Teacher’s Pet (Part 2)

“Hey, kid, want to go have lunch together?” Mrs. Walters asked as she approached me in the cafeteria on the first day of eighth grade.

 

I wasn’t sure why she was asking me to have lunch with her since she wasn’t my teacher anymore, but I acquiesced.

 

“I just loved all those letters you sent me over the summer,” she said sarcastically.

 

“Sorry. You know writing’s a chore for me.”

 

“So, how was your summer?”

 

“Good.”

 

“And how’s Frisky doing?”

 

“He’s doing well.”

 

“I’m glad but you can tell me if he died. I can handle it.”

 

“No, he’s alive and well.”

 

“I have two new rabbits. They’re black rabbits.”

 

“What are their names?”

 

“Midnight and Charcoal.”

 

I was thinking those were not very original names for black pets, but I just said “Cool.”

 

“How are you liking eighth grade so far?”

 

“It’s okay.”

 

“How do you like your new supplemental teacher?”

 

“I don’t like her. I wish you were still my teacher.”

 

“I’m still your friend.”

 

***

I knew I had a much friendlier relationship with Mrs. Walters than was typical for a teacher and student, but I was still pretty shocked when she suggested I come over to her house for dinner.

 

“What? Why would I do that?’’

 

“So you can meet my animals.”

 

“You’re allowed to take me home with you? Can’t you get in trouble for that?”

 

“As long as your mom says it’s okay, I think I can get away with it.”

 

 

For years my mom had been trying to facilitate playdates between me and my peers but with little success. I basically considered playdates to be a form of torture and getting me to participate in them was like pulling teeth. I rarely got invited on playdates and I never initiated them. On the few occasions that my mother was able to arrange playdates at our house she would stay home from work in an effort to facilitate appropriate social interaction between me and the other kid. Things like conversing with the other person, showing interest in the other person and making eye contact just didn’t come naturally to me. My friendships never lasted very long.

 

Being friends with a teacher was pretty weird so I figured this would be the most awkward “playdate” of all. I figured I would not be invited back. I figured this friendship would dissolve even more quickly than my other ones had. Yet somehow this friendship worked. Somehow, I was invited back over and over again. Somehow, I was readily accepted by her entire family-the two-legged members, the four- legged members, the members who had more than four legs and the members who had fewer than two legs. I’d never liked little kids when I was a little kid myself but now I took a liking to her kids and of course to her animals. The only issue that ever arose was the time I was playing with the family frog and it got loose. I started panicking but I was told to calm down. This wasn’t the first time an animal had gotten loose in the house.

 

One day as she was taking me to her house I said, “Oh my god! Let’s stop at my dad’s house and see my chickens!”

 

“Oh my god. You’re crazy. I’m not trespassing on your dad’s property when he’s not there to look at chickens under a trampoline!”

 

“Please, please, please,” I begged, flashing her my sweetest smile.

 

“All right. I’ll do it for you.”

 

Mrs. Walters wasn’t one of those friends I “just barely tolerated.” I completely and utterly adored her. Some people were confused by our friendship though.

 

“Why is Kira always having dinner at her teacher’s house? Is she in trouble at school?” my babysitter asked my mother.

 

“No, she likes her teacher. They’re friends,” my mother replied.

 

“She’s friends with her teacher?’’ my babysitter said incredulously.

 

“Yeah, they’re good friends. I’ve never seen Kira respond like that to anyone.”

 

 

While the dinners at Mrs. Walters’ house were not a sign of trouble at school, unfortunately I was experiencing some trouble there. I hadn’t been kidding when I’d told Mrs. Walters I didn’t like my eighth- grade special education teacher, Mrs. Robinovitz. Mrs. Walters and I had been a perfect match. She was someone who completely understood me. Mrs. Robinovitz and I were a terrible match and she did not seem to understand me at all. She was one of those teachers who tended to interpret my struggles as rudeness or laziness and would chide me accordingly. The problem was that now that I was an angsty teenager who had gained some social courage, I was reacting to those kinds of encounters not just by blushing and crying but by defending myself, sometimes a bit too aggressively. When Mrs. Robinovitz said she was going to write me up for I don’t even remember what, I replied “Fine, write me up, bitch!”

 

“Couldn’t you have just said ‘Fine. write me up’ and left off the bitch?” the school psychologist asked.

 

“You know, there’s a staff member in this building that I dislike and disagree with, but I realize I have to get along with her,” Mrs. Walters said, after the school psychologist had asked her to talk to me about the situation.

 

“Who is it that you dislike?’’

 

“It doesn’t matter. The point is…”

 

“Is it Mrs. Strachan?’’

 

“Kira…”

 

“Is it Ms. Maurer?  Mr. Glass? Miss Gi…”

 

“Kira! The point is how do you think it would go over for me if I called this person a bitch?’’

 

“Not too well.”

 

“Correct. And it didn’t go over too well for you either, now did it?”

 

 

I was also having problems at home that were carrying over to school. For years my parents had had this weird not really married but not entirely separated relationship but now the marriage was moving toward divorce. Things were getting ugly and I was getting blamed and caught in the middle. I started getting bad grades and running away from home. A meeting was called with my parents, the school psychologist and some of my eighth- grade teachers to discuss my situation and well-being. Mrs. Walters attended the meeting too.

When she next saw me after the meeting she held her arms out to me and drew me in tightly.

“You don’t deserve any of the hard stuff you’re going through, kid. People say things about you that aren’t right. I’d stop it all if I could.”

 

I did not doubt for a second that she would move heaven and earth to help me and in that moment in spite of everything, I felt incredibly lucky.

 

“I love you,” I said as I leaned my weight against her, absorbing the comfort she offered.

 

My next neurologist report said that I was now expressing affection and humor towards others in a way that I never had before, and that people were flocking towards me in a way that they never had before.

***

 

Perhaps no female coming of age story would be complete without a mention of that time when the girl “becomes a woman.” It happened for me a couple of weeks before the end of eighth grade. As close as I was with Mrs. Walters, I was not inclined to discuss my period with her, but she ended up finding out about it anyway and in a very dramatic fashion.

 

As you might imagine, first periods are particularly rough for the hygienically, socially and fine motor skills challenged and particularly when they’re accompanied by gastrointestinal upsets.

 

I sat in a stall of the middle school girl’s bathroom moaning and unable to cope with what was happening to me. Someone must have noticed and tried to help but I was overwhelmed and unresponsive. A teacher was called in to the bathroom and then so was the vice principal. They tried to get me to come out, but I was in pain and having trouble cleaning myself up. I just wanted to be left alone. Their efforts to get me to come out became more demanding and forceful. It was when the teacher climbed over the wall of my stall that I really lost it.

 

“I hate you!” I screamed.

 

The vice principal threatened to knock down the door of my stall.

 

“Go away, asshole!”

 

I burst in to tears. I could hear frantic discussion being carried out over stalls and across walkie talkies. More people entered the bathroom.

 

“Go get Mrs. Walters,” a voice was saying

 

“She’s busy now.”

 

“We need to get her. She’s the only one who’s going to be able to calm Kira down at this point.”

 

I buried my head in my hands, feeling hopelessly trapped and wishing for an escape. The walls of the bathroom stall had become a pink prison.

 

A blur of pain and hysteria and then Mrs. Walters’ voice.

 

“Kira, it’s me. Are you okay? Can you come out?’’

 

“Make everyone else go away first.”

 

On this day of becoming a woman I couldn’t have felt more child-like. I heard hushed voices and retreating footsteps.

 

“Okay, everyone else is gone. Can you come out now?”

 

“I’m bleeding…and… and… my stomach hurts…and…I can’t get this pad on….and…”

 

“It’s all right. It happens. Just do the best you can.”

 

After adjusting my underwear and making ample use of toilet paper, I finally pulled myself to my feet. I cautiously opened my stall door and walked over to the sink where Mrs. Walters was standing.

 

Mrs. Walters pressed a wet napkin to my face and rubbed my back. As she took me in her arms, I spilled tears all over her and prayed to God that was the only bodily fluid being spilled.

“They said they were going to break the door down…and she climbed over the stall…and…” I spluttered.

 

“I know, honey. It’s okay now. I’m here now. You were just scared.”

 

She dabbed at my face some more, then sighed and said, “But for the love of God, you can’t call the vice principal an asshole!”

 

I was suspended from school the next day, although Mrs. Walters told me not to think of it as a suspension but a day of rest.

 

She took me to her house for dinner that night and as she drove me home, I fretted about facing the music at school the next day.

 

“You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. Just write an apology letter and you’ll be fine.”

 

In my apology letter I compared my actions in the middle school bathroom to the actions of a trapped and terrified animal and emphasized my need to behave in a manner more appropriate for a human being.

***

 

The day before school ended I sat in the gym with the rest of my eighth – grade class rehearsing for the graduation ceremony that would occur that night. Although my period was over now, I was once again experiencing pain. This was emotional pain but the pangs it was producing in my body were not entirely dissimilar from menstrual cramps. It was the pain of anticipated separation and loss.

 

The mood in the gym was jubilant. My peers had every reason to be happy. Soon they would be leaving middle school and next year they would be entering high school along with all their friends. I, on the other hand, would be leaving my best friend behind. It was enough to trigger another meltdown. After a teacher noticed that I was crying, I was removed from the graduation rehearsal and Mrs. Walters was once again called in to attend to me.

 

“What am I going to do without you?” I asked plaintively, reaching for her hand.

 

“What do you mean? I’m not going anywhere.”

 

“But I am.”

 

“People don’t stop caring about each other just because they’re in different buildings. That’s not how friendships work.”

 

“But I won’t see you anymore.”

A pregnant pause filled the air. I could tell Mrs. Walters was measuring her words carefully.

“I can’t promise that I’ll see you every day or every week or even every month, but I can promise you I’ll be your friend forever.”

 

My mom took me to the store that night to get goodbye presents for my eighth- grade teachers and of course for Mrs. Walters too. I got her a birdhouse and an accompanying birdwatching book. This time there was no need for my mother to write a note thanking her for all she’d done for me. I wrote that note myself.

 

After putting the note in its envelope, I laid on my bed and cried some more. My mother tried to comfort me. She assured me that Mrs. Walters would keep in touch with me and would always be there for me. She said she could tell she was that kind of person just by looking in to her eyes. She also said that while she was sorry I was hurting so much, she was glad that I had gotten attached to someone. For a while she was afraid I would never be attached to anyone besides her.

 

“You’re so sweet,” Mrs. Walters said the next day as she read my card.

 

I thought I was all done with crying but when I said my goodbyes to Mrs. Walters at the end of the day, I shed some more tears.

“Crying again? You are such a turkey.”

In spite of my distress, I found myself amused by that animal reference. I told her that I was really going to miss her.

“We’ll keep in touch,” she reassured me.

“I don’t know how I’m going to survive high school.”

“You’ll be fine. You can connect with other people.”

I could feel my old argumentative streak flaring up.

“I don’t want other people! I want you!”

“You’ll still have me, and you can also make new friends. You’re a very genuine person. People appreciate that.”

“The word is pronounced genu-WIN, not genu-WINE,” I corrected through my tears.

“Well, however it’s pronounced, you’re a lovely person and you have so much to offer.”

I thought back to the first time I cried in middle school-that time when Ms. Maurer confronted me in the hallway over my tardiness and Mrs. Walters came to my rescue. I realized that Mrs. Walters had rescued me in so many ways since then and I had changed so much as a result. Although it sounds trite to say I’d changed from a caterpillar to a butterfly, considering how heavily animals played in to our relationship, it feels like an appropriate metaphor.

 

***

The summer after eighth grade a card arrived for me in the mail, written in the familiar flowing cursive of my favorite teacher.

 

Dear Kira,

Thank you for the gifts. They weren’t necessary! I have enjoyed our friendship greatly. You are a very special young lady and always will be! I will be calling you soon to get together. Keep enjoying your summer. See you soon!

Love,

Mrs. Walters

I put that card from the best friend I’d ever had in my drawer of special things, next to the first one she’d sent me.

Words can hurt me

I said in my last post that I know what it’s like to be hurt by comments made about you online and boy do I ever. A lot of nasty things have been said about me online. They all came from the same place so I should have just quit that place before they fired me but I didn’t because I was stubborn. Now I’m left with something resembling PTSD from a place that can’t stop making nasty comments about me now that I’ve been gone for more than a month. To be fair I obviously can’t stop making negative comments about that place and some of the people there either.

Even when I tell myself the nasty comments made about me are more of a reflection on the people making them than they are on me, they still hurt. Some of the hurtful comments are so juvenile and ridiculous they’re kind of funny. One person told me I was just bird noises in the bathroom in reference to her 9-year-old autistic stepson who makes bird noises in the bathroom. What made that comment even funnier is that she told me I should behave better because I’m an adult, not nine. I think the last time I was compared to a bird (because I flapped my hands) was when I was 9 years old by my 9-year-old peers.

This was someone who had not posted on that forum in a very long time. She came back to tell me that I was the reason she left that forum and to tell me about her stepson who’s on the autism spectrum and has behaviors that are annoying as shit. To be honest I don’t feel all that bad about driving away someone who comes back  to a forum just to use the behaviors of an autistic child to insult an adult on the autism spectrum. Someone told her that her bird noises comment was very mean spirited and she said that she didn’t see how it was any more mean spirited than the other comments telling me I was annoying.

It was more mean spirited than the comments that just told me I was annoying because while I don’t make bird noises in the bathroom, I do have some physical tics/stereotyped movements that I’m sure this person would find annoying as shit. As annoyed as people are by my online behavior and as much as people insult me online, at least online they cannot be annoyed by my tics and they cannot insult me for them. Therefore it’s pretty damn hurtful to be told by someone who can’t even see my tics that despite all the witty, intelligent, insightful comments I’ve made over the years, in her eyes I’m nothing more than a tic associated with autism.

A stepparent being annoyed by the tics of a stepchild who is on the autism spectrum is also a scenario that hits very close to home for me. People on that forum would say my stepfather was an asshole because of the things he said to me and yet some of the things that were said about me there were similar to things he’s said about me. I don’t know why those people doubted that my stepfather is as mean to me as I say he is. If they need proof that people really can be that mean they don’t need to look very far.

It hurt to be told I was using autism as an excuse and it hurt to be referred to as Ms. I have autism even though such statements came from people who clearly didn’t have a clue about autism, people who had said that when they were a kid no one was autistic and these days parents were looking to find something wrong with their children, resulting in kids that were just a bit quirky and naughty receiving an autism diagnosis. There were a lot of self appointed autism experts on that board. If only they realized that knowing some people on the autism spectrum doesn’t make them any kind of authority on the subject.  As the director of the residential program for young adults on the autism spectrum  that I attended said “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

When I said that I thought someone’s behavior at a funeral might be related to traditions at southern funerals I was told that I was Yankeesplaining to people who live in the south but it was fine for people to ablesplain to me that my own behavior had nothing to do with autism. It hurt to be told that I’d made no effort to try to change my behavior when I had made an effort.

It hurt to have a quality of mine that had always been regarded as an asset-my good memory-turned in to a defect, something that made me a creep and a danger to the community. It hurt to be told that I relied on the board to form my opinions for me, that the opinions I did express must have been taken from another board, that I’d experienced a decline in my mental abilities. It hurt to be called an imbecile.

It hurts to be told that I need to get a life and a job especially when I’ve tried to get a job but have been unable to find one, even with the help of special service agencies. It hurts to hear that people can’t believe I’m as old as I am, that I seem like a teenager, especially when I’ve never made my age a secret. It hurts to see signature lines that are digs at me and the people who defend me.

It hurts to be accused of deliberately trying to upset, annoy and anger people especially when I knew people were deliberately trying to do that to me. It hurts to be told that I’m rude and don’t give a shit about other people, although there may be some truth in that one. I was pretty indifferent to the feelings of people who were deliberately cruel to me.

It hurts to be told that I’m not wanted in a community that I’ve actively been a part of for a long time and it hurts to be rejected by that community.

Unfortunately even well intentioned comments hurt sometimes. It hurts to be told that I should get counseling, as if in all my years of struggling with mental illness, it has never occurred to me to do that, as if I haven’t sought counseling in many different forms from many different therapists.

It hurts when a friend tells me that she’s cutting off contact with me, even when I know she’s doing it for my own good. It hurts when another friend assures me that she’ll never ditch me and will always be my friend, then ditches me about two weeks later. To add insult to injury the reason she ditches me is because she has decided to betray me by twisting and cherry picking information I shared with her privately in order to get another friend of mine in trouble. Of course the information she shares just opens the door for people to make even more nasty comments about me.

Another dig that was made at me at one point was that my lack of self awareness was astonishing. Anyone who has the nerve to call me a psycho stalker for Googling the name of a proven liar to find more information about them when they Googled the names of me and my family members to try to give credence to their own crackpot theories about me has an astonishing lack of self  awareness themselves.

I think I’m an unfortunate combination of ridiculously sensitive and foolishly thick skinned. I get very hurt by mean comments about me but instead of running away from those mean comments I keep coming back for more. I struggle with low self esteem so it’s hard not to see those negative comments and being banned from that forum as a reflection of my self worth. I just try to remind myself  that some of those popular, well respected members who made nasty comments about me have had nasty comments made about them elsewhere on the internet and that some of them have been banned from other forums. I have to remember that being popular doesn’t make those people right.

I try to cope with all the mean comments that have been made about me by pretending that I’m a celebrity. If I were a celebrity there would be a million  nasty comments made about me all over the internet every single day. It would be impossible for me to keep up with all of them and seeking them out would be a waste of my time and energy. Besides, as a therapist of mine once said, what other people think of you is none of your business.

 

 

 

 

Those socially awkward autism spectrum moments

When you’re on the autism spectrum it’s inevitable that you’re going to have a lot of socially awkward moments. Learning social skills and trying to figure out how to behave in a socially appropriate manner can be very frustrating for people on the autism spectrum. Often when you try to fix one social deficit you end up committing another social faux pas in the process. Allow me to give some examples from my own life.

My parents complained that when I was introduced to new people I did not talk to them or engage with them. Therefore when I was introduced to my uncle’s new girlfriend I decided to engage with her by telling her about the time my uncle let out a big smelly fart that made the whole car stink and the time he clogged the toilet so badly that my father ended up having to carry trash bags full of his poop.  Unfortunately I was not praised for engaging with my uncle’s girlfriend by telling her funny stories. I was told that it was not appropriate to share stories like that about my uncle because they were embarrassing to him.

As bad as I was about talking to people in person I was even worse when it came to talking on the phone. I usually didn’t bother to answer the phone. When I did answer the phone the things I said were not very interesting or helpful. One day when the phone rang I decided to answer it. “Hello, is Daniel there?” the voice on the other end said. I recognized it as the mother of Daniel, the boy who was currently playing with my brother in the backyard. I helpfully answered her question with “Yes” and hung up the phone. A minute later the phone rang again. It was Daniel’s mother again and she once again said “Hello, is Daniel there?”  Thinking she had not heard me the first time, I once again answered “Yes” and hung up the phone. A minute later the phone rang for a third time and for a third time it was Daniel’s mother. This time she sounded rather angry as she said “Hello, is Daniel there? And can you please not hang up the phone this time?  I need to talk to him.”

I learned from that experience. When a teacher informed me that my shirt was on backwards I realized that just like Daniel’s mother was asking if Daniel was there because she wanted to talk to him, the teacher was informing me that my shirt was on backwards because she wanted me to fix it. So I fixed it but that caused the teacher to exclaim “You can’t take your shirt off in the middle of the hallway!”

As bad as I was at interacting with adults, I was much worse at interacting with my peers. A babysitter of mine often wondered why I did not have any friends. One day when the conversation with my babysitter had shifted to a topic other than my social incompetence she told me about the time she broke her wrist by sitting on her father’s feet and having him catapult her across the yard. Unfortunately the message I took away from her story was not “I better not try something like that because I’ll end up breaking my wrist” but “That sounds like a lot of fun! I think I’ll try it.” And sure enough I ended up breaking my wrist.

Many children on the autism spectrum are bullied by their peers. Fortunately I wasn’t bullied much by my peers. I was mostly just ignored by them. The day I came to school with a rainbow cast on my wrist I got a lot of attention from my peers though. When they asked me what had happened I replied “My Daddy flung me.” Unfortunately when you phrase it like that it leads nurses and social workers to question you about child abuse.

Aside from some spanking, my father has never physically abused me and he has never sexually abused me either. It’s just that while my dad has never been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, like me he engages in some socially inappropriate behaviors and has a poor sense of social boundaries. When you put a socially awkward parent and a socially awkward child together disaster can result. One of the worst disasters occurred when I said “Daddy, can you give me a massage?” and he replied “Sure, Princess, take off your clothes.” Fortunately for me my mother does recognize social boundaries. She walked in to the room and exclaimed “This is not appropriate!” Unfortunately for my dad my mother used that incident to convince a judge that my father should not have split custody of me.

Since my relationship with my dad was strained at times and my relationship with my peers was non-existent, I was lucky to have my brother. I have to give my brother a lot of credit. Since I was on the autism spectrum and had abysmal social skills it would have been very easy for him to be cruel to me and torment me constantly. He was usually nice to me though and was only cruel on a few occasions. I’d like like to say I was always nice to my brother and was never cruel to him but that’s not true.

Take my brother’s piano recital for example. Before his recital my parents urged him to practice but he assured them that he didn’t need to practice because he had the material mastered. When his turn came to perform at the recital he messed up twice. The second time he messed up he slapped his hand against his forehead and exclaimed “Doh!” While the rest of the audience sat in sympathetic silence, the sound of my laughter could be heard echoing throughout the auditorium. To be fair, I imagine many neurotypical children would have had the same reaction to their sibling’s misfortune.

To be fair to myself again, all of these incidences of social ineptitude occurred when I was a child. I’d like to think that as an adult my social skills have improved. Sometimes I still feel the impulse to behave in a socially inappropriate manner but I restrain myself because I recognize that that behavior would be socially inappropriate.

For example the other day my niece, my nephew and the son of my father’s girlfriend were all sitting on a bench at the dinner table when all of sudden the bench toppled over and they crashed to the floor. While everyone else was scrambling to make sure they were okay my first instinct was to laugh but I did not laugh because I recognize that it is not appropriate to laugh when people fall down.

Yesterday I told my mother that I did not want to sit outside at Starbucks because the sun is evil. Some black women sitting at the the next table laughed at my comment. I wanted to pull up my shirt, show them my sunburned torso and say “White girl problems” but I did not do that because I recognized that it would be socially inappropriate.

I was afraid I had committed another social faux pas last night when I went on to the deck to inform the people who had been eating dinner that their cat had just had explosive diarrhea all over the rug. They replied with “Well, I guess we won’t be having dessert.” I realized I had actually done them a favor though by saving them from inadvertently stepping in the cat diarrhea and by giving them the opportunity to remove the cat diarrhea before it permanently stained the rug. Unfortunately I did commit a social faux pas later that night when the man who had invited me over for dinner called my name and I said “What?” in a rude and irritated tone but I was so lost in my own world at that point that I wasn’t really conscious of what I was saying.

I will fully admit that I continue to engage in other socially inappropriate behavior. Sometimes I pace, flap and twitch in public. That often gets me stares. When it happens in the bookstore, I’m tempted to walk up to one of the bookstore employees and within earshot of the people who are staring at me passively aggressively say “Excuse me but can you show me where the autism books are? I’m especially interested in books on dealing with people who are insensitive about autism spectrum disorders” but I don’t do that because I recognize that it would be socially inappropriate.