Wanda Wisteria knew before anyone else did. When the other toddlers in her play group played side by side, she played in their space. She sat too close. She huddled too near. The mothers of the other children said Wanda made their children uncomfortable. Uneasy.
The verbal message was clear. She did not fit in. She made people uncomfortable. So she searched for clues. Considered her thoughts and the meaning of her own words. Her words made sense. The reactions to her words did not. Arched eyebrows, looks of dismay, smiles and frowns and tears and laughter meant nothing. She could not find the definitions for facial expressions as she thumbed through her mental dictionary. Anger. Ire. Rage. Joy. Delight. Look me in the eye, they said. Make eye contact. Read my lips.
How could she explain that making eye contact was often physically unbearable. Made her so uncomfortable that her hands flapped up and down. So much information on a human face, all in a language she did not speak. And on her own face, not a trace of emotion. Perhaps a slight grimace, but mostly a seemingly uninterested uncaring unfeeling badge of mind numbing social ineptitude. Her smile, a forced uptick. Her laugh, a heartless cackle. Insensitive, they said. Lack of feeling, they said. Cold. Distant. Hard to read.
In truth, Wanda was very sensitive. To her surroundings. To the things she could see and touch and hear and taste. Occasionally an overload of stimuli, so much that she shrank into herself and flapped her hands as a distraction. Or she walked through her routine of order, lining up books on the shelf or alphabetizing her classmates names, tapping her pencil six times before turning the page.
The page. On the page she found solace. Manuals. How-To books. Directions. Assembling and disassembling piece by piece. The maze of a circuit board a puzzle to others, but to her a map to a zap. A perfectly straight perfectly reasonable path for the current to follow. Puzzles never puzzled. There was always a way out. An end. A solution. Her mind was a laboratory for experiments. She could not only diagram the end result, but could expound on all the particulars in expository language. The Who and the What and the Where and the When and the How. Precisely. At great length. To anyone who would listen. Whether they were truly listening or not. A one sided conversation. A stand-up monologue. But Wanda was no comedian and the situation not even remotely funny.
Wanda could carry on a conversation.
Wanda did not understand that there was another side to the story. Wanda was not a good listener in that she had no idea she was supposed to be, nor could she tell that the person standing beside her had anything to say. She didn't interrupt another person's train of thought, she just kept talking. Thinking out loud. Thinking. Not opining. Thinking in literal terms. The concrete.
Wanda did not have opinions. She had ideas. Facts. Information. Idiomatic expressions were idiotic. Hot Under the Collar. Well, turn the heat down or take off your sweater. Too Big For Your Boots? Get a different size before you trip over your own feet. Green With Envy? As Cute As A Bug's Ear? Too much. Too much. Meaningless information. Too much information. And she, little Wanda, with a face only a Mother could love, grew increasingly anxious. Fearful. Self-conscious.
Her behaviors, her repetitive, compulsive flapping behaviors set her apart, as her expressionless face left no clue to the confusion gnawing at her from within. Wanda, no smooth talker, was as well, an uncoordinated and clumsy child. While inner rhythms gave her comfort, her outward demeanor and clumsy gait tripped her up. As she grew physically, the distance between Wanda and the world widened into a gaping gap. She retreated to her room more often than not. Her parents kept their distance, not out of a lack of love, but in answer to Wanda as she shrank from their touch.
So they filled her room with books. Encyclopedias and reference tomes. They bought her a tiny TV and a DVD player for every documented documentary. In a final act of desperation, they bought her a computer. An endless source of source material. Night after night they looked in on her, deep in the dark, a soft halo of light from the LED screen framing her face. We love you, they would whisper. We love you very much. Wanda didn't look up, her eyes focused on the page detailing the number of petals on a petunia, the distance between the nodes on a branch, the movement of the shadows, the repeating patterns of nature, the mathematical regularity, the line and design of natural forms, all related in one simple equation. The Golden Ratio. As she closed down her computer for the night, her mind raced through a list of the Fibonacci numbers...0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34...until all that remained on her computer screen was a tiny pinprick of light.
Her eyes focused in the darkness, on the pinprick of light, a hole in the universe, and a longing deep in her heart, to glimpse what was on the other side. She did not speak. Her face a mask. Her breath a sigh. After all these years, after all this time, someone was listening. She was on the verge of a conversation. All she could think of to say was "Tell Me". The tiny light flickered, and in reply, the other side of the story.
Eunice Everlasting, Yard Yeti Extraordinaire, floated outside the window, a bit above the tops of the trees, her favorite place in the world. High enough to gain perspective, to watch the ripple of the leaves as the wind whooshed through the trees, the single blades of grass bending like the strings on a harp, as though one finger lightly strummed a tune, the drops of rain splashing on her face as she rolled over belly up to count each one in a steady rhythmic beat. 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34...Gardening Mathematics 101.
Sigh. Lovely. Sigh. Tell me.
And so she did. Eunice slipped through the open window, and sat down a discreet distance from Wanda, hunched over her desk. Let's start with "A". "A" as in Aspergers. And so they did. Their homework. Side by companionable side. They studied and analyzed, quizzed and notated. Marked the pages, scribbled in the margins. Assembled the information. Came to a conclusion.
Aspie. Wanda was an Aspie.
A wonder of a wonderful world. Like every other human being, a unique specimen. Unlike any other. No thumb or footprint the same. Quirky perhaps. Slightly uncoordinated. Shy in the company of others. Socially awkward. But unaware? Nonsense. Unfeeling, uncaring? Ridiculous. Capable of self-improvement, well aren't we all? Couldn't everyone benefit from some M&M's?
A Mentor & A Mirror.
Eunice and Wanda became study buddies. Practiced in private the art of conversation. Expression etiquette. Please and Thank You. You're Welcome. How are you? The pause before a response. The invitation. Eunice plotted out the map of a face. The mathematical grid of raised eyebrows, the number of tears related to the severity of the sadness, the lines of a frown, the crease of a brow, the curve of a smile. She used angles and degrees to calculate the measure of a stoic stance, crossed arms, or the outreach of an outstretched hand. The repeating patterns of human nature. The cues, the giveaways, the data, the info, the statistics of inter-natural communication.
Eunice and Wanda practiced in front of a mirror. Side by side. Eunice smiled. Wanda smirked and grimaced and stretched her muscles. Eunice winked. Wanda blinked. Eunice tried, Eunice cried.. But Wanda shied...away. Until, Eunice glanced out the window, beckoned Wanda to follow, and the two eased their way into the garden. Wanda, wistful, stood head down, the light of dawn dancing on her shoulders. Eunice giggled, raised her hands high over her perfectly pompous pompadour, bumped Wanda with her hip, and rose into the sky. There, waiting to be seen, wanting to be heard, Wanda watched as 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34...and more pinpricks of light flashed their tiny beams. Before she could finish counting, the lights merged into one giant ball and the sunlight kissed her cheek.
Wanda Wisteria, stood in her garden, in yellow wellies, and did the Math. The distance from HERE to THERE measured in the curve of her smile. Each pinprick of light, a tiny mirror to remind her to relax, and the petal in her hand, a memento of her mentor. Wanda waltzed into the kitchen, greeting her parents with a long awaited grin.
"Thank your lucky stars", her mother cried.
Wanda Wisteria, Yard Yeti Extraordinaire,
winked at her mother and said,
" I did Mom. I truly did. "
Chapter 6 | Chapter 8