Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Monsters and Tigers and Skeletons, Oh My!

Getting to sleep that night would prove to be a difficult task.  After we got home from Church, I got into my play clothes and ran around like a (fairly) normal kid.  I didn't think about the odd experience I had earlier - I had filed it for later perusal.    Well, after lights out that night I tried to take my mind off my usual extreme fear of the dark by thinking about things that had puzzled me during the day.  For example -we had forced hot water heat in my house.  The pipes would make all kinds of clanking noises as the hot water coursed through them and thermal expansion would occur.  When I was little, I thought these noises were skeletons clanking bones on the water pipes like the natives beating war drums in movies I had seen.  This terrified me.  I would lie there with cold chills running up and down my spine, breaking out in a cold sweat.  When I tried to close my eyes in fear I would see tigers, skeletons and monsters leaping out of the dark at me.  I was literally too terrified to scream or move.  I thought any movement would "give me away" to the creatures lurking in the dark and they would get me. (Remember I was about to turn 4).

Before the usual night terrors as outlined above could settle in, I always tried to drive them back, keep them at bay as it were, by thinking about other things.  This night, I tried to concentrate on solving the riddle that had perplexed me earlier, namely, Who is God and why can only adults seem to perceive Him?  I had been witness to previous examples of seemingly incomprehensible behavior in adults - some on TV and others in real life.  I knew that some adults were "bad guys" and others who took on the responsibility to correct the negative situations caused by the "bad guys" were deemed to be the "good guys".  I knew with absolute certainty that not only was I one of the "good kids" but that I would grow up to be a "good guy" as an adult as well.  It's one of the few certainties I had to cling to.  Whenever we played games that had "Good guys" against "Bad guys" - I always had to be on the side of the "good guys" or I simply would not play.  Being a "bad guy" - even to this day - is anathema to me.  Later, in my teen years, when other kids were experimenting with alcohol, drugs and sex, I would steadfastly remain true to what I judged to be correct behavior as internalized by me. I never responded to peer pressure to do anything I felt was wrong, never mind illegal (with one exception that will be detailed later).  Sex was by far the hardest thing to stay away from,  I definitely wanted to try that out.  However, a combination of extremely low self-esteem and fear (of possible unwanted pregnancy and psychotic maternal disapproval of my choice of girlfriends - causing worse abuse for me and inviting a new target for my mother's one actual gifted ability in life - imbuing guilt and humiliation where none actually existed) kept me from serious dating until I was 18 and in my first semester of college - away from her prying eyes.  This was right before my life went straight to Hell for several decades, through no fault of my own.  That is a story for future blog entries.  I'm going to try to blog these events chronologically so that they make sense for the reader.  If, from time to time, I remember something out of sequence I'll try to insert it back in chronological order and make a note that it is a "late" entry. 

I remembered playing under the kitchen table with my coloring books some months earlier while my mother was preparing dinner.  I asked her about God and how long God would live.  She said, "God lives forever, and he always was there, and always will be there".  I could understand being born at some point and living forever after that.  That is what I thought would happen to me.  However, the harder I tried to think of God "always being there" - forever into the past - the more confused I got.  I actually felt dizzy in an odd way when I tried to think as hard as I could about something always existing, extending forever into the past and that same something existing forever into the future.  It was the part about always having been there that gave me a feeling I refer to as "reality vertigo".  It just didn't compute.   I don't know how to put this particular feeling into words.

So, there I lay, terrified in bed,  with all the information I had about God at the time:

1) He was always there and would always be there.
2) He could see and hear everything you did every second of your whole life, and judged you for it harshly if you did something "bad".
3) He could do anything He wanted to - he was all-powerful.
4) He watched over little children, and adults, to make sure nothing bad happened to them.  He didn't always succeed, though.  People still died in car and airplane crashes and earthquakes.  Maybe they didn't pray enough, or were the wrong religion.  Or had done something "bad".
5) He needed you in Church every Sunday, and you had to pray to him every night, or you could go to Hell.
6)  It seemed as though only adults could see Him.
7) He was the ultimate arbiter of what was "good" and what was "bad" in the world.
8) He had created the world (I didn't yet know about the extended Universe) in six days flat.
9) By extension - He had also created me, my parents, and everyone else in the world.
10) My Dad had to give money to Him every week at Church. 

So I lay there, thinking to myself, trying to keep the fear that lurked like a hungry, ravenous animal, at bay.
So here are the things that don't make sense to me about God.  He's always been there.  That's kind of spooky.  But He's always watching everything.  Like me.  Right now.  So, why doesn't He come and take the monsters away?  Can't He see I'm afraid?  Does this mean I've been bad somehow?  In some way that I don't even know because I'm little and don't know any better?  Does this mean God is sending the monsters?  Is this a preview of Hell to scare me into being good?  How can I be good if I don't know what it is?  I KNOW I'm being good - all I have to do is look at the behavior of other kids - they were selfish, hit each other and would steal things and throw tantrums.  I didn't do any of that.  I would cry fairly often but this wasn't throwing a tantrum.  I always had a reason - like when I was running up the street in my shorts and fell (I fell down a lot) and skinned both my knees.  It HURT!  Who wouldn't cry?  What if I've died in my sleep - and I'm IN Hell NOW?

I desperately tried to get this thought out of my head by changing tack:  Who are the guys that drive UFO's?  Do they have their own God?  Or is He the same one? How long have they been coming here?  I wonder what they  look like?  Big heads and skinny bodies?  Skinny heads and big bodies?  If they've been coming to Earth for a really long time - did people from long ago mistake them for Gods when they were just advanced aliens?  Is there some way to get a UFO to land in the field next door?  Maybe I can ask them?  What if they said they were God?  What if they said, "There is no God that we can find, we've been looking for Him for a million years - do you know where He is?"  The thought of advanced aliens asking a question like this really horrified and terrified me.  If THEY didn't have the answers - just exactly WHO did!!??  Apparently not my parents, or any other adult.  And if they could fly rings around our best jet fighters, what if they were hostile like in the movies and were even now, at this very moment, planning an invasion? 

To be continued...


Monday, May 3, 2010

My meeting with God

Sometime in mid-to-late March 1963, shortly before turning four I was told to go get dressed in my good clothes early one Sunday morning because we were all going to Church. I asked what Church was and my mother replied "It's God's House". My ears perked up. "So, God will be there?" I asked. "Yes, He's everywhere but He's at Church especially" she replied. "Great", I thought with my youthful innocence, "I finally get to meet this God guy. I've been hearing a lot about Him my whole life, Now, I finally get to meet Him!!" So, I plied my parents with questions on the 10-minute drive there:

"What does God look like?"
 "What does He wear?"
"Does He grant wishes? Can I wish for some things?"
 "Can I ask him any question and he'll be able to answer it?"
 "Is He tall and scary-looking like Godzilla? Does He have radiation breath?"
"Is He mean? Or nice?"
"Does He look like an old guy in white robes with a white beard?"
"Can He make me older so I can drive too and fly a jet?"
"Can I tell him I want to be either a helicopter pilot or an astronaut when I grow up?"
"If I ask Him real nice, will he let me have a UFO?"
"How about a laser? Would He let me have a laser? I mean a really big one?"
"Could I mount the laser ON the UFO?"
"Can He bring Goldy back? (My pet goldfish had died a month or so earlier.)
"Does He know where I lost my Cub Scout knife (the blue one)?"
"Do God and Santa know each other? Does God visit Santa at the North Pole?"
"Can I ask Him how He made rocks?" (I was fascinated with rocks and minerals.)
"Will He take me to see the dinosaurs?"
"Can He make it so nobody can lie anymore?"
"Does He watch us when we poop? I hope not - yuck!"
"Do I shake His hand when I meet Him? Does He have hands?"
 "Can he make the other kids like me and not be mean?"

I eventually was shushed as we arrived at Church - a small Roman Catholic congregation in one of the poorer sections of town. We passed lots of factory row houses left over from the mills and ironworks that had been the largest employers in the area. We would pass row after row of these identical houses on the way to Church. The only concession they made to individuality was that they were painted different colors, some very bright yellows and others pastel greens and blues. The city airport where I would later learn to fly was just another mile or so further as the crow flies on the same road as the Church. You could hear the preflight engine run-ups at the ends of the runway when the wind was just right, and shortly after the run-up the application of full power as the planes would take off. The hypnotic drone of the Pipers and Cessnas flying the pattern and shooting touch and goes at the airport on pleasant Sunday mornings was far more interesting to me than listening to the Priest's monotonic Latin and English incantations. I wondered if the planes could have mid-air collisions with God or some poor unfortunate Angel as they flew through the sky. While others were mumbling their "Our Father's and "Hail Mary's", I would be whispering imprecations to ward the pilots away from errant Heavenly objects, Angels or winged post-living persons.

Whenever I asked where Heaven was, my mother would always point at the sky. From watching Shirley Temple movies and Three Stooges episodes, it always showed Angels (or recently deceased persons, or persons waiting to be born) wearing white robes with wings and sometimes harps, flying through vapors which I could only assume to be clouds in the sky. So, Heaven was in the sky, right? I remember pausing in my outdoor play and staring at the edges of what I know now to be cumulus clouds (the big puffy white ones that look like cotton balls) to see if I could see any Angels or the souls of deceased people looking down at me, and the Earth, from on high. I would strain my sharp 4-year-old vision at the cloud edges, and sometimes I would swear I'd see these little dots that must be the heads of Angels looking down on us. Sometimes I imagined I could see groups of people in white robes gathered at the edges of the clouds looking down at me. After my best friend's mother died, I would look in vain to see her up there smiling beatifically down upon the world, halo, wings, harp and white robes too. (This vivid visual imagination would prove to be a two-edged sword when I tried to sleep at night and would imagine all sorts of horrific creatures in the dark waiting to pounce.)

So we arrived at the Church and I was really excited to meet this God guy! I'd been hearing about him a lot - and I was impressed and kind of scared to finally meet him. He sounded to me like a kind of moody Santa Claus - who knew if you were naughty or nice but instead of not dispensing presents He would send you to Hell and make you suffer in flames forever. That didn't sound like fun to me. It also sounded very unreasonable for a being that was supposed to be made of "pure love". It actually sounded like the most terrifying thing I'd ever heard. Still, I knew my behavior was better than any of the other kids I knew (and it was - the reasons for this will be detailed later). So I wasn't scared out of my mind as I would be later that night in the dark as I tried to go to sleep and I reflected on the implications of what I had learned earlier in the day.

There seemed to be a kind of "pecking order" in the seating arrangements at church. I'm not sure to this day if this was based on perceived social class, was a demonstration of apparent humility, the degree of religious devotion or had some other cause deeply rooted in subconscious motivations and social mores. Even if one arrived at church relatively late to the beginning of Mass, there was nearly always a pew or two at the very front nearest the altar that were empty or nearly so. Often, my family sat in these pews nearest the altar. On this occasion, I believe we were in the 2nd row back. Being so short (remember, I was just under four), I was allowed to stand on the pew when the congregation was allowed to stand so that I could see what was going on. So there we are, in the second-nearest pew to the altar, and I'm standing up on the pew seat turning slowly around scanning the congregation looking for God. I looked and looked, and finally espied an older man about 3/4 of the way back on the other side of the church. He was very distinguished-looking and had a shock of silver-white hair. He was wearing a gray suit. I tugged on my mother's jacket and said, pointing to the man, "Mom! That guy over there - is HE God!!??" "No", she hissed, with daggers in her eyes, and turned her attention back to the altar where the priest was now coming out to start the Mass. I continued my search for "God" amongst the parishioners. I tried a few other likely suspects with the same results as previously. Finally I asked her "Is that guy in the white robe God? The guy who is talking?", I was pointing to the priest. "No, and be quiet!!" came the harshly whispered reply. Undaunted, I tugged again, "Is he invisible?". "No!", she snapped. "Where is He", I asked again, plaintively. "Up... there", she said, pointing upwards. Ahah! I saw my error now!! He's GOD - he can do anything he wants!! He's LEVITATING ABOVE US!"

I again began my slow scan in all directions, now looking upwards at about a 45-degree angle and turning my body slowly through yet another 360-degree circle in a vain attempt to see God. I can only imagine what the folks seated nearby to us must have thought of this weird kid misbehaving in church. I tugged again. "Mom! I still don't see Him. Where is He??", I declaimed, starting to wonder if something was seriously wrong with me. "Right. Up. There!" she hissed through gritted teeth, again pointing straight up. This time I looked exactly where she was pointing and all I saw was the vaulted ceiling with a painting of some unknown long-haired guy floating in the air, surrounded by clouds, making a strange gesture that I had not seen before and did not understand. I thought maybe he was an Angel or something. I didn't see God, though. And I was pretty sure I'd recognize Him if I did. I tugged yet again. "Mom!! Where is God??? I don't see him!!", I decried. I was getting desperate now. Again, looking at me askance and with thinly-veiled contempt, she pointed straight up at the ceiling and I looked again exactly where she was pointing. Light finally dawned on Marble Head. She had been pointing to the painting the whole time!! "Mom! That's just a painting". This time, I would've sworn devil's horns came out of her head and her canines extended like vampire teeth, while her eyes glowed red like the Terminator's. "Shut... UP!!" she hissed, glaring pure hatred at me. I shut up. But I didn't stop thinking. Adults were awfully strange people, I thought, sometimes with incomprehensible ideas. I'd have to take some time, keep my mouth shut to avoid being punished and try to figure this one out.

Thus began my struggle with religion, society, my violent paranoid schizophrenic, neurotic, abusive horror of a mother, and trying to comprehend my place in the world amidst the chaos. I went through a lot of internal dialog and philosophical ponderings about these matters.

In this blog, I hope to share my journey with you and perhaps help folks to understand our infinitesimal place in the Cosmos just a little bit better. My life's journey has been fraught with many unpleasant circumstances that occurred - and were entirely outside my control. Being born with Asperger's syndrome is just one of the difficulties assigned to me by fate. There are quite a few others - which I will detail in future blogs.
Please don't assume that the semi-cute story above is indicative of everything you will read here - it isn't.

Many terrible life events came to pass for me and I will discuss them in excruciating detail. I can pretty much guarantee that some of the stories you find here will be painful and shocking to read, as they will detail both physical and mental child abuse of outrageous proportions, and a degree of maternal neglect and abuse that will greatly upset anyone with a conscience that reads it.

There are several reasons I am writing this blog:

1) To inform people, especially parents of Aspie children, of the thought processes that go on in an Aspie child's mind.

2) Writing these terrible memories (you haven't seen anything yet) is a form of psychotherapy for me. I came to the conclusion that externalizing the incredible pain and tragedies I have suffered, and revealing the true nature of my mother (who was very well thought-of in my home town), will help bring closure of these terrible events for me, albeit very late in life. I just want to set the record straight.

3) I also write this in the hopes that people reading it will recognize the telltale symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome and get the very best available professional help for their children that suffer from it. In my grade-school through High-school years, Asperger's was not known of so it could not be diagnosed. It had been discovered/defined by Dr. Hans Asperger in 1944, but WWII caused his seminal work to be buried until the early 1990's when it was re-discovered. If I had been diagnosed early, I cannot know how much better my life would've been. If the information in this blog can save even one child the torment that I suffered, it will be far more than worth the time and resurrected emotional pain that I may suffer in writing this.

4) Lastly, I hope to help people to understand and recognize the symptoms in a child that result from both physical and emotional child abuse. Again, if by reading this, one responsible adult intervenes on behalf of one abused child and prevents that abuse from taking root and becoming a way-of-life for that child, and destroying that child's life as a result, then my aims here will not have been in vain.

Please, I would love to hear from parents of children with Asperger's and folks who also have Asperger's - as well as any people reading this blog with interesting points to make, information about their own experiences, or constructive criticisms.

Trolls are NOT welcome - I grew up surrounded by trolls and am sick and tired of their mindless ignorant hate and sociopathic efforts to tear down anything they cannot or will not understand; or simply does not fit into their limited, preconceived notions of "normalcy".

I invite interested readers to write to me at: aspieman@yahoo.com

I look forward to your replies.

Next time - I try to sleep later that night, beset by the slings and arrows of outrageous imagination.