Come As You Are, Part Two

by dpreyde

His name was Timothy. He looked like a lumberjack, but was wearing a tight pink sweater. He was loud, boisterous, and very present.

I had no idea what to make of him, but I started talking to him and it turned out he was also a big film fan.

Like, huge. He was in love with things I’d never even heard of.

When two Aspies meet who have the same special interest, it gets pretty fucking intense. Pretty soon we were ping-ponging back and forth in what must have seemed to other people to be a different language.

Fortunately, Timothy started attending S.A.S.A. regularly, and we started hanging out by ourselves as well. He opened up the city for me. Sure, I’d been all over the damn place, and was more or less familiar with the majority of Toronto’s neighbourhoods, but there were some things that had never occurred to me to investigate.

We went to galleries, clothing stores, weird-ass restaurants, and a lot of eccentric specialty shops. He also dragged me into neighbourhoods I’d been careful to avoid due to their bad reputation.

“What do you mean you don’t want to go to Liberty Village?” he said.

“It’s in a dangerous part of town,” I said.

“The only thing dangerous down there are a bunch of angry fucking hipsters.”

The dynamic in S.A.S.A. changed, too. I’d always gone along with the Mathpies’ whims, even when they bored me.

Timothy and I had similar interests, but he had no knack for diplomacy, and as a result I found my own voice being amplified through another, ruder body.

“Laser Tag? Are you kidding? What, are we eight? We go to Laser Tag, people will think we’re pedophiles!”

“No, we’re not going to a movie directed by Michael Bay. Not unless you want me to kill myself in the lobby.”

“Believe me, I’ve been to the Japan Foundation and there’s nothing to see. You want an underrated museum, let’s go to the Gardner Museum of Ceramics.”

When I didn’t agree with him, I thought he was just being a contrarian ass:

“I will eat anything except Pizza Pizza. That shit’s not real food. Domino’s? God no, that’s even worse. Fine, we can do Pizza Pizza, but I want gorgonzola and artichoke hearts.”

“We can go to Vaughan Mills, but I want at least an hour in Holt Renfrew. And another hour at the hunting store. I have an erotic fascination with hunters.”

The dynamic of S.A.S.A. changed in other ways too, as we gained more people. That was the interesting thing about S.A.S.A.: how the group operated and what the dynamic felt like depended largely on who was there. And it changed significantly as a greater range of personalities were introduced.

I think this is something Nathan was doing deliberately, but he was always inscrutable. More introverts were added, more linguistic Aspies were added, more women were added. I don’t know where Nathan was finding these people- whether they’d found him, or he’d found them.

Nathan sat through meetings and listened to us, and his facial expressions suggested a combination of detached amusement and “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this”. He told us, more than once, that S.A.S.A. was the highlight of his week, and that was easy to believe.

One of the new members was Jane, a hypersensitive Mathpie. Although her main interest was science, she had an appreciation and thorough understanding of linguistics as well, and so was more balanced in this regard than most Aspies.

We hit it off immediately- or as immediately as you can when you’re both hypersensitive, socially avoidant introverts- and started hanging out outside of S.A.S.A. I suggested we go to Allan Gardens, because I knew she was interested in trees and plants and shit. We went, and barely said anything to each other, but it didn’t feel awkward somehow.

Timothy also took a liking to her. They were both insomniacs, and lived fairly close to each other, so they started wandering around the neighbourhood in the middle of the night.

After a few months I realized I was interested in Jane. She was the first person I’d had a crush on in six years, so I had no idea what to do. I waited six months to ask her out on a date.

She thought about it for two days, and said no- and actually had a really good reason why not.

While all this was going on, Jason had decided to start a second S.A.S.A. group on campus.

“I feel like this group is becoming too crowded,” he said. “It’s at risk of becoming too cliquey. I’ve noticed for awhile that new people show up and don’t stick around. So this is a way of addressing that.”

He made it clear that, while the new group would be mostly for new (first and second year) students, any of us were welcome to join as well.

The new group was scheduled for a day which worked better for me than the original, so I joined up. I was the only member to make the switch.

Nathan had hired another person to be the facilitator of the new S.A.S.A., which was a big risk for him, considering how much he cared about the group.

Her name was Roxanne (I think she may have been named after The Police song). She was the polar opposite of Nathan, and I’ve got to hand it to him: it takes guts and a total lack of ego to hand your baby over to someone who has next to nothing in common with you.

Roxanne was an ebuillent enthusiast. She was loud where Nathan was quiet, energetic where he was reserved, and had no experience beyond a few peer tutoring gigs. She was given no training- just the keys to the car.

The new S.A.S.A. started off well- about nine new students showed up for the first meeting. Roxanne was more involved with the group than Nathan had been- he’d been content to sit back and let things happen, while she initiated conversations and talking points- but I chalked that up to a difference in personal style.

Things fell apart pretty quickly.

There’s this thing about Aspies, and I’m not sure how to explain it without falling into a victim mentality. But we seem to behave like prey animals. We’re as skeptical and easily startled as deer, and many Aspies are slow to trust and tend to believe that people have ulterior motives. A lot of Aspies are especially skeptical of people who are flashy and flamboyant in their presentation. These traits tends to set off alarm bells for us.

You wouldn’t go running after a moose while honking a vuvuzela, after all, and Aspies are in many ways a lot like moose.

Roxanne was a natural vuvuzela, and though she meant well and tried hard, her group started hemorhaging to death.

She and I had gotten along well since the very beginning, which was strange, because I distrust bubbliness as much as my kin.

But it was clear to me that Roxanne was, deep down, a gentle soul. She was the bleeding heart that I thought Nathan would be when I first joined S.A.S.A.

She also sought advice from me, because she wasn’t getting it from anywhere else. Nathan was her supervisor, but had taken a hands-off approach similar to his approach in S.A.S.A. meetings. He believed- and there is a certain amount of truth to this- that most problems are self-resolving.

But Roxanne was drowning.

Pretty soon I was the only person showing up to her group. She and I hung out by ourselves and talked for two hours a week.

“What am I doing wrong?” she asked. “Honestly, David, I want you to give it to me straight. What could I be doing differently?”

“Well, your intentions are obviously good,” I said, “but you’re really green.”

Her face fell.

“You’re inexperienced,” I said, “but you’ll get better over time.”

Later that night, she told me she was in charge of sending out e-mails for S.A.S.A.’s next outing- both groups would be going bowling together.

“Maybe you should write it for me,” she said, smiling wanly. “Since I’m so green.”

At one point, I actually did write an e-mail for her. Every week she was supposed to write an e-mail to S.A.S.A. members informing them of the date and location of the next meeting. Often she’d forget to send this e-mail until the same day, or even after the meeting had already started.

So one evening I took a piece of paper, scrawled out a rough draft, and handed it to her. She used that draft verbatim every week afterward.

I remember one day in December Roxanne showed up to group with a copy of Finding Nemo. She and I watched it by ourselves.

“Maybe we could watch all the Pixar movies,” she said. “For real. We can start at the beginning with Toy Story and every week watch a different one.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I said. “This is supposed to be a social group.”

“Well, nobody’s showing up anyway.”

That was when I realized that at some point soon Roxanne was either going to quit or be fired.

What would happen to the second S.A.S.A.? I wondered.

I still believed it was a good idea to have one, and that Nathan’s instincts were correct that the first group was in danger of calcifying.

But who else could lead a second group?

They’d obviously have to have Asperger’s, I thought. I ran through the mental rolodex of Aspies I knew at the university. Timothy would be willing to do it, but he was too bombastic. Jane would be great, but she was too shy. Most of the others were fine people, but I believed they all lacked the interest or ability to lead a group.

Fuck it, I thought. If it comes right down to it, I’ll do it myself.

At first, I hated the idea. I was uncomfortable with the thought of leading a group of people, of being committed to my community in that way.

But the more I thought about it, the more I warmed to it.

I have this impulse to rescue people and take care of them, and the more I thought about leading S.A.S.A., the louder that little caretaker voice spoke up inside me.

On Valentine’s Day, Roxanne showed up late to group. It didn’t matter, because nobody except me and her had shown up since early December.

“I have to tell you something, and I haven’t told anyone else yet,” she said. “After today, I’m quitting.”

“I want your job,” I said.