Middle school. The darkest and most hideous, oppressive years a human can fathom. When the hormones are just ripe enough to make you want to take on the whole world, but maturity has not yet developed enough to realize there are things such as consequences. But me, I did not get into any real trouble, instead I became profoundly confused and unhappy. These are years that are difficult to handle under even the best of circumstances. On top of this, my family moved from the Northeast to the Southwest just as I was about to start middle school. To take a young child from one environment and to suddenly thrust them into new ones is very distressing and painful.
For the Autistic it can be hell. Somehow I managed to survive it all, and to escape being beat up by the other kids. One thing I didn’t escape? Humiliation. I had a tendency to laugh uncontrollably at the things I thought were funny at the time. I had always been led to believe that laughing at someone’s joke was the best genuine way to prove that you understood it, and that you admired their sense of wit. But somehow, laughing at everyone’s joke meant I was weird. Wanting to learn was weird. Humming music that I liked was weird. Reading books that I wasn’t required to because of a class was weird. My hair was weird.
Seriously. Other than my hair, someone explain to me what’s weird about any of that.
These were the days when I was at my darkest, and most nihilistic. I started reading a great deal of Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and then of course Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”. I began to think that Vampires were the coolest things to ever exist, and I wanted to be one. To just sleep, and not have to deal with the rest of the normal working world or their drama and social mores, and then awake to terrorize those that wronged me, to have a kind of immortality.
But most importantly, women love vampires. If only I were a Vampire, then maybe finally I could actually get a girl I liked to acknowledge my existence. To this day, I struggle with being acknowledged at all by the opposite sex.
I hated middle school so much, that all I wished for, every waking hour of my life, was to forget about it. Every day after school my parents would ask what happened at school that day. I didn’t want to relive the misery. I chose not to remember, point-by-point, the ugliness and name-calling that happened on a regular basis. To defend myself from these memories, all I could think to say was, “I don’t know.” Or, at times, I know I said, “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t memorize everything that happened to me today.” And This puzzled my parents. It puzzled them, that maybe I didn’t want to talk about it. That to me, it was like tearing open a scab and pouring vinegar and salt into it.
Surprisingly, my first two years of high school were even worse. Why? Three words. ALL. BOYS. SCHOOL. At least in middle school, there was the presence of girls, to temper the boys’ rage and to keep them from acting as disgusting and cruel as they possibly could, for the sake of fooling the girls into thinking they were nicer than they in fact were. In the high school I attended, there was none of that! Now getting pushed around became a regular thing, on top of verbal abuse.
Because I was so distressed, my parents reasoned I simply needed to have friends. One classmate in particular tried to latch onto me and kept calling me. I had no desire to be friendly with this particular guy, but my parents kept pushing me to spend time with him, insisting that I needed friends to improve my school life. They realized before long what a huge mistake they made and wished they had listened to me. It got to the point where my parents literally dreaded the thought of us going anywhere together. But at the time, I caved in, and for two years was exposed to his bad influence.
I’d had enough. I felt like the only way out was to force it. To do something that would make them not want me there anymore. And this is a very common and typical thing of those born with Autism: when you get hurt up to a certain point. You have a meltdown. What’s a meltdown, you ask?
This is how I describe it: when you turn the knob on a faucet, a stream of water flows out. But occasionally, there might be some trouble with the pipes, and then as pressure builds up, the water sputters out in a wild gush. A meltdown is like the pressure building up to the point where the faucet just comes flying off in a geyser. Every Aspergian exhibits this differently. Some might simply curl up and close their ears, in an effort to shut out all the sources of pain around them. Others might start crying. Others may try to disengage from the source of their anguish by simply walking away. Some may scream in anguish. And, if the trigger for the meltdown happened to be physical abuse or aggressively rude behavior, then in some cases the meltdown may indeed take the form of answering violence with violence. Many of us are keenly aware that we can be like this, and we try to explain to others that we need our space and some mutual respect. Not everyone has the decency to accommodate this uncontrollable behavior of ours. I can stifle my meltdowns for about 40 seconds. But if the person refuses to understand or give me my space after that, I just completely lose control.
My meltdown, at that time, was the result of being ignored and disrespected for a long time and letting it fester inside, until it eventually just exploded. So, for better or worse, I reasoned that it was worth it to do something that merited getting kicked out of the school. Of course, I was still the trouble-maker and the one that got yelled at by my Dad. I didn’t care, I was finally free of that awful place. And you know what? It was absolutely worth it.
I enjoyed and excelled in the new school, became the assistant editor of the school paper, took advanced placement courses and had friends, REAL friends, people with whom I actually wanted to be around. When it came time for me to take the SAT, my results were so impressive that I received multiple scholarship offers from various universities. If the last two years of high school were a haven, college was like heaven. At long last, a place filled with people who were there because they wanted to learn, to share ideas, and have fun in between lectures and exams! It took a while, but before long I joined the nerdiest student organization I could find. Gamers, cosplayers, fans of movies and cartoons, artists and writers and readers, O my! This was undeniably the happiest time of my life.
I wish it had lasted forever.
By Christopher Aaron Seltzer