Remembering the Friends Who Liked Me for Me When I Was a Child with Asperger’s
My earliest memories are filled with the breathlessness of summers spent with my girlfriends. Running to get where we were going, playing house and jumping on mattresses in the cool cellars of their apartments. Riding my bike, not too fast, but fast enough to feel my hair flying out behind me as I tried to keep up. Lying in our little plastic pools, giggling and feeling the freezing water on our hot skin. Sitting on concrete porches with our boomboxes and rocking out to Cindy Lauper and Madonna.
I watched them do cartwheels and ride their bikes hands-free and hang upside down. I watched them jump off the swings and spin their bodies round and round, their eyes and smiles wide with excitement. I watched because I wasn’t brave enough, coordinated enough, to do those things. I watched because it looked exciting, those dangerous feats of theirs. I wasn’t jealous; I didn’t want to do those things. I knew I couldn’t, so it didn’t bother me. I liked to watch.
My friends ate ham and cheese sandwiches, drank lemonade, and snacked on Twizzlers. Not me. I was too picky. PB&Js were my lunch, every single day until my teens. I wouldn’t try lemonade or orange juice or anything so colorful. I drank milk or water, and my snacks were plain and crunchy. Cheez-its. Dry baggies of Frosted Flakes. I ate differently from them. It didn’t bother me. Or them.
We went to each others’ birthday parties. I said “No, thank you” to the ice cream cakes. I played “pin the tail on the donkey” without the blindfold and with a well-received plea to not be spun around too much prior to the pinning. I flinched when balloons were handled, and when those balloons finally popped I jumped in fright. I hardly spoke to the parents, hardly looked into their adult faces, and only fleetingly mumbled a low response to a friendly question. I was quiet and shy and reserved. But I was accepted. I was one of them.
In the summertime, the sun would be so bright, it would flicker through the trees, making the world go dark and bright within a space of a breath. I remember how I would blink my left eye, hard, as I tried to take it all in. It felt good. My friends didn’t blink like that. They never asked about it. So I blinked hard, all the time, when I felt that urge. It wasn’t until my father started calling me One-Eyed Willie that I realized my blinking was a “Bad Thing.” And then I hid it in shame.
I have moved a lot in my 38 years, away from those great friends of mine. But we still keep in touch, and of all the people I have met and friended in my years, they are the four I consider to be my bestest. The ones who didn’t judge. The ones who truly liked me for me. The Great Ones.
We were all under 8 years old at that time. That wonderful, carefree time when there were no social expectations of proper eye contact and mundane conversations about weather, no stress of husbands and children of my own, no need to be so appropriate. We were wild and unsupervised and inappropriate and it was all good.
If you are reading this, you know who you are, my dear friends. I thank you for your time and kindness and for the memories of a happy, happy childhood. The thought of you will always make me smile.
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