The cool of green shade
steps to a secret place
locked doors of a shed
the innocence of childhood lost
in a matter of minutes
and no one knew
for years and years and years
dare break the silence even now
Grandpa did a naughty
and it remained
forgotten for years
until you shared your story
of what happened to you
there were other times
of lesser evil
but sketched in memory
enough to sting
so many decades later
I have forgiven
but no longer forgotten
from so early in life
I adored him
etched deep wounds
though the misdemeanors minor
by most standards
just enough to give pause
if I see a secret place
all too inviting
for the sins
a forbidden intimacy
just enough to
add guilt and shame and fear
where they do not belong
in the shade
Long ago, when I was very young, we used to go visit my great grandfather in Vermont. “Pop,” we called him, was a minister. He was a minister at Riverside Church in New York City, just two blocks from where my husband and I have lived for the past 25 years. Pop and Nana, my great grandmother, spent summers in Greensboro, Vermont, right on a lake, facing the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The lake was pristine. So clean you could drink the water. So cold even in summer, you had to wait until afternoon to swim. So cold fires burned in the fireplace in the mornings. I was scared of fire back then and remember crying and Pop took me back to his little office in the woods where he often had a fire going, to give me a lecture about fear. He told me if you were careful and knew what you were doing and had respect for it, fire was safe in the fireplace and I should not be afraid.
Early in the mornings my Dad and Pop and a neighbor would go fishing for perch for breakfast. They would come home with many fish and then would clean the scales into a bucket off the kitchen. Nana would cook them and serve the fish with fluffy eggs, and soft, buttered toast. And there was sweet, home-made marmalade with bits of peel to relish. We would eat out on the sun porch at a long table in the warm, but not hot, bright yellow sun.
Usually I went to Greensboro with my parents but sometimes Pop would drive me up at nighttime. Twelve hours on old back roads, passing through dark, sleeping towns. There were no highways then. I loved Vermont, and Nana and Pop’s house on the lake. I loved walking along the brook that flowed through their backyard. I loved looking at the blood-red poppies in their garden. But I didn’t like the swarms of gnats that hung in the fresh, warm air. Nor the snakes. Neither did Nana. I remember Nana using a garden tool to cut a garter snake in half. This seemed horrific and puzzling at the time, and seems even more grizzly today. I didn’t understand why we had to kill the snakes.
Nana was very strict, an old New England schoolmarm. My pajamas had to be neatly folded under my bed pillow or else they wound up in the “pound”, a big wooden chest, filled with other untidy things. A child had to pay money to get things out of the pound. I had almost no money then so this was a very effective form of punishment. It is true I was given a modest sum of money when we went to the general store in town. With it I would buy colorful fake wax miniature soda bottles. You would bite off the waxy top and drink the sweet liquid inside the pretend soda bottle. I learned a valuable lesson. The liquid was gone in a second– there was a flash of intense pleasure– and then you were left broke, with an unpleasant wad of wax in your mouth.
Town was miles away. The mail boxes were far away but you could walk to them along the driveway. And the nearest neighbors were far away, too. You had to walk along the lake, through the woods, to get to their house. Upon arrival, the grown-ups would have drinks and play cards and talk about this disease you got in the winter when the snow would cover the front door. It was called “cabin fever.” My mother tried to explain to me what kind of sickness it was but I never understood.
The neighbors had a young teenage boy named Andy and I had a crush on him, declaring him my boyfriend. He barely spoke to me but nevertheless when Nana gave me chocolates, I saved them and brought the bag of chocolates through the woods to the neighbors’ house for Andy. The gift went unacknowledged. Even in those days of relative innocence, I had found my first of many love obsessions. It would be several failed relationships and 30 long years spent in pursuit of love before I would find someone I loved. Someone who has loved me back, mental illness and all, in a marriage of almost 25 years. Not that long in the scheme of things.
Pop dying was the first loss I experienced. I remember not understanding death at all, sitting on Nana’s lap and asking where he had gone. She could not answer me. Nana and I corresponded by letter after that until she died many years later.
It was in those days of cool summers that I fell in love with nature and the countryside, although as a city girl, I was scared of the pitch black nights. It would take me 50 years before I would escape the city when my husband and I got a little barn in rural upstate New York.
As I sit recuperating from a recent illness, I ponder the turns my life has taken and wonder what lies ahead, not without fear, but with growing equanimity.
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I first remember things going wrong at age 5.
I am standing in the corner of the bedroom with my mother beside my brother’s crib. She is telling me I am cold and selfish, like my father’s mother whom she hates. I now think she hates me. She tells me I will wind up all alone.
It is just after the births of my brother and sister, only 11 months apart, and my 25-year-old mother, is totally overwhelmed. My brother is the apple of her eye, with Mom’s dark coloring and the looks of her adored Sicilian born-father. My sister is Daddy’s little girl. I remember feeling all alone, and being cold and hard at that age, confiding only in my stuffed lion, Leo. Many, many years later I come to see this cold, hard me as a dissociated self. Many years later my mother apologizes to me. And I apologize to her.
I set out on a life-long struggle to be different from my father’s mother, doing everything to try to be warm and loving like my mother’s Italian family. I fail. With acute stage fright most of the time, I cannot initiate a smile, nor greet people. The most basic social skills are lost to me, much to the chagrin of my parents. Often I cannot respond to people. At times I cannot organize my thoughts well enough to speak. I feel evil and selfish. I want to fit in and can’t. I want to pass for normal and don’t. I want to have a family and never will. I want to find love and it will take me decades to do so.
The “defensive personality” serves me well, covering up many, but not all, of my autistic symptoms. I live dissociated from many of my numerous fears.
My story begins when I break down. My fiancé, Sundra, goes back to Sri Lanka. I change library jobs from a relatively comfortable clerical position in a small library to a position cataloging art books in a huge office. The new job is in a giant room with three different departments and about 40 employees of all ages and ethnicities. There are no cubicles or dividers so everyone can see and hear everyone else. It is as gossip-ridden as a small town. There is no privacy and there are fluorescent lights. It is all too much. But it is here I meet Danielle who is to change my life forever and, later, Jimmy, who becomes my husband. My journey begins when my autistic shell breaks, at age 28, when the “superficial personality”, the dissociated me, falls apart. I seek therapy and am diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Not until thirty years later do I find out I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, as well.
I write my story as a message of hope to all those who are as lost as I was, to those who think, as I did, that they cannot find love. I open my heart to help others avoid the suffering I went through and caused. I nearly lost my job and my mind pursuing love. I hurt other people. I could have been seen as a stalker due to my typical Aspie approach to a romantic interest. Love threw me over the brink of sanity and made me psychotic at times. I didn’t know I was Bipolar and my psychiatrist didn’t know I had Asperger’s syndrome.
Finally, I write this book to psychiatrists and other therapists that they may understand their patients who have the same issues and delusions.
From the Prologue to Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things:
The second time I reread this book was on a whim, long after suffering a breakdown myself. I was much older and wiser on this second reading and, as I reread her story, I realized that I, too, was on the spectrum, as I had begun to suspect. This book gave me the courage to get diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 61.
I would recommend the sequels to this book: “Somebody Somewhere,” “Like Colour to the Blind,” and “Everyday Heaven.” They make up a set. Donna Williams’ poetry is also very special. Read “Not Just Anything.” She is a brilliant woman and has conquered her pain with courage and intelligence and creativity!
This book is worth the time. The writer is unbelievably honest about her
experiences and she had me caring about her from the very beginning. She is a
very brave woman for being as open and detailed as she was. Her mental battles,
her struggles with everything and as for the writing, the delivery of her
thoughts was intense and well delivered. I have epilepsy and I can tell you that
after reading her story it has helped me. She has inspired me and reminded me
not to forget what I know. This is a story that I highly recommend and I want to
say thank you to the writer for allowing me to experience it all.
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)