Living with quirky people
Not that I was any good, but I used to play racquetball, mostly hitting the balls against the walls for their therapeutic release of anger. My arms and legs and middle felt more carved than curved then, not as my body does now slouching in a chair sipping coffee as I begin this blog. Time has certainly softened more than a few edges in my life.
Take living with my husband who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Once, I would tense up at every instance of his inability to think before speaking. Back then I didn’t bring friends over for fear that he’d step into it and say something unwittingly unkind. He could tell you anything you wanted to know about growing apricots and tending carnivorous plants, about the German occupation of Russia or the violence of Medieval Japan, or about the mating cycle of a fruit fly. But he couldn’t tell when you had had enough of his knowledge and he could never tell when he was going to hit a nerve. To say he was socially awkward is an understatement. Once we went to a party at a friend’s and I asked him to find out more about the people there—explaining that casual conversation and listening can reveal a lot about people. He was always surprised by all I knew about who was divorced. In other words, I was hoping I wouldn’t find him monopolizing the conversation. I walked by him to refresh my drink and overheard:
“So the Huns overran the wall and. . .” He paused. Glance. “So that’s enough about me. It’s your turn.”
Any examples of his unkind remarks I offer might seem irrelevant, small nicks. Though there were a couple of friends who thought him charming–he is–and funny–he definitely is, his qualities weren’t always so apparent. Often the faces of visitors failed to hide their discomfort and so I kept people at bay. We didn’t have a lot of people to our home, and frankly, we didn’t have very many friends. I could count them on one hand, unwilling to let them come too close. Over the years, after kicks under the table that he’d announce to company, my husband has tempered his comments and steps back more readily when I give him the “look.” I can’t say that he’s changed, but I can say that he’s honestly tried to change. It has helped that these days I worry less, holding firm to a belief that true friends overlook flaws. And I’ve learned to ask him, “Did you mean to hurt my feelings?” before I jump into a pool of injury.
Unfortunately, my daughter has had trouble overlooking flaws and finding the charm in her father whose blunt remarks burn. Like most teens, she found her father an embarrassment created to humiliate her. Unlike many teens, she saw life with a ready negative tinge and words cut deeply. She’d make huge pronouncements of his inability to understand her. There was often great gnashing of teeth and they clashed over remarks about her favorite TV show or her clothing. A remark that sounded overly logical—“actually, one thousand die every year from … but more die from car crashes”–or revealing injustice in a clinical way—“oh but gays are ruthlessly and brutally persecuted in the Middle East without hope of change.” Given her apology demanding outbursts, is it surprising that I thought she was vying for an Oscar for dramatic performance in a middle class life? To be honest, if there was any drama in our home, any yelling, she could be found at its center. Recently, however, she was diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. This was a game changer. I have much to learn.
So here I am living between a man who makes clueless remarks and a young woman who takes in every word as a testament to her failings and the failings of the world. Simply put, he’s insensitive and she is oversensitive. Of course, there’s more.
Living with anyone can be tricky, especially when you love them. But living with someone with Aspergers and another with BPD is rarely easy. So that’s my life . . . in the middle of this rock and hard spot.