January 30, 2017
The Letters That Enrich My Life on the Autism Spectrum
Many living on the autism spectrum have a passion. Mine is writing. I did some of it in high school, but I didn’t launch into it until I moved away from my home state. Back when I was living on the East Coast, I was the “lone wolf” in the family; thus, I had people back home to write to. I started with writing my mom on a weekly basis on a typewriter, then on a daily basis when a computer and e-mail came into my life.
My mom’s passion was not letter writing. She would sometimes mention she got a letter from her Aunt Annie, her Dad’s sister, and was late in writing her back. Annie lived in Salem, Illinois, with her daughter Trecia. Like myself, Annie had have a passion for writing. An urge came into my heart to write Annie myself, even though I had no recollection of meeting her. My only memory of her was a photograph my Grandpa Charlie had of his little sister, among other family photos, in a silver picture frame that hung in a bedroom. I could picture the woman with the dark hair and beautiful dress surrounded by a couple of small children. Only God knew when I was a little girl looking up at the photograph, I would one day grow up to be that woman’s “Sunshine.”
At first I resisted the notion of writing Annie. I came up with excuses such as she probably didn’t remember me. Or, she might think it odd of me to write her. Silly excuses, I know. But a fear of rejection can be a strong one for those living on the spectrum to overcome. Since the urge to write only got stronger, I gave in since I did need sleep at night. I wrote my letter of introduction and was surprised when my Great Aunt Annie wrote back so soon. And she actually wanted me to write back. Imagine that, I thought!
Years went by and without fail, Annie got a letter from me every week. For me, living on the spectrum includes an obedience to “routine.” It was so routine when I put the letter in the mail that Annie would know which day to expect a letter from her grandniece. Annie gave me the nickname “Sunshine,” because my letters cheered her up and even made her smile or laugh when arthritis, whom she referred to as “Arthur,” would unmercifully torment her joints.
Annie came down with the flu, and it soon robbed her of being able to write like she used to. She begged me to not stop writing. Of course, I could not stop writing Annie. It was a strange, unusual feeling for me to be needed in such a way. I didn’t want to let her down.
She passed away at the age of 89. My relationship with her was unlike any other in my life. I never had a one-on-one face meeting with her, but she knew me better than most. She had my letters filled with my words and thoughts. Her daughter still has them, and I still have Annie’s. I don’t pull them out, but I don’t dare throw them away. If I need to read a love letter, I know where to find one.
Shortly after Annie’s passing, her daughter asked me to be her pen pal. Unlike Annie, she preferred e-mail instead of snail mail, and that suit me just fine. I gained a new nickname of “Lil’ Sweetie,” and that suit me fine too. We are cousins and dear friends. I’ve never met my mother’s first cousin, but I don’t have to in order to know her and for her to know me. The pen is, after all, mightier than the sword.
I know all too well that one can be close to someone through words shared, even though they may live thousands of miles apart. The story of Annie and I is one among millions that could be told of how a simple thing as a letter can give strength to the weak, smiles to the hurt, and attention to the lonely.
If I were to make a list of the top 10 people who had the most effect on my life, Annie Charles and my cousin Trecia would be near the top. I say this at 58; however, I think they’d still be high on the list if I were to live to be 89.
I learned only recently I have been living on the spectrum. It was a diagnosis that explained so much of what was behind how I feel, think, and act. I do wonder what life would be like now if I were not autistic. Would I have a husband? Children? A whole host of friends? I’ll never know. But one thing I’m sure of is that I wouldn’t have been Annie’s Sunshine or Trecia’s Lil’ Sweetie if I were not living on the spectrum.