Chapter One

THE MAIN THING is being part of the problem. When you’re autistic, you realize not only that you have a problem, but that you are a problem. For other people, but especially for your parents.

I got used to it, of course. That was hard for a while, but I’m good at getting used to things. It’s one of my unmarketable talents.

I knew they weren’t going to understand a thing I said. When I realized this was because I wasn’t talking at all, I took this as a minor limitation. Most communication is non-verbal, right? Everybody knows that.

Besides, everyone is misunderstood. People live in these little igloos, these little shelters. They try to contact other people across this huge divide. It’s difficult, if not impossible.

So, what I lack is what everybody lacks. That perfect window through which you know people, really know them, and they really know you. Nobody really has that, though we all wish we did.

Another thing is, people see themselves the way they want to see themselves. Other people see them in a completely different way. It’s kind of funny, when you think about it.

Take my mother. She thinks she’s the rock, the competent one, the strong one, the one whose judgment everybody depends on.

But she isn’t. She’s actually very weak. I know this from my own experience, but also because people have talked about her in front of me. They know I can’t talk, so they say whatever they want.

The babysitter, Pam, was here with her boyfriend. In between making out (they did that because they assumed I would never be able to tell anyone about it) she complained all over the place about my mother.

“She’s shallow. She’s narcissistic. She can’t think of anybody but herself. When she looks at me, I can feel that she isn’t seeing me. Her husband can’t stand her either. All this PTA, the charity work, donating to the symphony orchestra — that’s bullshit.”

Pam is right. My mother puts on this big act of being the devoted mother, the fearless crusader for worthy causes. And I have to admit she has done some good things.

But this is more to escape herself and her marriage than to help anyone. She’s really just showing off. And trying to get out of the house as much as possible.

Pam sees through her. The funny thing is, though, Pam doesn’t see the truth about Pam. That boyfriend doesn’t love her. You can see it in the way he looks at her. Besides, he has another girl. I heard it from another babysitter.

He just likes the way she holds him when — you know what I mean. How her ass feels in his hands. I know, I’ve seen them. She means no more to him than a video game. Just something to amuse him for a while, until he gets serious about some other girl.

Poor Pam.

But you know what? In a way she does know. She just doesn’t want to tell herself about it. She doesn’t want to get hurt. She’s digging her hole a little deeper each day, but she can’t help herself.

I think my mother is the same way. Sometimes I see her when she thinks she’s alone, and this look of terrible fatigue and loneliness is on her face. Somewhere inside she knows she’s playing a losing game, the game of being herself, and that she’s wasting her whole life.

I’m guilty of this myself. A lot of the time I see what I want to see. I pursue what I want, I raise hell if I don’t get it, and I forget to look inside. The real me is there, but I’m not interested.

And that’s why I’m writing this. To tell you about people, and how little they see, and how little they know. I’m an expert, because they don’t hide anything from me. They tell me everything.

But people are more than just shallow. They’re complicated. They’re interesting.

Take my father. He was the vice-president of a bank, way downtown, but then he got laid off. Now he’s an investment counsellor, and he’s not doing very well with it. You can tell.

He drank before, and he drinks more now. Every night at dinner he and my mother have the same argument. They start with money, move to relatives, and finally back to money.

“You shouldn’t have bought that dress.”

“Why not? I have to have something to wear.”

“Who are you trying to impress?”

“Don’t start that again.”

That gets boring. Come on over sometime, you’ll see what I mean.

But — when my Dad holds my hand, he means it. My mother could be holding a mackerel, for God’s sake.

I love to go for walks with him in the park down Coventry Lane. He always holds my hand. When we do this I feel as though he’s escaping, and he wants me to escape with him.

“Come on, Max, let’s go for a walk.” He breathes a sigh of relief the minute the door of our house closes.

Later, when we’re on our way back, he gets gradually more tense. When we come inside the house he lets go of my hand and starts in with my mother.

If only I could have Daddy as he is in the park. But that’s only one part of him.

People are in parts, like jigsaw puzzles. When you deal with them, you have to be aware of which part you’re talking to. Sometimes that isn’t easy to do.

I watch the news on my computer. I’m no political analyst, but it’s obvious that the countries in the world are dealing with parts of each other that they don’t understand. The Indians and the Pakistanis, the Israelis and the Palestinians, you name it — they go on banging away at each other because they haven’t bothered to find the part of each other that would understand and help. They’re stubborn, they’re limited. Like Pam, come to think of it. They dig their hole a little deeper every day, and they don’t realize they’re doing it.

No one knows which part of me they’re dealing with, because I can’t talk. This makes me feel like I’m my own best-kept secret, but it also makes me feel lonely as hell.

There’s a special path through that park. It goes past pine needles and little bushes and a large rock sticking out of the ground. On the way in there is an old dying maple tree with a hole in it. I always find some little treat in that hole. I know he puts it there before we go out for our walk, but I always act as though it’s a big surprise.

The route has to be the same every time. If he deviates from it I get upset. We have to enter the woods from a certain place, stop at the rock while I climb on it and jump down, linger at the tree with the hole in it. We also have to leave by a particular route.

Oh — I forgot to tell you, I’m autistic. I have repetitious behaviors. I get upset if things aren’t predictable.

I was diagnosed when I was three. My parents were concerned because I wasn’t talking. It hit them pretty hard when they learned it was serious.

My father got laid off the next year.

I’m not sure how many of their problems are because of me. But I know damned well that I didn’t help.

I’m seven now. My memory only starts after the diagnosis. My parents then were pretty much as they are now.

I really don’t like being part of the problem. This is a lousy burden to have to grow up with.