a beer and a shot (of perspective)

I see my friend, Jay sitting at the bar when I walk in. I make a bee-line for him and settle onto the stool next to his.
Jay and I have been trying to get together forever. I’ve had to reschedule not once, but twice. It’s just not easy to carve out a couple of hours these days for things that aren’t dying. But finally – finally – we are here – in the same place at the same time with nothing to do but talk.
We’re both looking forward to catching up. We have more in common these days than ever before. Jay is a colleague of mine, so, first and foremost, we get together to talk shop. But there’s far more than shop to talk now. Since Jay’s son has Asperger’s, we often wind up spending a lot of our time talking about our kids.
We’re laughing about something completely inane when Our New Best Friend first barges in. He inserts himself into our conversation with no care for what might have preceded his arrival. I stifle the impulse to roll my eyes. Or turn my back to him to make the point. He’s rude and I have no time nor energy for rude.
He’s introducing himself with a flourish, shaking each of our hands in turn. I have no patience for this. Jay and I have waited months to be able to talk to each another, NOT to some jackass in a bar who has no respect for boundaries.
Jay is far more tolerant than I am. He listens and nods. He even asks Our New Best Friend a couple of follow-up questions, even though it’s pretty apparent that he doesn’t need the encouragement. I settle into what our evening is apparently becoming – babysitting a drunk asshat. Greeeeeat.
I try a few times to throw hints at him. I tell him that Jay and I haven’t seen each other in ages. That we’re really enjoying catching up. That we have a lot to talk about. He doesn’t flinch, nor heaven forbid leave us alone and go find someone else’s conversation to steamroll.
Instead, he tells us stories. Stories about himself. Stories about things I don’t want to hear. About his mom and his grandmama and the tiny town they grew up in. About his Dad and his family, and the kind of people they were and holy crap, seriously, why is he telling us this stuff?
In the space of twenty minutes, Our New Best Friend tells us where he is from and where his entire family was from before that. He tells us his job history from San Francisco to New York to Chicago. He tells us what his mom did for a living, that his father passed away not long ago and that his mother was recently diagnosed with cancer.
After twenty minutes with this guy, I can now tell you that he just bought a house in a tiny little town off the beaten path. I can tell you that he has no %$#@* boundaries and can not seem to get it through his head that punching me in the arm repeatedly – no matter how genial his intent – is not OK.
I can tell you that he read a lot as a kid and that his parents used reading to teach him a sense of responsibility. I can tell you about his job, what he thinks of the people he works for and how he likes to bang heads once in a while to make a point when people don’t do things the way that he needs them done.
I could tell you that he thinks that I need a man who values me for my intellect and that more than anything in the world, I hate when men view me as beautiful rather than smart. I could tell you that he sounds like he is reading off a script and that when I hold up my bejeweled ring finger and tell him that I have a man who views me as both beautiful and smart (and add that I actually really prefer to be underestimated by the rest of the world), he doesn’t change course, but just keeps awkwardly insisting that his script should work.
I can tell you that he’s going on a trip soon with his mom and where they plan to go and how the idea for the trip came about. I can tell you that he was a weird kid and had a rough time growing up. That he prefers working with numbers to people and that his mom once told him that he was “the most wonderful mystery novel ever written” and that those words made him feel loved beyond his imagination.
Our New Best Friend excuses himself to the bathroom. As I look over at Jay, my heart is aching with guilt, wrenched with sadness.
“He’s one of our kids, Jay,” I say.
The clues were all there, the numbers, the complete lack of boundaries, the disastrous social skills, even the hitting thing, but it was his mother’s words that finally hit me over the head. She’d described her boy as ‘the most wonderful mystery novel ever written.
“Damn it, Jay; he’s one of ours.”
He comes back to the bar and insists on buying us each another cocktail. We try hard to demure, but our objections just don’t register. He orders what he thinks we should be drinking from the bartender.
When we finally get up to leave, he writes his name, phone number and e-mail address on a napkin. “Hey,” he says, “maybe sometime if you guys are going out with friends or something you can call me.”
As we walk outside, I see him wander over to a table and awkwardly insert himself into another conversation. He will try again.
As we walk to our cars, Jay looks at me. “That could be Evan,” he says. “I just didn’t see it before you said it, but damn, that could be Evan.”
“It could be, Jay,” I say, “but it won’t be.”
We talk about all of the various supports that he and his wife have in place for their kiddo. The RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) and the social pragamatics and all of the tools that awareness has given us. We talk about how different our children’s lives will be than Our New Best Friend’s, thanks to all of that support.
Then we talk about the fact that still, not everyone has access to all of it. Jay tells me what he and his wife spent last year on his son’s therapies. He worries, he says, about the people who can’t do the same. It’s a constant refrain in my life these days.
I tell him I’m working on it. That we’re all working on it. That by writing and talking and showing up, even by just sitting down with old friends, we can change things.
In the meantime, it’s us who are changed. That guy at the bar is somebody’s baby all grown up. He may be awkward; he may be brash; he may be socially inept, but he may also be the most wonderful mystery novel ever written.

35 thoughts on “a beer and a shot (of perspective)

  1. I see our “babies” all grown up everywhere. One of the gifts of Boy Wonder has given me is that he has made me less judgmental, more forgiving and tolerant of people who are different.

  2. Stories like that make me glad I’m older and less likely to act like the fellow in the story. Did I do that when I was 21? Maybe. If my perceptive abilities were impaired, I may not even know. I realized that while raising my Aspergian son, when I watched him have unsuccessful interactions, and I’d ask myself, Did stuff like that happen to me? I can’t remember it happening . . .

    But then I remember that Cubby does not notice it when it’s happening, so why should I have noticed, long ago? I sort of cringe, and like I said, I’m glad to be older. Even now, I say or do strange stuff without noticing, but today people tend to excuse my eccentricity, and the eccentricity itself is moderated.

  3. Some of us don’t have the services in our state. Some of us will be lucky to have the results that his mom did. We’ve been going it alone for 15 years..& I have big fears for him for the future 😦

  4. Oh. My. Goodness. Read what I wrote to you personally and now … this on top. I’m wrecked.

    I see our kids everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. And it kills me every single time. Like Jersey, being mama to K has made me a better person. It’s made me a lot more patient and understanding while at the same time teaching me perspective with regards to the little things that just don’t matter.

    I’m SO glad that you “got” your new best friend. I’m sure it was ridiculously awkward, but I’m glad you saw him ultimately for who he was…one of ours. His mom- my heart goes out to her. It’s unimaginable for me to think of how difficult it was for her to navigate her journey before the days of early intervention, autism awareness, and the internet. He may be struggling still, but she did a pretty good job. Bless her.

    And you are both- brilliant AND beautiful. Moo. Xoxoxo

  5. THANK YOU, Jess. Such a remarkably simple concept, that our kids grow up… yet, even WE don’t always recognize who they will be when they do. I went to WalMart yesterday, and the Greeter was a very sweet woman, looked to be in her 40’s, who quickly offered me a plastic bag for my wet umbrella. We began chit-chatting and it grew harder and harder to remove myself from this woman without offending her. I commented to her on her positive attitude. I said I try to always keep one, since I have a child with autism and I think she’s fabulous and deserves a happy mom. The woman began rattling on about this and that, and eventually blurted out, “Well, it is weird that totally normal people can have a retarded kid.” Typical me-fashion would have quickly set her straight about her terminology, but all of a sudden it hit me too, Jess… How did I miss that one? I thanked her again for the baggie and wished her a wonderful day and she beamed. It was likely a huge deal for her to have had this conversation, and I hope for her, more people take the time to chat with her as she does her job with a smile and a warm heart.

    xo, Jess… You always seem to open our eyes that much wider to the world around us, and around our kids :0)

  6. *gulp* very nice. *sniff* anyway. what i would love to see is when the buddies our kids are growing up with can be helpful by not just listening to and loving our kids, but by gently telling them whose turn it is to talk and that we are done talking about that and that maybe the way to find a new friend is to start by asking if it’s okay to join and all that. i think alpine school in new jersey has some peer type lessons.

    just saying because maybe you can talk to your senator friend. i work hard for inclusion in my daughter’s school and buddies are being found for my daughter and her classmates. we need our kids to have buddies in their community and at school and/or work. partly so they don’t approach total strangers looking for support. but also so they are included in their community when parents are long gone. gentle prompts from peers (and scripts/social stories) to help with social cues can be very effective. we need the buddies to help with this. programs (besides the underfunded best buddies) need to be implemented in public schools, especially high schools, to match kids that are looking to be teachers, psychologists, get community service hours, or be altruistic for whatever reason… with the disabled kids and to have them not only partnered but also have them guide the kids into appropriate social conversations. please, can you talk to your well placed friends to get this going?? because i dont agree that our kids will be different. there really aren’t those social networks being formed.

  7. Beautiful words, we wish for so much.
    Things we see in ourselves today,that we never would have recognised before.
    Things we watch for in our kids, because we are armed with so much information.
    You wrote this so well, thank you.

  8. Beautifully written as usual… the sad part of this is that “most” people have so much more tolerance for the “cute, little child” who is “different” – they forget that little person is still inside the grown up – the shell may have changed, but the soul is still the same….. I’m so glad you realized him as “one of our own”…. if more people could, maybe these “mysteries” would have it easier because God how they try…. and try….

  9. First a beer and a shot Always gives you new perspective! As read this I thought for sure…this is an Aspie. This could be one of mine. I pray that all I’m doing will pay off. My oldest is 15 and it feels like were running out of time.

  10. Thanks for this Jess. Made me cry a bit to hear, “one of our kids”. Not sure why. Maybe because I’m one of those kids(at age 50)? I was just like this as a young person. Somehow over the years I’ve learned to reign it in, but still have the natural tendency to talk too much…or not talk at all. It helped that a neighbor girl once said to me, “You are so rude. You never let anybody else talk and you always interrupt!” Then she walked off. I loved that girl like a sister, so it registered. Didn’t really hurt my feelings, but it made me want to be different.

  11. painful to read, i’ve been this guy for a lot of my life. i remember being very confused in college…i was social, outgoing, and within a highly social environment. yet could not make friends or girlfriends…made zero connections the entire time i was in college. and i could not understand why. i wasn’t able to see that i was inadvertently pushing people away. that contradiction, of having social needs but no social skills, it’s an incredibly painful thing.

    as a side note, the one way i dealt with all of the social confusion…and the social anxiety i would feel…is to drink. in college, i drank a lot around people, it sort of made things feel easier, even though it obviously impaired my already poor social skills. so it’s a bit distressing that this guy is at a bar. alcohol will only cause him to talk more, and the potential for abusive habits, for self-medicating habits, are very real. anyway, always something to watch with teens, adults struggling socially, the alocohol abuse risk.

  12. There are so many people I want to send this post to…and make them read and really understand what is being taught/said! Thanks Jess…you are wonderful.

  13. Your patience with this man likely made a world of difference to him. I can just imagine this guy calling his mom and mentioning his new “friends” and the warmth in her heart at knowing someone in this world would take the time to sit and listen to her beautiful son. It makes me tear up every time we are out and someone goes the extra mile to say or do something sweet for my girl, just because they understand. Thanks Jess.

  14. Got my morning cry out. Reading your blog today brought to light my deepest fears…fear that my little guy will grow up and people around him won’t realize he is “the most wonderful mystery novel ever written”. I hate it now when I see people shun him or shake their heads at his behavior. God Bless our special kids and the moms that deal with the daily heart ache.

  15. this breaks my heart in a whole new way…..my son is 14 and does this now……and I’ve never even heard of RDI……time for more research

  16. Since becoming a part of the ASD family, I have kicked myself looking back at the “annoying” or “different” people I could have shown kindnesses to.

  17. Taking it one step further, even, there’s a guy in partial group who is similar to the guy you describe. He will literally talk, loudly, for an hour with no breath! Being someone with social and auditory issues, I had a panic attack and refused to go back in the room today, even after he’d left.

    You’d think that my own lack of social skills would make me compassionate toward those with similar issues. But honestly? I know where I have to draw my lines, and I simply do not have the patience within me, try as I might, and oh, I try, to tolerate this guy.

    Does this make me a jerk?

    • of course not. we all need to do what we have to for our own self-preservation. and not being able to physically or emotionally withstand someone else’s behavior doesn’t mean that you are not compassionate toward them. the nice thing is that in today’s world, there are ways to connect – even with those that we can’t be around physically. perhaps you could get to know one another via e-mail – where he might have an easier time communicating and you might be able to handle him at your own pace. either way, we all need to draw our own lines.

  18. yes. (ed note: this yes is NOT in response to lydia’s question – it was simply an ‘amen’ to the post itself and was absolutely in no way related to the comment above)

  19. Oh my gosh. This blog saddened me to think of the issues you presented, but then to read Lydia and Rhema’s posts, words can not describe what I feel. I hope, Rhema, that that “yes” was not directed at Lydia, because if it is, I am disgusted by you. And hurt by you, hurt on Lydia’s behalf and my own.

    Where do you even begin? Lydia, as she has admitted herself, is autistic like all of your own kids and has her own very valid needs.
    One of those needs is to have some space. Her group meets in a very small room with everyone crammed up against each other. Just thinking about that alone is enough to make me nearly have a panic attack. But to be next to someone who won’t stop talking when you have auditory sensitivity issues? I would go crazy in about 5-10 minutes. I would melt down. And it’s not because of lack of compassion for that individual. It’s because of the way my own brain is wired. My needs are not any less valid than his.

    I have never been in that exact situation, but sometimes when I am in Whole Foods and it gets too crowded, I get an impulse reflex to just *get out of there* and I do, and it’s not a conscious decision. (Luckily this does not happen too often as we often go pretty late in the evening.) I imagine it is the same for Lydia and your kids as well.

    You do what you can in life. Lydia has not been rude to this individual; she just experiences a neurological and psychological reaction *which she doesn’t choose* when she is near him. We can’t all be perfect.

    I do hope your yes was in reference to something else that I am not aware of, but in case it is not…. well, there are other things I could say, but just in case you didn’t really mean it like that, I will hold back for now.


    • kate, i really appreciate your restraint, because, as i have now noted above, rhemashope’s ‘yes’ was in absolutely, positively, NO WAY related to lydia’s comment, but was instead an (admittedly ill-timed!) ‘amen’ to the post itself. please rest assured that NEVER in a million years would rhemashope (who is a dear, dear friend of mine, has a daughter with significant needs and is the most compassionate human being on the planet) EVER would have said ‘yes’ to lydia. to lay all doubt to rest — her comment actually came earlier in the day than lydia’s but got held up in approval, so it was printed later.

    • kate,

      so sorry my comment threw you.

      my ‘yes’ was in response to Jess’ last line in the post — that someone we encounter who may seem annoying or insensitive may very well be the “most wonderful mystery novel ever written.”

      lydia is actually a dear friend to me, but that’s beside the point b/c i would never suggest that she is a jerk. oh, i cannot tell you the number of times i’ve felt annoyed with someone just like the young man Jess describes.

      her story is a brave, powerful reminder to me to try and be patient and compassionate to all.

      • Hi,

        Apologies then that I misread it. I thought the posts went in chronological order but I guess not! I didn’t think you would say something like that, but I just didnt want Lydia to come on the blog and think someone was telling her she was a jerk, so I had to respond just in case. Thanks for the clarification 🙂

  20. Oh, Jess. It’s like a glimpse ahead. Things have to improve. I know you are making some headway, and I have just met some others in high places in my state that are working on making more progress as well. Until then, I hold on to the thought that 18 yrs from now, when my little one is that age, things will be different.

  21. Sorry I missed that little tangle…

    Only thing I need to say is that I love all three of you and no feelings have been hurt. Clarification is good 🙂

    And, I have to add, guess who wasn’t it group today? It was so relaxing (well… as relaxing as group ever is).

  22. Beautiful post. Yes, i cried, too. And I am hoping, beyond all reason, that in spite of your busy schedule and too many demands on you already, that you will find the time to email your new “friend” soon, to drop him a kind note asking how he is, to reach out and connect, to let him know he touched someone and that the hard work paid off… Because if it was my daughter ( who is a 9 yr old aspie now ) did this, I KNOW she would be CRUSHED to never hear from her new friends again. She would obsessively check her email, ask when they would call, and worry that something must be WRONG if she did not hear from them. And then she would just be SAD. Deeply sad to think that this new friend could have forgotten her when clearly she has not forgotten them. Yes, this has happened already, though at a fast-food playground instead of a bar…!

    And I would LOVE to think that this new “friend” might actually enrich your life, and the lives or your family, in some way, with his perspectives on things – with his experience and very different “take” on life and events. That this story will have a happy ending beyond the AHA moment and the deep breathing afterwards and the resolve to do more and better for our own children…

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