Thursday, December 9, 2010

*Unleash the Hounds

I remember very clearly the first day it began, as if it were yesterday.  My young, hip mother had a few girlfriends over. They were laughing, drinking, and generally being obnoxious (to my taste), talking over each other and carrying on the way I see many women do when they're traveling in packs.  I wanted them to leave, so, my four-year-old brain’s solution: I became a Doberman Pinscher and ran out into the living room barking at them fiercely, as if guarding my domain with all my might. 

They laughed. They mistook me for a “monster”.

“What are you, a werewolf? Dracula? What kind of little monster are you?” they asked, with that “cutesy” tone of voice some use when speaking to children.

I have always despised that aspect of people, when they change their voice to sound cute or . . . I don’t know, just different than how they normally sound when speaking of folding their laundry, creating an excel spreadsheet, or re-fueling their cars.  When I hear that high-pitched type vocalization, I feel as if someone is pouring boiling water over my body and sticking knitting needles through my eardrums, full force.

I yelped louder and clearer, then started biting at my mother’s orange vinyl barstools (I had seen dogs do this when they couldn't get to their target, sinking their teeth into whatever was near to rid themselves of pent-up frustration). It made me feel powerful, and expressed something I didn't feel I could express with mere words.  Without barking, I was a timid little girl, sitting in a corner somewhere, coloring, doing puzzles, reading about animals, or having tea with Steve Martin (my trusty invisible friend).

The cackling hens finally exited (after insisting I was a “cute little puppy”, grrrrrrrr). I accomplished my mission, served a good duty.  I rid our home of chaos.

This barking continued, and became my way of keeping people at a distance and keeping me safe inside myself. I became an expert on dogs: training techniques, breeds (standards, groups, temperaments, origins, and vocalizations), and physical/psychological reactions. By the time I was eight, you could name any breed of dog and I could mimic its bark. 

This didn’t bode well on the playground, as I'm sure you've guessed. Kids started calling me “Sparky,” pretended to throw bones for me, then would giggle along with their friends behind my back (although, with Asperger’s Syndrome comes major sensory sensitivities—I could hear EVERYTHING on the playground).  I learned that if I could get out of class fast enough for recess and grab a swing, I could stay on that swing the entire recess period and never have to deal with other kids at all.  The sensation of the swings relaxed me, made me feel a sort of high, and I was safe. You don't have to talk on swings. If there were no swings, well, it was “Sparky” time and I was lucky enough to find one friend who didn’t mind occasionally playing “animals” with me. She was a tiger.

I had no idea this had anything to do with Asperger’s until I began researching Online Forums belonging to parents of children with AS. Days ago I began uncovering post after post regarding Aspergian children who choose to emulate certain animals rather than engage in socially acceptable, age appropriate games such as dodge ball (ouch!), jumping rope, sports, and the like. With my new found diagnosis, it makes sense to me now why I desired solitude—the loud screams of the children made my head hurt, the bright Southern California sun burned my eyes and skin, and constant buzzing and brightness of those terrible fluorescent light bulbs in the classroom made me feel like my head was going to explode. How can anyone learn with those bloody buzzing lights?!

The last day I barked was my first day of sixth grade.  We had a long summer break and I was changing schools from elementary (with a playground and swings) to a high school type setting (square buildings, some temporary modular classrooms, a basketball court, a gym, and a track). No one prepared me for this change. I was shocked. 

“No swings! What do I do? What if I get lost?!” 

We broke for lunch that brisk September day and I saw my old trusty "tiger" pal, ran up to her yelping (as this is how I'd initiate play in elementary school), and she completely ignored me, walking passed with her new group of friends, giving me that signature look of disdain teenage girls are so privy to.

“Oh my GAWD, what was THAT?! Hahahaha,” I heard one of her friends exclaim as they all three laughed and trotted by.

I then realized I couldn't swing, couldn't bark, and I had better find a new identity—and quick.  So I went home that afternoon, cried into my pillow, then put all my toys and dog books away in a box, sealed it up, and then began a life of watching and attempting to “copy” others in order to be seen, in order to be loved, in order to be accepted, in order to survive.

Excerpt from chapter eighteen | hey bulldog | Everything's Hunky Dory: A Memoir


dirtypuppy8 said...

thank you once again for sharing.

it seems to me each person's youth has moments of alienation & insecurity that many of us carry for the rest of our lives.

it also seems that you sharing and reaching out can only help us all to learn about ourselves.

Kimberly said...

I'd never heard that about pretending to be an animal. Yet one more thing I relate to. My animal of choice was horses (thank you Walter Farley). Though for me, I don't remember really having a desire to fit in. If any kids laughed at me, I didn't pay attention.

Aspie Girl said...

Hello Kimberly-

I was a horse too, half the time!!! I will be writing about that soon. I still believe the "Black Stallion" original movie is one of the best movies out there. In fact, my fiance and I purchased it on DVD recently and watched it with friends - amazed at how well written, directed and produced it was. :0) Obviously, the books were my favorite too.

Thanks for writing!