Monday, April 13, 2009

Things that make you cry

Can you remember your first friend? I can. It’s been almost fifty years since we met, and forty-seven years since we last saw each other. His name was Doug. We lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our parents were students at the University, and our mothers would meet at the park so we could play.

You will meet Doug yourself, on page 7 of Look Me in the Eye.

I can still remember the playground; the blocks, the sticks and the dirt. That’s what we played with back then – our parents were starving grad students, and we didn’t have any fancy toys.

Doug moved away and I started nursery school. In one of those terrible twists of fate, Doug drowned. I never saw him again.

But I still remembered him, in the fragmentary way I remember anything or anyone from that long ago. I described our friendship in the first pages of my book. I was a bit hesitant, including him in my story. What if my memories were “wrong?” What if his parents read my book, and they were horrified? What if I imagined the whole thing?

I decided to proceed, because my memories are what they are, right or wrong, and my book is basically a sweet tale; one devoid of monsters and villains. Doug was my first friend, and that’s what I had to say. I had no idea who or where his parents were, and there was no one else to ask. With several hundred million people in the country, I had no idea how to find them or even where to look.

A bit over two years have passed since I wrote those pages. In that time, hundreds of thousands of Look Me in the Eyes have been printed and distributed, and word spread.

Today, I heard from Doug’s mother. She said:

I have just finished reading “Look Me in the Eye,” and thoroughly enjoyed it. It had a profound effect on me because I am Doug’s mother. Margaret and I used to arrange to be at the park in Philadelphia at the same time so that our boys could play with each other. Obviously the friendship between Doug and John Elder is something John remembers after all these years. It is by pure happenstance that I became aware of the book. Isn’t life interesting?

When I looked at her note, I felt my eyes fill with tears. Somehow, the voice from so long ago made me cry. I guess I was sad because her note made it all real again, and the knowledge that my first best friend died so long ago still hurts. And I was relieved, because she didn’t think I was a monster for telling the story. I wish Doug were here today. I wonder what he'd say.

Once again, I am reminded that we Aspergians do indeed have deep emotions, whatever we may or may not show. Even now, an hour later, the feeling is still sharp and poignant.

Woof.

30 comments:

Em said...

It must be very powerful to hear from your friend's mom after all these years. I'm sure she is happy to know her son was remembered by you after so long.

Lisa said...

Now you've made me cry. Thank you for sharing that story, John.

Sustenance Scout said...

Ditto, John. Amazing putting a book out in the world can lead to such things as a voice from long ago. Hugs, K.

Merrie said...

It's nice that you retain your good memories of him. I'm sure his mom was happy that he was remembered and that he existed. Hearing that you felt deep emotion is also something comforting and gives me hope that my Aspie friend feels them too.

Amy MacKinnon said...

John, thanks for sharing your story. It's deeply touching. My deepest sympathies on the loss of Doug.

Strange Behaviour said...

It must have touched Doug's mother's heart so deeply when she read that her little boy still matters in the mind of a childhood friend. I always wonder if any deep connections are made during "aspergian/autistic parallel play"- here's a concrete answer.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

It's amazing how many old friends come back into our lives after we start writing about them. I have reconnected with friends from high school and college.

I can't remember my first friend. We moved around so much, the sea of faces shifted and changed. The one best friend I remember is Kenny Koshman when I was around eight years old. It would be nice to hear from him.

Crazy Momma said...

That is a beautiful story, John.

I watch my son (spectrum - possibly Aspergers) and I know he feels emotion. In fact, it is one thing he is really good at (showing - not always appropriately, not always quiet but he does show it).

I am glad you were able to connect with Doug's mom. Sometimes a link to our past is all we need to help those vague memories become complete all over again.

Kat said...

Yes, we can and do have strong feelings....overwhelming and overpowering feelings even. Sometimes it is the expressing them and getting them out the right way...or at all...that is so difficult.

So, so sorry you are feeling sad.

(((Hug)))

Fi said...

How amazing it must have been for her when she realised who she was reading about! I lost a friend when I was young, too, and I often wonder about her mum and her big sister - I think my mum has spotted the mum a few times but I haven't seen them for over 30 years. Her name was Matilda and whenever I hear her name I still feel sad. I hope I never whacked her in the ears!!

pogosplace said...

Thank you John.

Voof

vye said...

Ah, it's such an important point you make here. As Aspergians, we have our strategies and processes as far as the ordinary world is concerned, but the feelings, while they may be abstracted in every day terms, are so deeply profound that they can be almost impossible to express, which is why we need our games and strategies and explorations. I find that because I hid my deepest feelings as often as I could, there are aspects of memory which are as powerful as ever. I know that to find a friend in a state of isolation is just the best. You've done good in writing so clearly about the condition itself and to have made that connection with your friend's Mom is just awesome! I bless Doug's memory and all of your work!

Lavina

vye said...

Ah, it's such an important point you make here. As Aspergians, we have our strategies and processes as far as the ordinary world is concerned, but the feelings, while they may be abstracted in every day terms, are so deeply profound that they can be almost impossible to express, which is why we need our games and strategies and explorations. I find that because I hid my deepest feelings as often as I could, there are aspects of memory which are as powerful as ever. I know that to find a friend in a state of isolation is just the best. You've done good in writing so clearly about the condition itself and to have made that connection with your friend's Mom is just awesome! I bless Doug's memory and all of your work!

L

Thomas Thomas said...

{{smile}} I don't know why, but years ago I wrote in a poem 'a man can cry'. It was a dream a wish. I think then it was something I didn't know how to do - yet wanted to.

Amanda said...

I always think of autism as being a break in the link between what's on the inside and what's on the outside. My girls may not be able to read emotions easily in others and they may have trouble expressing themselves appropriately but they feel the same things anyone else does. I see it in their eyes. I know it's in there.

cath c said...

i know my son feels emotions very strongly and forms his own deep connections with people, that when thay aren't recognized and reciprocated, break his heart. unfortunately, it is more often the case than not.

but in your book, talking about your old friend, you are only telling the truth, and how would his mother be anything but pleasantly reminded of her son's brief life and it's impact on you? i'm glad she read it and responded.

Fuller Center Iowa Lakes said...

I officially have bipolar disorder but I have some ways of social functioning I think are more Aspergian, but only in the slightest way. The males in my family are definitely Aspergian, though my son is the only one so diagnosed.

I have often wondered if I really remember things from my very early childhood or if it's my imagination piecing together stories and photos into a grainy super8 movie.

Lately I have had some confirmation of things that make me believe I really remember what I remember.

And I have friends from before age 4 whom I miss intensely to this day.

Eric said...

Reading about Doug in 'Look me in the eye' brought a definite lump to my throat, reading about him in this blog brought it back tenfold. One thing that your book did for me was realize that, my emotions are still very real to me. I can still laugh, cry, become enraged, and yes, back to laugh. As an Aspergian, I'll still have a novel time trying to express those emotions in a way that others can relate to, but that's ok. It just helps to make life one exciting roller coaster ride at Six Flags/Riverside Park. Doug (and your powerful recollection of him) brought back wonderful memories of my first friend Greg, and yes, brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for not only your book, but what you still continue to do for us. Woof.

smauge said...

This story brought me to tears too. As a mother of an Aspergian I know how deep the emotion runs and how misunderstood it can be.
If Doug were here today I'm sure he'd be proud to have been the first friend of someone so remarkable as yourself.

Brian said...

John - This blog brings back the feelings I had when I read your book. My first friend was Mike. I met him in first grade and we remained close through high school. Although we went to different local colleges, we remained in close touch. After college, he got married, and eventually I did as well. We drifted apart, but on a whim, I looked him up about15 years ago. We started seeing each other on a regular basis again, and it was as though we had never parted. About 6 months later, I received a call from his wife that Mike had died from a heart attack. We were supposed to go out that night. I delivered the eulogy at his funeral and cried. I have never had such a close friend since. Your book brought back those memories. I remember the pleasant ones - Thanks John.
Brian

Osh said...

Thank you very much for sharing!

Paulene Angela said...

Did I mention before, you truly have a gift for writing.
You have touched my heart, I too feel like crying. I am sure your friend's mother reads you as a true and everlasting friend. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Jennifer S. Florida said...

I just finished your book and learned more from it than any other text on Asperger's Syndrome that I have read so far. My 7 year old son says "meep" much like you say "woof", but I never understood why until now. He's extremely intelligent, like yourself, and has an "affinity for machines" also. When I told him about you, and how you seem to share so many characteristics, he immediately wanted to go online and see what you looked like...I think to see someone else like him. We found a video of you speaking to a class and he seemed pleased. Thank you for telling your story, and teaching me more about how my son may think and feel about the world around him. His grandparents are now lined up to read your story so that they can do the same. I am ready for your next book!

Michelle O'Neil said...

Beautiful John. Doug would be proud of you.

John Elder Robison said...

It sure is something, isn't it . . . after all these years.

kyra said...

i love this! what a wonderful thing to hear from her! i was touched to hear about this connection after so many years.

TheresaC said...

What a great gift for you to hear from Doug's mom after all these years, and what a gift Doug's mother recieved to see you had such fond memories of her son. I'm sure it made her day, to say the least. And because you published it, she has something concrete to last forever. Keep on writing, John.

Polly Kahl said...

Congratulations, John. It's a beautiful thing that you wrote about Doug and then his mom happened to find him in your book. Another example of how a book can touch a life, even when you don't expect it too.

Keep up the good work, big fella.

Queenbuv3 said...

You brought a tear to my eye. Friends have been few and far between in my life. Thoughts of any of my past friendships I have had or the rare "best friend" still stir up deep emotions for me as well.

"Amanda" is so right about Autism being a break between what is on the inside and what is on the outside. My son is very sensitive, loving and emotional but it all comes out wrong when he tries to express it. He has been going from excalating in anger to being angry and then crying. He was biting chunks out of his hands a several months ago and has progressed to more appropriate and less self-injurous expressions of anger, hurt feelings, frustration, etc. I have always called him my sweet boy because I know underneath the Autism that is what he really is.

Deb Aloisi said...

Mom always said that I never took direction unless someone was speaking directly to me, but I could take apart the telephone and put it back together again and it would work. Mom always said I was a bright girl but was a little slow at some things. When ever some one wasn’t talking directly to me, I did what ever I wanted. I was in my “own little world.” When my mind feels over-whelmed I am often calmed by twirling a rolodex or pressing a button on my mobile phone and watching it scroll through the calendar dates. I often tell people who catch me doing this “in a trance,” that I was just communicating with the mother ship. I am considered odd and analytical, quirky and funny. My mother did teach me a few social graces god rest her soul. She taught me that hospitality was about making people who were uncomfortable comfortable and that maturity was learning to deal with immaturity with confidence and reassurance. I never went wrong with those two rules. I never learned to shmooze and couldn’t if my life depended upon it. While I’ve always been attractive, I’ve always been better in math than being popular. Even so, I did acquire a few close friends who have stuck by me through the years. Still, I am 37, and while I take an unassuming attitude when meeting new people, often it is mistaken for being na├»ve and much younger than I am. I know more than most people imagine that I do. I treat people with dignity and respect and without assumptions because that is the way I would like to be treated. I can also spot someone who is awkward like me in a crowded room. Funny that my chosen profession would be a social worker, which is both social and work. The work most closely reflects that values that my mother taught me. I know what it feels like to be part of the disenfranchised fringe of society and easily empathize which is not a strength of most people with Aspersers. I don’t have an official diagnosis, but I have made Herculean efforts to be as social as I am. I often consider my command of language the best way to improve my life and feel more empowered and have made a contentious effort to acquire skill in this area.