Wednesday, 18 March 2015

You Might Find The Other Half

You Might Find the Other Half Keywords: o Asperger, o obsession, o compulsion, o memories, o odd, o personality, o coldness, “Look at him, he has everything arranged like a regiment of soldiers!” Mam was speaking about dad. We didn`t know at the time that he had Asperger`s Syndrome, a higher functioning kind of Autism. We certainly knew that he was obsessive, compulsive, you name it. The behaviour was put down to him being “odd”. Kilner jars stood on top of the bread bin, the first full of sugar packets gathered from various cafés, the second held ill gotten sachets of mayonnaise, horseradish sauce and the third jar contained objects that baffled us all. As he loved jam tarts, after each one he folded the silver circle container into three and popped it into jar three. Regularly mam gathered up all of his carrier bags, which he also collected. They were found stuffed in drawers, bin liners and cupboards. She dealt with the fallout later when he discovered their absence. These were minor habits, the apparent coldness or lack of interest was more difficult to handle. When his sister died, the news came to him when he was watching Tv. Mam had rushed to see the family. Dad`s comment stunned everyone. “I was going to go too, but it was the last episode of Get Some In.” As a child of eight, I didn`t understand the arguments which usually began with: “Where have you put…..?” or “What has happened to…?” The memory of a disagreement which will never leave me was on a day to the seaside at Cullercoats Bay near the lifeboat station. A difference of opinion had arisen. Mam flounced off to another part of the beach wearing her bathing suit with a towel wrapped half around her. Dad hauled himself up onto a surrounding wall. I found a small crab among the rocks and offered it to him to cheer him up. He took the crab, found an old corned beef tin in a nearby bin, put the crab inside and nipped tight the rim. He buried the tin in the sand. Each time I made a move to rescue the doomed creature, he stopped me. “Leave it, it`s trapped like me!” The tide came in and I couldn`t tell where it was. It was my fault for having shown it to him. I went along with dad to the park, swimming in the sea or for long walks. We rolled down the grassy banks together, but when I grew tired, he often rolled down a few times more. At the time, I imagined that he was taking me out for the day. My brother was born some years later and he summed it all up by saying. “I realised that I was tagging along with him. When I didn`t want to go to the places he liked, he went on his own anyway.” Mam endured the marriage by having her own life. She interacted with family and friends and he was happy to leave her to it. He often asked her out to the cinema on Friday nights, she agreed, then he would hide the newspaper or some other thing. “I don`t know, I ask you out and you move my things, this is what I get!” To which, she would reply “It doesn`t matter, I`m not going.” This suited dad down to the ground, he would have a night out on his own and save money into the bargain. A friend of mine once asked me why he would do this. I answered “I suppose it`s a bit like those kids you remember from school who empty a packet of sweets into their pocket. So, when they offer you one, you refuse and they get them all to themselves.” I wouldn`t want anyone to think that I had a miserable childhood. I remember the times when dad taught me to draw, when he made me a sledge and a bogey, how he cracked hazelnuts and would pop them into my mouth. He loved to sing and dance. He just wasn`t aware of others feelings sometimes, not his fault really. The marriage lasted for twenty nine years before she finally left him. He continued to enjoy his pass times, swimming, drawing and dancing. Dancing,...although it means interacting with people, dad could ask someone up for one dance without any commitments. Line dancing suited him just fine. He wore his cowboy hat with tie underneath the chin and a silver medallion around his neck which hung from a leather string. The last year of his life was spent in a care home, he suffered dementia. We have a photograph showing him sitting in a chair near the lift and there is a pink carrier bag stuffed under the cushion peaking out at us. When we cleared his flat, we found dozens of tapes on which he recorded stories, songs, jokes and little messages to my brother. They were carried out in three languages, he knew German, Italian and French. When he listened to one, my brother said: “I can remember seeing him recording stuff when I was a kid. He always turned it off when I came into the room. Such a shame that he didn`t feel able to talk to me like he did to the tape.” Now that he`s gone and I can look back on his life, I wonder if it would have made any difference had we known about Asperger`s. Would we have been any the wiser? Would we have thought of him any differently. As a family, we all have our happy memories of dad. How he volunteered to help paint St Mary`s lighthouse at Whitley Bay when he was seventy eight years old. He rode from Newcastle on his push bike with his favourite decorating brush and a pair of dark blue overalls tied to the back with a piece of string. The time when he bought a pair of flip flops to take on holiday, didn`t like the way they flipped off and on his feet, so he bought the thickest, whitest elastic and attached it to “Keep them on” At Christmas, when we all received our cards and asked: “Which language is yours in, mine`s in French?” When he found half a snooker cue in the back lane, gave it to my son and said “Here, keep this, you might find the other half.” He once bought a very thin long spoon from a charity shop even though he had a drawer full of the things. We arrived at the flat to witness dad wielding a small saw, hacking through the handle of the spoon. My husband, David, offered to carry out the task. This took over fifteen minutes to hack through it. David asked dad to bring a file, he spent another five minutes smoothing the handle. Dad took the newly formed spoon to the kitchen and we heard him going through the motions making a cup of tea. He brought the cup through, with less than a quarter of an inch peeping above the rim. “It`s too big!” It`s nine years since dad passed away, my brother and I were there with him. We had alot to think about. And while Asperger’s isn’t classed as an illness, it’s on the autism spectrum, the effects on us as a family, at times resulted in depression, anxiety, confusion or as a threat to our well being. I believe that wherever he is now, he`s wandering around till his heart`s content. This person who was once a childlike being trapped in a man`s body, who was waiting to escape is free to be who he is.

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