Chapter 28 – A Different Drummer
Henry David Thoreau said, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” My efforts to look at the world through Ray’s eyes have fallen short of miraculous, but I’m trying—and I have made some progress. That’s no small thing, considering the fact that, when I “discovered” Asperger syndrome, I thought the only one who needed to make any progress was Ray. My early drafts of this manuscript are full of blanket statements, full of theys: “They hate social functions,” “they love computers,” and the like, but the line between “them” and “us” is not as distinct for me now as it once was.
I tell Ray I’m weeding out a lot of my “theys,” expecting he’ll be pleased. But he’s always happy to play the devil’s advocate, so instead of commending me for editing out those egregious stereotypes, he donates a few to bolster my dwindling collection:
“Hate” is far too strong, but I think “they” tend to find all social functions a bit trying. And it does seem to be a useful and accurate thing to say that Aspies are intense about everything, as I am. Thus the characteristic Aspie obsessions. It’s *one* area where I think I fit the Aspie bill.
And that’s how it goes. I have suffered many uncomfortable paradigm shifts and endured endless admonitions and corrections during the writing of this book. Ray has thrown me off balance and helped me back up. I have become used to being humbled every time I think I’ve got the gist of it.
He tells me:
You get closer to wisdom—rather than paternalism—when you try to understand that you *can’t* understand what it’s like for me.
He’s right. I can’t. I don’t think he’ll contradict me on that one.
I was born neurotypical and I am therefore a member of a vast ethnic majority. Ray lives on my planet, where he is hopelessly outnumbered and where just being himself is risky. If I were suddenly dumped on his planet, I’m sure I would suffer there as he suffers here. Who could blame me if I sometimes expressed a longing for the way things were back home on Earth?
It has been seven years since I read that biography of the eccentric pianist Glenn Gould and thought, “Good Lord, it’s my brother!” I can reel off a comprehensive symptom checklist. I might even be able to impress a few people with my academic knowledge of “high-functioning” autism. But far more importantly, thanks to Writing Man, I have been given a backstage pass to my brother’s most intimate thoughts and feelings—and permission to share them with the world.
Writing Man and I get on like a house on fire—even when we’re fighting we’re having fun—but I cannot tell a lie: none of our marathon correspondence and no amount of book-learning has made our real-time relationship any smoother. Ray and I still misunderstand each other. We still see almost everything from different angles. If I try to school him, he schools me right back. Most of the time, we still think it’s the other guy who’s got it all wrong, and we must still retreat to our computers to work things out.
Can Ray be understood? Indeed, does he want to be understood? Sometimes he seems to plead for it. “You see?” he wrote to me once when we had arrived at some rare patch of common ground, “our minds are not that different, really, are they? Inside I’m actually a human being.”
But for every time he invites me in, there’s another where he holds me off as though I am trying to steal something from him. I understand. Ray has had to walk a solitary path his whole life and he’s leery of my incursions into his private territory. Will he see what I have written here as a fair and balanced portrait of a complex man or as another cruel put-down, a way to maintain my ill-gotten standing as Alpha by making him a laughingstock? If I have attempted the former, is he guaranteed to conclude I’ve achieved the latter?
I remember the day I realized that our correspondence could easily fill a book. I told Ray I was thinking of writing one with him as my collaborator. I expected him to be flattered, and he was. “Shucks,” he said, suddenly bashful, “if I’d known I was being quoted I’d have polished my prose!”
So I got started on the project with his endorsement. Only later did he reveal deep misgivings:
I feel a mixture of anticipation and dread at the thought of reading this book. What are you telling people about me? Would I agree with all or even most of it? Am I being caricatured? Suppose I denounce the whole thing? Then what you have is fiction at best, slander at worst—unless of course you feel that you are better qualified than I am to describe my inner life, which is a bit condescending but sadly not uncommon.
Slander? Ray thinks I might slander him? I was a little taken aback, and I told him so. He immediately dropped his dukes:
Well, not “slander”—that’s the wrong word. “Grossly misunderstand” would be better. If you are going to “explain” me, I hope you get it right.
Of course I want to get it right. He must see by now that it is not my aim to hold him up for the class as a textbook case of Asperger syndrome, pop him in the appropriate box, slam it shut and call it a day. Maybe have a laugh at his expense with my neurotypical friends. Besides, even though he knows our correspondence is the foundation of a book, he has continued to answer every question I ask, unstintingly and without reserve.
I reminded Ray at one point that I’m not a scientist or a shrink, not an expert in autism—heck, I’m not even an expert at being his sister. Who was I to presume to write a book with autism at its core? I had left myself wide open to accusations of conceit and waited for him to come back with a stinging rejoinder, so of course he didn’t. Instead he told me I that my lack of qualifications were the perfect qualifications:
Because you are *not* a scientist or a shrink, it is possible for you to see things with fresh eyes, as yet undimmed by the strictures and dogmas of the “learned.”
Heartened, I said, “I want the world to know Writing Man.”
And Ray’s reply was, “Well, he could use an advocate, that’s for sure.”
Coming to a bookstore near you in fall 2020!
If you add your e-mail to this list, I will let you know when it launches.