loved more children than I can count, and most of their names are forgotten in the happy past of deflated aspirations. My ability to be an amazing teacher was reduced because I tried to follow foreign choreography, instead of taking the shape of the music in my heart.
I compromised myself. Had I remained true, and done what was expected without fear, I could have avoided jumping through the hoops and taken on the obstacle course for the win. My responsibility in my job-loss is less of a sacrificed martyrdom, and more of plain death.
I died. I tried to make everyone around me happy, and exchanged my trademark fire for dead-fish hand-shakes and subservient equivalents of, "yes masser," when called on behavior and judgment that -when provided with the whole story, would have held me in favor rather than left cowering and crying in the next room, confused as to what I'd done wrong because my Aspergers mind thought differently.
My next endeavor has to be true to who I am. I understand boundaries, mores, and situational proprieties now. I know what has a place where. My mistake was giving more than my all, it was in giving all of me. My intentions have always, and will always be for the greater good. I believe I've learned the tools needed to achieve this because I can compromise without compromising myself, can share my love of learning through teaching, and dance to my own music, unashamed, and without any strings attached.
I have recently moved into an apartment for the first time in my life. So much newness. My first obstacle to overcome was my own snobbery. I’ve been a home-owner since I was in College due to inclement hallways and a senior year of bad roommates where I committed the evil sin of leaving the one beloved roommate behind.
The first thing I noticed when I moved was my age. I didn’t fit the bill -much older than half of the residents; much younger than the other half. Ironically, my children and those of the other tenants all seemed to be the same age. There is the blue-haired lady who wears red lips and heels to help her into a whopping 5’2”, the girl who may have been my student a few years ago, the overbearing older men –always willing to hold a door and offer a beer -and the younger men who look down when I walk by so as not to get in trouble with their girlfriends, the maintenance man who has fixed all of my problems within minutes of my asking and has no problem lingering for conversation.
And there is the distant curiosity. The anti-snob factor, if you will. I watch the pierced mother sledding with her daughter every day. I see that the blue haired lady doesn’t have to walk far in her high heels and high hair; her husband, gentlemanly and serene, pulls up the car to the rear door so she doesn’t slip. The middle-aged men and their ladies cleaning off a car together, cigarette smoke blending with the winter breath, laughing and invisible to critical neighboring spies. The lonely divorcee who might be a saving grace to more than just his children.
I learned time. Quite by accident, I learned that icicle factory in the sink is not a six a.m. activity. Hammers are strictly afternoon tools. I learned that my need to be done with the weekly housework before I shower should not include vacuuming; those fall in the same category as hammers, as do musical instruments, super-man capes, and children’s video’s that encourage children to, “say it louder!” Evening activities go on even after I’ve fallen asleep at the late hour of 8:30, as evidenced by parking cars, stair climbing, and door closing/key jingling. In sum, time and noise are one and should be respected in conjunction with the hours one can visit the attic.
I’ve found that cigarettes permeate more intensely than incense, candles, or bad fish. They are locked into the paint, seeping into the hallways from neighborly apartments, floating up from the balcony into the eaves of the sliding doors. Even when the smell is less direct, the obtrusive allergen re-fills the room in time for me to return home from my shopping or what have you. In the same fashion, dust seems more unruly than it did in a large home with dogs, cats, and no vacuum. My furniture has developed a magnetic field for dead skin and other flaky masses.
I’ve also learned the value of drop-cloths. In my stubbornness, I insisted that my plants move in with me to make up for the no pet factor and they are a bit intrusive on the size of the living-room. I am glad to say that my plants are now house-broken. Where they used to leak and destroy wood, carpets, and walls, they now keep it on the plastic or to themselves. The plants do like it here. They get more attention due to the small living quarters of pots and seem to be adjusting well. Only the peonies remain in hibernation.
I found that my minute bathroom does two new things. In my home, I had a jet-powered tub with ample space surrounding for candles, salts, and pampering. The only problem was that there was no water pressure so it took over a half hour to fill and the bathroom never warmed up enough to balance the bathtub temp. Being that this tub is a, “normal” size, it fills up within minutes in the single digits and the bathroom air works as a humidifier rain-forest. The toilet seat acts as its own stunt double acting as a table for awry candle wax and mug stains.
I’ve also discovered my couch. This beautiful mission seat was the perfect company companion for years in a ginormous living-room, but I only used it when company was there. My kids were in their beds upstairs and sleepy children do not do stairs well so I usually stayed in my room to read and write and watch movies after they went to sleep. At one point I had all of my belongings in my room so that I could keep safe behind a bureau-barred-door without fear of destruction. More than two thousand square feet of living space and I confined myself to 12x12 feet and a closet. I never grew accustomed to that living room. I created my own space of bookshelves, chairs, my easel and my desk, but never ventured to the living room where my beautiful couch begged for my bottom.
For years I turned a plot of dirt into a beautiful yard. I manicured acres, building stone patios –plural. Turning hills into a flat yard, and dirt into soil. Wood into arbors and fences. I worked so hard on that yard. Worked on it and worked on it but never played in it. So much beauty I created. I became slave to a dream of better houses and gardens, never making a home that was within my reach. I kept busy in distraction and dream and whisked my kids to a playground a few miles away, a pool in a gym, and church garden days. I had missed the point.
I believe it is a combination of my distance and enslavement that make moving to an apartment from a Barbie dream home so fluid. I have the opportunity to sit on my couch daily, have taken a bath-bath at least once a week instead of the once a month, and keep my plants green and squirrels fat. My children did not loose a yard, they do not miss being cooped up behind a barred door, and now our kitchen pours itself into the living-room with the fluid transition of bookshelves and light. My guitar, keyboard, and easel are out, and my vacuum is only needed once a week. I watch people instead of looking for my next project, and my voice is returning to me through my brush, my guitar pick, and my writing. I am knocking on doors for the first time in my life, stepping away from the limits of a closed mind, and living fearlessly and without limits.
It’s important to be the best at something. My talent has always been knowing whether someone likes butter. It’s a secret that my grandmother taught me under the pee-gee hydrangea that canopied those who sat beneath it like a fairy tent; my grandmother on her stomach and me on my legs "criss-cross applesauce. " She delicately waved her hand over the un-mown tufts of lawn, teasing the long clumps of green grass, and when she lifted it, a buttercup would magically appear where there was only grass a moment before. She taught me how to pick only the four-petaled flowers. “Be sure they look as though they have melted butter resting in the cup,” she would tell me. “Then pick it as close to the root as possible so that your hand doesn’t make a shadow on it.” The trick was that the person who you were testing for butter had to have her face directly in the sunlight so that she had to close her eyes or go blind trying to keep them opened. Drinking in the sun with freckles would melt the butter gland in the neck. She told me that to attract this gland, it was important to lightly tickle the throat with the buttercup… not to hard, or the butter from the flower would stick rather than reveal whether they liked butter or not. Amazingly enough, my grandmother’s secret has been on the nose 100% of the time. See; I can tell. You like butter.
My quiet place is high in a tree. I am hidden by purple maple leaves until they turn brown and fall off. Since the first time I climbed it, that tree has made space for me. Toward the top is a fork, split in three with the branches spread as a seat. I myself broke off a thin branch that cut into the spot; it became the perfect hanger. In that tree, I played pirates with Angie, star command with Paul Michael, and wild-child with Jenn. When everyone got called home to dinner, the tree would become my harbinger. I would get my back-pack filled with my favorit books, a sketch pad, and notebook, (maybe some stolen treat from the kitchen) -and decide what I wanted to do when I got there. I could spy on Phillip as he rode his bike down the street, listen in as Danielle and Debbie argued on whose cabbage-patch kid’s birthday it was. I could be an elf. I could write the history of the world. I could be me. Last year, I visited my parents house. It didn’t look right. My father had cut down all of the trees –including mine. I had hardly pulled up when the tears came. I parked, shut off the car, and let my parents take care of the children. I walked up to the stump, silently cursing my father, and sat there, thinking of the time a branch broke and I lost my breath; of games I created. I remembered freedom of invisibility beneath the cloak of leaves. I’ve had pleanty to be angry with my father for; and surprisingly have let it all melt into acceptance. I will not; however, ever forgive him for cutting down my childhood. For desintegrating my quiet place. For lying about his reasons. And for taking away my tree.