About a week ago, I got an email from a perfect stranger. She thanked me for, essentially, being a separate person who wrote down some of the stuff that goes through her head. I get these, every so often; I never know quite what to do with them. I'm very glad that something I said made someone else feel less alone, but at the same time, the fact that people send me deeply emotional thanks for this means that it's still rare for them, and that kind of sends my heart right down into my feet again.

The other night, at the Awkward Army meetup down at Davis, I was talking to one of the other Awkwardeers, trying valiantly to explain the weird problems you run into when you can't turn the subtitles on social interactions off. "You're like a seeing-eye dog for awkward people!" she cheerfully informed me. She's right, I suppose; I spend a fair amount of time trying to gently steer people away from metaphorically walking into traffic.

I have no idea what the autistic people think of me at this point, as presumably they have lives that do not center around my blog and possibly I am annoying them, and they haven't come back to tell me.

I keep trying anyway.

This thing I do, taking the things nobody ever says and saying them over and over again, is something I tumbled upon early in life. My mother is so far outside of reality at this point that the light from reality takes about twenty minutes to reach her, and as far back as I can remember, I am the only person in the family who's ever called her on it. I found out that a lot of bullies stop when you stand up and dissect exactly what they're up to in a loud, clear voice in front of other people. I spent a lot of time trying to tell people that things were not right, and they spent an equal amount of time ignoring me. They told me they thought I should shut up. Fuck them, I figured. If they weren't paying attention then I could talk all I wanted. They couldn't have it both ways.

Then I grew up. I lost the lottery of life in a lot of really aggravating ways, but where I won, I won big, and I won public. People will always read me a white ciswoman; most of them will read me as young and attractive. They will assume I speak English; they will assume I am middle-class or above; they will assume I have at least a basic education and will not be surprised to find out I have more. Raw intelligence is my native language, and I have a non-native dialect of charisma as my fluent secondary tongue. People listen to me when I say things now.

I have been more profoundly depressed in my life than I think I can ever describe. When you've been that terrified of yourself, there's just no point in being afraid of other people. I lose my ability to be polite to people who aren't polite back to me pretty damn quick, but I never lose my ability to explain myself. Ever. I can be a near-catatonic basket case, shaking and pacing and crying with snot bubbles coming out of my nose, and I can still tell you exactly what is going both inside my head and around me, with the proper medical terminology and everything. When other people cannot talk, I still can.

So I do. I talk for people who can't. I talk for people who don't know how. I talk for people who don't want to, who are scared to, and who have been told to shut up for no adequately explained reason. I step between people who can't take being talked to just then, and the people who won't lay off. I translate. I interpret. I explain. I tell people where they can stick it, and I tell people when there's nothing wrong with the way they are. People can think I'm weird, I really don't care, as long as they keep talking. The only thing worse than having someone hate you for what they know about you is trying to tell someone how you think and getting nothing in return but a blank stare.

If there is such a thing as having a purpose in life, this is the one I've picked. I want my ability to find patterns and talk until I'm blue in the face to have some kind of a use, and if there isn't any inherent meaning, I'm going to goddamn well make one.

So, yes, Elizabeth, I get it. Sometimes the subtitles say unpleasant things. But please believe that you are not the only one who gets that, and that you will eventually collide with another person who knows exactly what you mean, probably when you least expect it. And in the meantime, you can hang out here. Not everyone will magically understand; if people did that, nobody would have ever invented words. The important part is whether other people get it when you explain, and I promise you there are people out there who can give you that.

Comments

  1. That is indeed one of the wonders of the internet, as frustratingly troll-filled and time-wasting as it can also be, when the random thoughts we spew into the ether can actually prove helpful to others. I rediscovered my voice through the internet after it got shut down at home, and am trying to do so again, albeit in a less compulsive-user manner so I can be more productively self-employed and less like, well, The Oatmeal:

    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home

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    1. Some weeks, the fact that CVS and the library are both outside of my house is the only reason I put on real pants.

      I can't slack on a lot of other stuff, though. Skin care and nails and such are important to keep up on, because photographers as a group can't tell time or plan things more than like twelve hours in advance. I never know when someone will email me and be all, "So, uh, I have free time, you want to shoot downtown?"

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  2. I'm so so glad I stumbled upon this little corner of the internet, where you, Captain Awkward and Cliff Pervocracy hang out.
    Because like the complete strangers who thank you for saying what they were trying to figure out how to say, I drop in and read you guys because you all feel like a little sane anchor.

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  3. That conversation at the meetup remains the most fascinating conversation I have had this year. I really wish there had been more time, so I could've asked more questions and learned more things, because it was a lot of fun. I would not mind doing it again sometime, if you wouldn't.

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    1. Eh, sure. I do most of my everything on the internet, because that way I can impress people at three o'clock in the afternoon with unbrushed hair, wearing a bathrobe, but if there's another meetup of a greater or lesser kind I'll certainly try to show. I happen to live up near Davis, but I go anywhere the subway does. Boston actually seems remarkably safe for random walking around in, even if it's terrible for GMaps directions; so far Roxbury is the only stop anyone's told me to probably try not to get off the train there if I have any sense.

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    2. I hear ya about doing most of your everything on the internet. If no one's set up another meet up in a couple months, I'll probably end up doing it, because that was wicked fun.

      I used to live in Roxbury, and it wasn't that bad! But then, I tend to feel safer in so-called 'bad' sections of town anyway, so my opinion is probably biased by that.

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