At any given time, from the age of fifteen to twenty-seven, I tried to have a best friend and a boyfriend. This pair of people anchored me: the best girl and the best boy. In some ways, people would consider me lucky, as I seemed to attract the handsome boys. But some handsome boys, and boys in general, I later discovered, could be bad boys, too.
Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome have reported that they didn’t have a romantic relationship for a long time, if ever. Me? I instinctively clung to boys starting at the age of five. Probably as a result of the gap I needed to fill based on the absence of my father and the busyness of my single mother. Being an only child in a world of ghosts, precognitive dreams, and extreme sensitivities to people, places, things, while having an acute sense of sight, sound, hearing, and touch, left me longing to cling to something, if only for balance and retreat.
As I reached my teenage years, I became liken to a high-quality, food storage, plastic cling wrap. I’d seal a male over with my entire essence, and remain stuck there, in full-grip mode. I remember thinking I was experienced with relationships. Keen on how they worked, what to do, and how to keep a “man.” But I wasn’t. I was weathered for certain: rusted around the outside like a metal pole set out in the rain one too many winters. But I definitely wasn’t experienced. I hadn’t the faintest idea of how to take care of my needs and wants, beyond lassoing a male to do things for me. I was quite pathetic, in an unintentional, hadn’t-meant-to-be, way.
By my early twenties, after graduating from college with honors and starting my first teaching job, I was deeply ashamed of the woman I’d become. And more times than not, I didn’t know the part of ME that I played in life—didn’t know my lines or even where to find the script. From one moment to the next I was changing. In one scene I played the role of the dedicated soon-to-be school teacher, and in the next a desperate crazy fool clinging to whatever man she could get her hands on. A fisherman in the game of love, I’d learned to bait my hook and cast my pole, but hadn’t known to catch and release.
As time passed, each man I met, no matter where or when, who showed the slightest interest in me, soon became my new love interest. I was fortunate in high school to have had two boyfriends (at different times) that treated me tenderly and with respect. However, later, I dated men from all walks of life, most of whom were extremely damaged in someway or another. And all who were addicted to something or someone.
The worst of being with a man came in not what they ever did, but what I let myself do. I made men my bed, and I slept in them while walking through life. And I fooled myself repeatedly into thinking I was content. It didn’t matter if the bed was too small, or too big, or if it had lumps. It didn’t matter if the mattress was missing all together and I was made to sleep on the cold hard floor. It only mattered I was in the bed, or at least what I’d thought to be a bed. My mind fooled me. My heart fooled me. My logic fooled me. While all along my spirit wept.
There has never been such a horrible part in my life as the years I walked half-blind to my own wanting. In essence I was a prisoner, unable to move forward, sideways, or even backwards without pushing, dragging, or tricking myself in any given direction. Best to stand still in one spot—best not to move an inch—if that was possible. But it wasn’t. I had to keep going. I had to keep stepping somewhere.
The highlight of my dating career had to be the season I spent with the habitual lying, sexually addicted Don—a man five years my senior, who behaved ten years my junior. At first glance I’d fallen head-over-sandals in love with Don. The summer day he confidently strode through the Catholic daycare where I worked, I’d tucked myself halfway behind a shelf of books and drooled over his perpetually sun-kissed skin. He was everything I’d wanted, dark and handsome, and tall enough to look down at me with his bedroom eyes.
The times Don and I were together weaved in and out sporadically through a span of half a decade. When I first met Don he was separated from wife number one; when I last reunited with Don, he was struggling to patch it up with wife number two. I was the in-between, but one Don swore up and down he intended to marry.
The majority of our relationship played out like an ill-plotted soap opera, with me as the dimwitted, star-struck mistress, and Don as the notorious villain. I can laugh now, find many lessons in the journey with Don, even thank him for the crash-course in what-not-to-do ever again; but back then, having no other models for beneficial love relationships and no avenue for escape, I was stuck in the mire of pain and misery, a self-invented trap that I had no idea of how to release. I cried daily. I wrote dark or needy poetry. My focus from morning to-night was Don. My life was Don. My reason for living was Don.
There was the time I dialed his number obsessively, about twenty times, just to hear his voice on the machine; the time his lover called me and said: “Just so you know I’ve been sleeping with Don every morning after he leaves your house. I’m those ‘business trips’ he’s been on.”; the time he totaled his uninsured truck out-of-town, and called me to come get him from the hospital, even though he’d been secretly rendezvousing with another that day; the time Don and I threw a Halloween party (which I obsessed and over planned about) and no one came (except a few of my teaching program college mates), because all of Don’s “friends” didn’t respect him; the time I drank an entire bottle of wine and slammed my finger in the closet, because I’d yet again been waiting for Don to show up.
He had a habit of just not showing up. Just not being there. I’d come to expect it. To recognize the raw acid-burning pain in my chest that signified the abandonment soon to come. There was pain continually lurking behind the wall of my psyche. I’d be in bed, the only one awake, and ritually would cry up to the heavens, begging for a way out, for understanding, but mostly for a way to make him love me.
I didn’t know any better. No one had taught me. And Mother, though I love her, hadn’t prepared me. Everything I’d learned from romance came from Mother or movies, or maybe from watching soap operas or another person. I didn’t have standards. I didn’t know what standards were. And I didn’t know why someone wouldn’t or couldn’t love me. I thought everyone was good, everyone just, everyone honest, everyone sorry.