I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood and how my actions reflected those of a child with Aspergers. I keep getting pulled back into a time period when I was about ten years of age. I was still rescuing animals then. Not that there was much I could do to help, but to love them.
One day the animal was a bird, near death, whose eyes were cold by morning. Another day a snail that had lost its shell. The one I remember the most is the butterfly. She was a monarch. I found her in the gutter on a rainy-walk home from school. Her wings were tattered, and she was nearly drown. I carried her home, cupped in the safety of my hands. I named her Jolie—for her beauty.
I placed her in a cleaned-out pickle jar and watched her in awe, as she stuck out her black tongue and lapped the sugar-water from a small lid. Her little wings were cast in masking tape. I watched her through the night; ever so often turning on the light and checking on her. I loved her. She survived a full day in the warmth of my affection. When she passed, I buried her in the backyard under a fig tree and gave her a short sermon. This is the little girl I was, so remarkably sweet and hopeful. I wish to go back to her, to her room, to kneel down at her side, and say:
“I love you. I love you so very much. You are so beautiful. So kind. So thoughtful. And I am sorry that you carry such a burden. I know how painful it is to love with all of your heart. I know how painful it is to want to help and to not know how. But you are helping. You are helping more than you know, my precious one. Look at me. Do you see what you have become. You are going to be a mommy someday, with your own family, and you are going to have what you need to take care of them. But precious child your journey into adulthood will be very hard. There will be times you want to give up. So many times. And you will take many years to find your way. But you will. You will. I promise you that. And when you do, so much will make sense. And you will cry, cry so very hard, like you are now with losing your beloved butterfly. But I will be waiting. I will be knowing that you will survive. That you will be strong. That you will love with all of your heart and get that love back ten-fold. You of all people, shall be loved. I will be here waiting on the other side of time, with my arms wide open. And when we meet again, in dream and in prose, I will embrace you, like no other. Thank you. Thank you for being you and going onward. Thank you for being so brave and so very strong. You are my living angel. And I breathe for you.”
And here we meet in prose my friend, my precious love:
“On Christmas Eve I received a record player from Father—a gigantic silver contraption encased in plastic with a black arm that moved back to its resting place automatically at the end of every record. It was a much better gift than the oil painting Father had made the year before and hadn’t found a way to wrap; I liked his painting of the three foxes and the skunk and all, hung the framed picture all crooked with thumbtacks on my wall, but it wasn’t any fun to play with; plus one of the foxes legs was painted wrong, so his front leg, the one scratching his head, was flat and one-dimensional. For a longtime that painted fox reminded me of my father—the way it looked out from his canvas in silence, misshapen and sad.
By then it was a ritual for me to pull thumbtacks out of the soles of my feet. Not on purpose. That would be silly. I’d had a mind to go about rearranging and fixing my room just so. I had to have my stuffed animals lined up in a straight row on my bed by age (when I received them) and my trolls organized by height of hair, the orange-haired guy was always in front. On days I felt like Super Woman, I pushed some of my smaller furniture around from wall-to-wall, trying to make sense of the order of things. Little me, I’d stand in my doorway evaluating the room all serious and business-eyed, like I was an art investor measuring the symmetry and value. Until, exhausted from moving things back and forth and never finding the right spot, I’d escape into my submarine, a walk-in-closet with a high southern-facing circular window. There, basked in sunlight and security, my books found me, and we’d smile together. But I wasn’t that little girl sitting in her closet reading Little House on the Prairie, I didn’t know about Laura. I knew about the Pippi Longstockings and Orphan Annies, but not about the Lauras. I was in my closet stacking the jacketed hardback books Mother brought home from her publisher friend. There were forty-four of them, not my favorite number, but something I dealt with. I tried to read them once, but couldn’t get beyond the first paragraph, well actually the first sentence. The books with their kaleidoscope of colors and glossy fronts were all grownup with titles that didn’t even make sense. Mother had said, “One day you’ll be able to read these. You’re so smart it might even be next year.” She chuckled, while I raised my eyebrow up and down like a rogue pogo-stick.
I didn’t believe her. I was just beginning to not believe my mother. Promises just weren’t materializing—at least not in this universal dimension. I thought maybe somewhere else a young little me was prancing merrily across her bed pleasantly plump and dressed in a new pink dress—well blue—I wasn’t partial to pink. She was my opposite girl, the one I’d think of ever so often when I was in my submarine while turning my collapsed tummy into a swelled balloon. I could push my tum out so far that I thought I should join the circus and become one of those contortionists. Watching my tummy, I’d imagine eating the elephants’ peanuts for breakfast.
On the day after New Year’s, a day I had a blue thumbtack in my foot after repositioning my cat poster, Uncle John arrived from Arizona, zooming up on his motorcycle all floppy-haired and leathered up. He was handsome, Carry-Grant-handsome, even once stopped by a movie agent offering to take him to Hollywood; this was the same uncle who dated Patty Hurst, before she was kidnapped and brainwashed by the Symbionese Liberation Army.
After he cruised up all tough-like on his jet-black motorcycle, and I came flying down the stairs all The-Sound-of-Music-happy, the first thing Uncle Johnny did was yank out a white album cover from of his army-green backpack: Paul Simon and 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, the best dang album for a little girl who had not a single record; though it was odd that Simon only listed four feasible ways to leave your lover. I listened to that album five times over. When the smell of Uncle Johnny was no longer on the record cover, I snatched the cover out from under my pillow and gave Paul a special place on my yellow dresser, right alongside my tattered ratted-haired troll, a tooth the tooth fairy forgot, and a dime-store-framed photo of my father.
The next record I purchased for ten pennies at a garage sale was a forty-five of Blue Bayou, which, until I was in my late thirties, I believed was Blue by You; and that’s the way I sang it, like a rooster at sunrise: “I’m going back someday, come what may, to blue by you!” I didn’t understand the lyrics at all, except the hurting inside part. It was good I knew who Linda Ronstadt was at any rate—that’s who people would compare me to when I grew up, not the voice, but the eyes.”