Girl on a Skateboard – by A. Wood

I recently became emotionally able to sort through some of the papers from my past and I came across what appeared to be a letter addressed to me. Upon opening it, I saw that it was a story, written about me after the breakup of a relationship years ago. When I read it this time, decades after it was written, it gave me some insight into myself, especially in light of my recent quest for long-ago signs of high functioning autism.

A young girl glides on the skateboard, black hair horizontal, then at rest as she stops along the non-directional journey (because of the primordial urge to seek, to know to her depths, to the squishy place where soul meets body, including but not limited to the sweet, secret plum of the future), pausing only long enough to gather up another book, whether new or old, famous or obscure. Earthsongs hum in her head, her movements are fluid and unanticipated, as she reads and skates and dreams and is.

And the incantations drilled into hard pews of the perfection of Christ and the unapproachable nature of the Virgin, these flashes and the sin snaking and laughing through the horrible brilliance of Sundaymares—all of this blends (but is also clouded by) the literature, the tug of far-off places, extreme climates, manly heroes and virtuous women in large houses, the desires of a smart girl in an unknown Southern town.

She had no mentor. Love and nurture, of course, and good food and basic essential values. If you had seen her then, or just create her now—quick-witted, prettier than most, with a wide laugh, a bit dreamy but essentially normal. The reading and the listening, the gathering of souls and sensations—these did not direct her but rather followed the glee of her self’s wanderings, the soul seeking to climb out from the warm earth into being. But the books articulated, verified, amplified the subconscious yearning, and then off to another skateboard.

She taught herself, therefore, grabbing onto the borrowed or secondhand minds, the unseen minds somehow more connected to her core than the sensing ones walking and talking and sleeping beside her. The tug of complexity kept her riding; the others, good and plain, loved her but could not calibrate themselves to her tiny but discernible changes. They saw the breezy and liquid experience (as she knew it) as quirky paradigmatic shifts, and wondered what things went on in her head.

One day she stood unclothed, before the mirror, curious and almost laughing about what boys would want so much. She placed her hands on her belly and directed herself to reverie, reverent and natural prayer (prayer really being nothing more than attention, yet so difficult to attain, so long to wait for the passive to finally assert itself), gracious and servile for the children she would someday bear in terror and wonder.

The walls of time collapsed to sand, the mirror waved before her shut eyes, and she knew she would never die but dance with the moon forever, that she had no reason to fear the pull of gravity upon her nipples. She had no conscious foretaste of the man who would dream of her, sitting in a blue chair, missing her presence with a feeling most akin to homesickness. Her mind and heart were free as she suddenly ran outside, naked and holy, running through a celebratory warm summer rain at dusky  dawn, past new trees and familiar animals, until she fell asleep wherever, nothing on her belly but birdsong.

She is skateboarding again, on the limitless streets of that village of simple food and old-timey shopkeepers, gliding by the jeers and desirous eyes of spitting boys, ignored by the girls with stable hair and purring with fashion recipes, grasping a book today coverless and dogeared, found somewhere. She casts away those pages not resonating with truth she can never find yet never stop seeking with the full passion of one strangely made more peaceful with the emerging realization of the playfulness of the ruminous. But this book links her again to herself, she doesn’t hear anything as breezes split to her gracefulness, her poise only disturbed by the pile of books she smacks into.

Stunned not by pain but by its immensity, its apex surely to the tip of God’s chin she picks herself up, picks a book up, rubbing the gilt edges across her cheek. She wants them all, wants to know not merely the ideas (the capitalized ancient Truths) but also the literal script, the subtle slips of curves and dots unseen by non-seekers and pedestrian readers like myself. But she is daunted by the immensity of it all. The cogs and sprockets within her grow timid, squeak, whisper retreat. Her skateboard pants—and the razor-sharp wheels droop to immobile ellipses.

She sits and closes her eyes as a breeze rakes over where the garment gapes; the intermittence of skin flashing between two edges of the open-necked shirt, the sliver of torso between shirt and shorts, the expanse of strong legs filling her shoes. The distress within subsides, and she will make camp and settle. She picks up the book and begins to untangle the strings of words, imprinting them upon her heart in a fine hand. At the edge of town she accepts that she is a refugee with a psyche craving to be plugged by these golden words, in these golden times, before and after womanhood. The first of many falls open in her lap and she begins, at peace.

– A. Wood


Parallel Play

That’s me, on the left.

When I first started reading about Asperger’s Syndrome as it reveals itself in females, I noticed a particular term, Parallel Play. Since I was studying the syndrome in regard to myself, I tried to remember how I played as a little girl, to see if that term applied to me.

I remember that my very favorite thing to play was shop keeper. I loved miniatures and I loved miniature food, like the little “cans” of Campbell’s Alphabet Soup with miniature, true-to-life labels on them. I loved the idea that my shop would have all kinds of tiny food, arranged neatly on the shelves, with the labels perfectly lined up for the shopper’s easy view. Ironically, I was perfectly happy as a store keeper with no customers. My joy was display and presentation. (I guess it’s no wonder then, that some of my happiest years in the work force–though the pay was low– was when I did window display for a store in downtown Winston-Salem back in the 1990s, where I lasted six years, a record for me).

I was also drawn to my brothers’ Tonka trucks and the idea of moving earth, on a miniature scale. I loved moving the earth into rows with the buckets and back hoes that actually worked (the toys I liked were based on how “real” they were or how “real” they worked). Funny how, until searching back in time in regard to Asperger’s, I had forgotten all about this! Ford, my oldest brother is about five years older than I and JD is about two years younger. I was drawn to their toys instead of my older sister’s toys. Laina is three years older than I and she was very maternal even as a young child. She enjoyed playing with Barbies; I enjoyed playing with the Barbie case, which our mother had made into a little closet, with miniature clothes, clothes hangers, and drawers that actually worked.

I did play with regular dolls. I was obsessed with real-life babies and baby dolls were an approximation of real babies (they were “realer” than Barbie dolls, which I thought were absolute nonsense; who’s ever seen anybody who looked like Barbie? And Ken Doll? Can you say, “Ugh!” To this day, I am physically repulsed by men who are overly groomed or who have what I call plastic hair). I had three baby dolls that made it into my heart. “Sugar Plum” was my first. Though I named her, I always thought her name was a bit cliché. Then came “Egele” (pronounced “AY-guh-lay”) so named from the heights of my imagination and my love of beautiful sounds. And last, was a boy doll (in my mind, not anatomically) named “David.” I distinctly remember that in fairness to each doll, I tried to divvy out my attention equally and actually felt guilty for “replacing” one doll with the other.

Reading has been a passion that has stood the test of time through all of the stages of my life except for a period when it was squelched (during my second marriage- a story for another time). Books were my escape. They were my friends. I think maybe I fell for the smell of an old book and the soft feel of well-worn paper more than the actual characters in the books (I didn’t appreciate modern books that are put together with cheap glue and their spine falls apart sometimes before the book is finished). At any rate, I could read a book in a crowd, while I was with two people, in the car, while on a pony, on the back of a bicycle, or walking home from school, which I did every day in middle school. People and events around me faded into the background when I had a book.

When I spent time with other girls, it is apparent to me now that I was usually the third wheel, a position that worked well for me because it allowed me to not-lead, not-follow, but remain “out there,” while spending time around other people. I refer to a quote I heard when I was a young adult: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way,” which, while I objected to such a narrow categorization of personality types, I always felt that I was one of those get-out-of-the-way people. Third Wheel allowed me to be part of the group without the pressures of being leader or follower. Being Third Wheel allowed me to seem to play with the others, while really doing my own thing. I learned a lot about how to act by observing Sandra and Marissa, my friends from first through fourth grades. I’m not sure what they got out of the arrangement.

When I went to college in my late twenties, I made friends with two wonderful women, Kim and Robette. They both had what I think of as balanced brains; they were really good at math/science AND English/literature-related courses. As an unbalanced learner (I was weak in math, very strong in English/literature), I loved hanging around them. At the time, I sort of recognized my position as Third Wheel but I thought it had to do with my lack of commonality with them, since they were members of the Motherhood Club and I wasn’t. With them, I was the kooky, quirky, auxiliary person. The comedian. It was an easy friendship.

This pattern of Third Wheel to two best friends follows me still. Lisa and Phyllis, two current friends, both have “best friends” other than myself. I have never really been envious of that, probably because what I can give is on par with what is usually expected of a Third Wheel.

And now, in my happy (third) marriage, even before I discovered the Asperger contribution to my personality, I have noticed that I tend to enjoy watching a movie on my smart phone more than I do on the bigger TV screen with my husband. He is a member of the ADHD Club and is an only child who grew up sort of in his own world both physically and psychologically. Sometimes we will be in the same room, enjoying the comfort of physical proximity, each of us doing our own thing. You can see us at any given time and one of us will be wearing head phones or ear buds!

For me, whatever endeavor I am in the middle of, I do with intensity. That intensity determines that I can only do one thing at a time. I can only watch the movie. I can only talk with someone. I can’t really do both at the same time (what’s with talking during a movie, anyway?).

If you had asked me ten years ago if I were a team player, I would have said, “Yes!” I would have given you an illustration I still love. I call it the hay-getting-up analogy. If you’ve ever helped anyone get up hay in the summertime, it’s wonderful. Everyone works together toward a common goal of getting the hay into the barn before it rains. It’s usually a big crowd of people, there’s busy-ness and a little bit of urgency. I have always loved being part of a festive endeavor like this. An old-time quilting bee has the same appeal.

But if you think about hay harvest (and group quilt-making), each person has her own separate responsibility. Each person does his own part while others do theirs, a concurrent endeavor like the gears working in an old clock. I now realize that hay harvesting is Parallel Play at its best.

So, yes, I recognize that I am a parallel player by nature and a “team player” as long as I get to do one part of a job that still allows me to play all by myself.


Grace Notes

Today Pro and I went to the funeral of our neighbor, Farmer Luck, who successfully made it to his 86th birthday last month. The thing that stood out most during the service was the music. In spite of my very country upbringing, this was the first time I’ve ever heard bluegrass music at a funeral. It turns out that Farmer Luck played the banjo back in his day and the music was in his honor.

During the funeral, those banjos pulled emotions out of me that I had buried. As a white-haired man with crevices in his voice pulled notes from the strings and belted out a plaintive song, I saw my own father, from the country, himself a lover of banjos. I heard creek babbling and wind noises from the woods I played in when I was small. I saw visions of ferns by the spring, Granny Mozelle’s fingers, curved by arthritis. The banjos evoked so many memories and forgotten feelings!

The banjos talked to each other and to us and I sat there enthralled. Hymns must have been Farmer Luck’s favorite music; he did play banjo at church all those ages ago. I noted to myself that a banjo might not be the first instrument I think of when I think of hymns. The sound of a banjo is distinctively strong; notes are struck, plucked, loud. And without some padding in between the notes, the melody would stand out too stark. Too staccato. Which is why grace notes were invented!

So today at the funeral, when the banjos were wrenching emotions from my very gut, my mind was on Dot, who lost her partner of 62 years. I imagined how tomorrow morning, for her, will be so different from this morning. Tomorrow will be quiet and still, without the benefit of getting ready for the funeral. The photos of her and sweet Farmer Luck, that sat on the casket, will return to the living room as paper-metal-glass reminders of what is now missing. And Farmer Luck’s camel-colored easy chair will be empty when sunlight hits the fabric and remain so until darkness comes. “Do you want grits this morning?” she might ask from the kitchen to the empty chair, out of habit. And midway through that question, she will realize that she is talking only to air and her lungs will feel like they are being sucked as flat as a vacuum pack. And she will sit in her beautiful kitchen and cry to herself, amid two plates and the double breakfast she accidentally cooked.

The banjos made me think of the structure of life after someone we love had died. Yes, life goes on. We step from one single note to another, like stepping stones. Or milestones. We make it, we live. But to live fully, we need the grace notes, those notes whose purpose is to be extra, to give beauty. Grace notes. That’s what I wish now for Dot.