My good friend, Louise, invited me to meet her cousin, Glenn. During birth his brain had been deprived of oxygen which resulted in a number of challenges. Both of his parents died in a car accident, so he had been taken in by their grandparents. Thirty-four years old, he was able to ride a bike everywhere and pick up groceries for his grandparents. He could dress himself if someone chose the outfit for him and keep himself neat and tidy. Loving to be outdoors he was able to cut lawns. He lived in a small community that cared for him and went out of its way to find him jobs that he could do.
When I met Glenn I was immediately taken by his charm. Six foot four, large and powerful, he looked like a man who worked outside and had a masculine, no nonsense approach to life. The immense juxtaposition was that he stood behind my friends five foot four, small bone frame, trying to hide, holding his hand in front of his face as he peeked at me between his fingers. Sweet, curious and innocent; I liked Glenn immediately.
Glenn loves animals, Deb. Maybe you could tell him about some of yours. Louise offered, trying to make a bridge between us.
Louise and I sat down, trying to appear oblivious to tall, big Glenn hiding his face behind his large hands. For me, these situations always seem more, normal, than trying to fit in at a luncheon or cocktail party. I love people but I hate making small talk. Being with Glenn, big hearted and curious, and his cousin who adored him, was much more real and authentic to me.
Louise and I started talking about my Appaloosa Pony, War Hand. He was all white, with big black polka dots and we talked about his special personality, how he was always pulling tricks on people opening corral gates, and then opening doors and walking into people’s homes to visit them and other original, unhorse like behaviors. I spoke directly to Louise, occasionally peeking back at Glenn.
This was comfortable to me as at the time I still had trouble speaking to strangers and Louise was in fact one of my favorite friends, tolerating my differences and encouraging me. Occasionally she would turn to her cousin, Wow, Glenn, did you hear that????? War Hand went into that lady’s house to visit her! Glenn, can you imagine? War Hand puts his front hooves on the corral fence, stands up tall, like a human being and lets them know it’s time for breakfast for his goat friend, Capricorn, and himself!
Glenn would smile. His hands came away from his face. He had a sense of humor and started to relax enough to chuckle.
“Hey, Deb, why don’t you tell us about your pet skunk, Arpege? Glenn, did you know that Deb had a pet skunk? . . . Glenn, you know what a pet skunk is, don’t you?” Louise asked.
I glanced over at Glenn, trying not to be intrusive, I saw him nodding his head rapidly, up and down, above his massive shoulders. As long as I didn’t look at him directly, for too long, I knew that he was starting to connect.
My animals are one of my special interests the interests that Aspies are known to have that can drive many people crazy as they talk about them on and on. In my twenties I became aware, that one shouldn’t go on and on about ones affinities the things that occupy my mind all day long. But Glenn and Louise were a rapt audience. Glenn wanted to know about Arpege.
I was delighted. I told how I rescued Arpege, as a skunk kitten, in Maine when she had become separated from her mother. I told how my father and brother were afraid, but that she never sprayed me. Home in Connecticut, a veterinarian removed her scent sacks so that she would not be able to spray. I described her two gaits: a waddle and the characteristic bounce, like Peppy La Pue, in the cartoons. Arpege had had a wonderful sense of humor which she demonstrated by chasing my mother through the house, up the four levels of stairs, at a bounce, as she carried the laundry, screaming each time.
My brother, also with Asperger’s Syndrome, and I spent our youth imitating the physical actions of others. I often jump up and start acting out the action of the story that I am telling, rolling along with the pictures streaming through my mind, my natural way of thinking and processing. In the easy atmosphere with Glenn and Louise, I found myself acting out Arpege’s many antics. Soon we were all giggling uncontrollably; it felt like we knew each other for many years.
We spent the afternoon laughing as I told my animal friend stories. Glenn sat down with us and started asking questions. His shyness, and mine, dissolved. When their grandparents came home, he kept saying, Deb has a skunk! Tell them about the skunk!
That afternoon took place over thirty years ago. Since we lived many states away, I never got to visit again. But I never forgot Glenn’s warmth, big heart and sense of humor. For a number of years, Louise told me that when she would visit her grandparents that Glen always remembered and would ask, “How’s Deborah? She has a skunk! “
Eventually Louise moved to the opposite coast and we lost touch, as often happens as the years pass by. But that afternoon, the deep connection and the fun we had has always stood out in my mind.
Glenn had immense hurdles to face; daily life tasks that many do on remote pilot, were often insurmountable obstacles to him. Given deep respect and care, he developed self esteem so that he could meet and touch people on a very deep level. All of us who are faced with differences can find, in the interactions with life and the vast majority of the human population, frustrations over not being able to fit in, and be normal.
But I find courage when I think of my afternoon with Glenn, raised in the atmosphere of his grandparents, loving and a caring extended family, and community, he was able to radiate his special energy and big heart. Diagnosed three years ago with A.S., at the age of fifty, I finally understood my wonderful but different life. Suddenly my special affinity and focus on animals and other special topics, my affinity with other, special needs people, made sense.
I think of the special day with Glen; I am motivated by his special gifts. He accepted me, knew who I was, and reflected that back in a way that few others ever had. I know as I join the movement for early diagnoses, tolerance and caring that all of us who face life challenges can be helped to find our special place in life, so that we can share the gifts that God has blessed us with.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.