Our Hospitality: Day Three and Day Four
The next morning we were awoken by the spawn. I was dazed from sleep and felt a little vulnerable standing around in my pajamas. The older spawn, who is four, decided this would be an excellent opportunity to interrogate me.
“Do you go to school?” he asked.
“Do you go to work?”
“Do you go to daycare?”
“What do you do?”
“Because it’s the only thing I know how to do,” I said, and laughed nervously.
“Why do you make jokes?” he asked.
“I… don’t know.”
He stared at me for a long time, and then ran off with his sister.
At breakfast I noticed him staring at me again.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“I’m visiting,” I said.
“To meet your family.”
“Because I was curious?”
He stared at me for a long time, and then continued eating.
Hannah and I went downstairs with our laptops and sat next to each other, both involved in our own pursuits, talking about whatever we happened to be reading. There’s an autistic phenomenon called parallel play, in which autistic kids are observed to participate in the same activities as other kids at the same time, but without interacting with them.
For instance, if a neurotypical kid were building a structure with Lego bricks, another neurotypical kid might come and participate in adding to the structure, while probably engaging the first kid in conversation. An autistic kid would come along and build their own Lego structure, probably with minimal interaction.
As Hannah and I sat side by side reading different websites on different laptops, it occurred to me that we were basically engaged in an adult form of parallel play.
It felt very natural.
I heard doors open and close upstairs, and unfamiliar voices.
“Company’s here,” said Hannah. “We should probably go upstairs and be social.”
I had known about this. Mrs Hannah has an open house every New Year’s day for friends and family. I was apprehensive when Hannah had told me about it, but figured I could pull it off.
She went to her elevator, which is Hannah-sized and not big enough for both of us. I waited by the bottom of the stairs, listening to the mechanical whir of the elevator, trying to time things so that Hannah and I arrived at the main floor at the same time.
I nailed it.
Upstairs I was introduced to a woman who looked very much like Mrs Hannah, which makes sense because she was her sister. I was also introduced to Aunt Hannah’s husband. People chatted. I stood idly by, not knowing what to do.
“Do you want to have a seat?” asked Hannah. I sat on a stool next to her.
More people arrived. The room filled up with noise. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing. The noise filled up my body, crowding out the blood in my veins.
I wondered who these visitors were, really, and whether they’d be disgusted or alienated by me if they knew who I really was. They looked so normal, and so happy, and so well-adjusted.
I felt like an alien in disguise, one wrong move away from being vivisected.
More people arrived. Hannah led me out to the front hall to see them. I stood by while other people chatting, feeling odd and unmoored.
We went back to the living room. The television was on: more noise.
I heard an insistent little voice in my head say, “You’re not doing well. Get the hell downstairs now.”
“I’m going downstairs,” I said to Hannah, and left.
I curled up in a comfortable chair with my laptop and disappeared, drifting from one favourite website to another.
I heard the whir of the elevator, and a moment later Hannah rounded the corner.
“Hey,” she said, “How’re you doing?”
“I’m okay. I just needed to get away.”
We chatted for a bit, and then she said she was going back upstairs, and left. I realized she probably expected me to follow.
After a minute, I did. I needed to see if I could handle it or not. Sometimes all I need is a break from socializing, but sometimes a situation gets too much for me to handle and I simply have to leave.
Upstairs, Hannah introduced me to someone whose name I didn’t catch, and the woman asked me a question, and I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Which is a bad sign. It meant I had stopped processing auditory information properly. Then I realized that about a minute had passed, and the woman and Hannah were looking at me expectantly. One of them had just asked me a question. I asked them to repeat it, and I replied, and then they talked amongst themselves. Involuntarily spacing out is another red flag.
When I freak out, I don’t do it like other people. I don’t cry, I don’t have panic attacks, I don’t break out sweating, or anything like that.
I shut down like a computer. Piece by piece, I stop operating. Component after component blinks out, and I gradually stop functioning.
Of course, if I’m forced to function beyond that point, all bets are off. Black smoke pours from the monitor that is my brain. Anything can happen after that.
The trick is for me to recognize what’s going on before I reach that point, and then get the hell out of Dodge.
I went back to the basement, because it was safe and quiet and warm. After awhile I heard people say their goodbyes and leave.
Hannah’s sister-in-law came downstairs, poked her head around the corner, and said goodbye to me.
Hannah’s brother came downstairs a few minutes after that, shook my hand, and said he was sure we’d see each other soon.
I thought to myself how much I like Hannah’s immediate family, and how fortunate that was, because their decency wasn’t at all a foregone conclusion. Plenty of lovely people have asshole families, after all. I could’ve been stuck in the middle of nowhere with a pack of douchebags for four days. I got lucky.
Hannah came downstairs, and I was worried that she’d be angry or disappointed in me for skipping out.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“My grandma’s here.”
“She is? When did she get here?”
“About half an hour ago.”
“I didn’t know I was down here that long. I should say hello.”
I got up, and sat right back down again. I hadn’t realized until then how exhausted I was.
Hannah and I sat together for a few minutes and chatted. Then we headed upstairs.
Her grandmother came from far, far away a very long time ago, and so I couldn’t understand most of what she said.
She seemed like a nice lady though.
The evening was much more sedate, because it was just me and Hannah, and her parents, and Sister and Brother-in-Law and Foreign Grandmother, and the two spawn. Writing it down, that sounds like a lot, but it was totally manageable.
Eventually the visitors prepared to leave. The older Spawn- the one who had interrogated me- hugged me goodbye. I guess I must have passed the test. The younger Spawn didn’t say goodbye to me; she just fixed me with a glassy-eyed stare. I didn’t take it personally, because she had run head-long into the corner of the kitchen counter not five minutes earlier.
Hannah and I went to bed not long after, because we were both exhausted.
The morning after, Hannah slept in until almost noon. I didn’t want to go downstairs, because that would’ve entailed socializing, so I lounged around and read.
Most of the day consisted of packing and driving to the train station. I was relieved to be heading home, and even more relieved to be heading home with someone who knew how to navigate the fucking railway system. I had gotten a free train ticket back to the city as Hannah’s attendant, and we would be seated together. We’d hang out for a few hours on the train, shoot the shit, and maybe have dinner together in the city when we got back at 9:30. For the first time in days, I knew I didn’t have anything to worry about.
At the station, Hannah and I said goodbye to Mr and Mrs Hannah, and I remembered all the usual shit: thanking them for inviting me, thanking them for the Christmas present they gave me, eye contact, handshaking, and I even said “Take care”.
The train was half an hour late due to bad weather, and we boarded it at 5:30. I was informed by the world’s smarmiest man that Hannah and I were no longer seated together, but I could pick any other seat I wanted.
Because that’s an excellent way to run a business.
Anyway, to make a long story short, we arrived in Toronto at 12:30 P.M. Our four hour train ride had taken seven hours due to extreme cold.
Hannah was concerned that I might never want to travel on the train again, but it really wasn’t so bad. She and I texted until our phones died, and then talked on Facebook for awhile. I read parts of Matt Zoller Seitz’s excellent book The Wes Anderson Collection. They gave us free chocolate, and the world’s smarmiest man gave me an extra one and actually winked at me.
I got home at 1:30, fell asleep in my clothes, and woke up three days later.