December 03, 2010

Walking Away From Yourself

At the park district clubhouse I was running up on the track above the basketball court yesterday, trying to beat down some of this ridiculous blubber that has somehow attached itself out of nowhere to my mid-section over the past year or six. I walk/run/mostly/walk for a solid hour at a good clip (enough to get my lungs and heart pumping) because I read that it's only after 45 minutes that you start to work on the fat you're hauling around. I hope that's true what I read, anyway.

But that's just the set-up.

The thing is that for the second time this week we've had to walk/run around a young girl who is obviously unclear on the concept.

The first time I saw her she'd walk to the back windows and put her water bottle on the ledge and appear to be talking for a few minutes while we pass her a couple times. Then she'll get out on the track and walk at a respectable pace for, like, twenty steps until she just stops dead cold on the inner lane and bounces on her toes. Then she'll fiddle with her hair and talk like she's on a cell phone.

Everybody has to pass her as she stands there and then on the next lap she's fourteen steps further down where she stops again and goes through the whole thing again. Then she'll walk a lap and run ten feet and stop on the turn. Then she'll stand by the window, point to her bottle, and cross the lanes to get a drink without looking if anybody is coming up behind her.

If you're walking on the inside lane and the person behind you is jogging on the outside lane and you both approach her at the same time while she's standing there you have to manage it carefully or you'll all end up crashing into one another.

The first time I saw her start I was already thirty minutes or so into the walk/run and was at the point of pushing myself, physically, so I wasn't going around with 100% awareness. I was into the Holy iPod and though I was cognizant of my surroundings, you know - hey, when you work out seriously you can get in a zone.

So the first time I saw her antics I wasn't really paying attention that closely. I saw a small woman that looked like she was standing on the track talking on a cell phone. So I figured - not that big a deal. A temporary glitch. Maybe her kid is calling her and she'll handle her stuff and so what. I went around her.

And then I went around her again. And then again. And we were all going around her. And I wasn't happy. I wanted to stop or slow down and say "Ma'am if you're going to talk on the phone please step off to one of the corners so you don't get run over."

I can't explain how, but you just know that the rest of the people working out are also getting a little miffed about this obstacle that you pass and pass and then on the next lap she's stopped twenty paces down from where she was last time.

Bouncing on her toes, talking to herself, fiddling with her hair, pointing at nothing.

Which is exactly when it finally dawned on me that she's not some selfish, thoughtless person who has no clue how this running track is supposed to work; she's a person just doing the best she can. She's not as capable as the rest of us to process what's going on. In her frame of reference she's "working out." And for all we know this is a very big part of her day. Even if she only does three laps in the half hour she's out there; she's doing the best she can with her autism.

And I was thinking, well you know, she's somebody's daughter. Imagine what her parents must have felt when they first realized she was autistic. Imagine bringing your newborn home and eventually finding out this is what your child is going to be like and there's precious little you're going to be able to do about it.

But that wasn't my first reaction. My first reaction was "what a nuisance." And actually my second reaction was "get the hell out of the God damned way" and my third reaction was "I swear t'God if you're standing there when I come around again I'm going to tell you to move your pokey little ass."

I didn't though. I mean, I'm the type to do that - in case you haven't already figured that out by now. I'm going to be the one who says something. The guy who will open his mouth and say what everybody else is thinking but are too polite to say. I was going to. But I didn't. And to be honest I'm not sure why, on that pass, I held my fire.

Which is exactly when I noticed what the situation actually was. Which was embarrassing to me, if only in my own mind.

So I was more careful as I ran. I tried to not make a whole lot of huffing and scuffing sounds when I went by. I gave her a wide berth. There were people who were still getting pissed off but it occurred to me... she's somebody's daughter. I can't explain that. I thought about my daughters. My grand daughter. And how I would feel if any one of them was afflicted with this kind of condition that would by necessity limit their interaction with the world. Forever.

That was Tuesday. The first time. Yesterday, Thursday, I watched as she came onto the track all decked out in her running suit, going for her work out. And for some goofy, probably self-serving, reason I made it a point to kind of watch out for her. You know; run careful, walk responsibly, and be on the lookout for some shmuck like me who was going to be pissed off about her ways and maybe say something.

And I'm going along with that frame of mind and, as it does when you workout hard, you get in a zone. And I felt like such a self-satisfying, self-righteous little twit because of my new Knight In White Armor attitude towards her.

It's hard to tell sometimes, isn't it, about the degrees of one's mental capacity. There are people who wouldn't want her on the track because they wouldn't want other people to see them being associated with "someone like that." They'd be embarrassed to be seen doing the same thing she was. But that would be a symptom of their mental health, wouldn't it? Yes it would. It's called insecurity.

It's often at the bottom of self-righteousness, isn't it?

There are times I just really want to walk away from myself. I swear.


sligo said...

Namaste, RW.

B.E. Earl said...

Ugh...this one hit home. I have a 22 year-old nephew with Asperger's Syndrome. Mild, but it's there. He's actually done very well for himself so far. Graduated near the top of his class in both High School and college.

And from the time he was little, he has been attached to me at the hip at family functions. Maybe because I use to take him to Yankee Stadium when he was a young boy. He loved trains so we would take the LIRR into NYC and then the subways up to the Bronx. Maybe that's it. His folks sheltered him a lot, and I usually gave him a bit more freedom when we were together. Maybe I was the "cool" uncle to him.

But I find myself getting more and more annoyed with him lately. Like if I'm having a conversation with someone and he sits down right between us. Without any understanding that he is in the way. Or when he follows me around so closely that I'll run into him if I turn around too quickly.

I should be more understanding that he's just doing the best he can.

I totally want to walk away from myself right now...

sybil law said...

I feel that way all the time when I'm at my kid's school volunteering. I mean, the kids can't help but be annoying or whatever - it's truly the parents to blame, but DAMN some of them get on my nerves! And one kid there, he so obviously had Asperger's - and his parents pulled him out and have put him in another school - his 5th school in 4 years - they obviously don't want to admit he has it. I feel bad for that kid - he has a hard enough time getting along with kids without always being the new kid.

Dave2 said...

This story needs 20% more leg-warmers. Why don't people who work out wear leg-warmers any more? They were good enough for Olivia Newton-John, dammit, they're good enough for you!

Brian said...

Man, I get this. Once you realize how you've (not YOU you, but you know, "you") seen something wrong, it seems so obvious that you are self-absorbed asshole. And yet, in a world full of self-absorbed assholes, someone acting that way just because she didn't care about what anyone else around her was up to seems perfectly reasonable.

Getting around as I do mostly on foot these days, I encounter all sorts of people with all sorts of issues. I have a pretty good working map of the street folk of my neighborhood and the area where I work. There's the smooth-talking guy who tries to sell flowers that he has obviously plucked out of a planter somewhere. The homeless male-to-female trans person who sells papers at this one corner, who loves my dog and always says hello. An old white lady who plays a mean fiddle in front of the drug store. And lots of people that just stare at you as you go by, maybe with a sign, maybe with their hand out...

And then there's the guy who heard voices telling him that people were infecting his family with diseases, and as a result, killed a random man on the street with a hatchet last week. That was a block from my gym and my wife's yoga studio. 10:30 in the morning. A bunch of kids watched it happen.

I really do try to walk with compassion. I don't usually give anyone anything (except when I do), but I try to at least make eye contact, say hello, at least treat someone with humanity. Try to realize that there really aren't that many people whose goal it is to fuck up my day, get in my way, or do me any harm. But to walk as though none of those things could happen is kind of stupid, too.

It's hard to be good, isn't it?

noraisins said...

My mother is schizophrenic and I really wish that people would stop and think just for minute how they would feel if that person who seems just a bit "odd" was someone they loved. What you wrote here is beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

Avitable said...

Awww, grandpa.

SK Waller said...

My 40 year-old son has Asperger's and will always live with me; he's unable to live an independent life on his own. So, thanks for checking yourself where this girl was concerned. It means a lot to these people not to be misjudged and confronted. In fact, it's often that one thing that keeps them from shooting off into a ferocious fit depression and self-loathing.

Faiqa said...

What Adam said.