I lived in Boon Lay since birth, till we moved to a new estate slightly over a decade ago. That was when Singapore was so young and developing. Residents moved from the Kampong to high-rise buildings which we call ‘Flats’, aka apartments. The British heavily influenced us, since we were once the British Colony, the term differs, but they mean the same thing.
Neighbors were closely knitted. We knew everybody, from the ground level (which was the Kindergarten that I attended) to the top level. We exchanged telephone numbers. We looked out for one another. We accepted parcels for one another. We always knew the whereabouts of one another. The adults played parental roles of one another’s children. Right, the adults told tales to your parents, if you were caught messing around with the wrong company!
We left the gates unlocked even when we left the apartment to get some stuff at the nearby shops. We handed over our apartment keys to the neighbors. The neighbors interrogated the strangers who knocked at another residents’ doors.
It was hard to deal with breakups in such closely bonded community. Everyone knew when your boyfriend stopped visiting; or when a new boy started visiting!
There was this uncle whom I held high admiration for his integrity and loyalty to friends and family. He was one of the most helpful people I had known. He was uneducated, loud and sometimes a little boorish, but with a style. He was kind and helpful. I spent a lot of time at his place since I was close with his son, who is a year older than I. I loved to listen to his life philosophies. They sounded right (still do). All human beings should be like him, I thought, in my young mind.
One day, his wife left him and their young children. I was saddened. I visited more often, and I saw a broken man, who seemed to have aged by leaps and bounds. There was deep sadness in his eyes. He swore that he will never helped another person; he was a changed man forever, as good will not begets good. I was sad to hear that he decided to turn his back on his own beliefs and goodness because of one setback in life.
What do I know? I was just a child.
I didn’t visit so regularly anymore, as his son advised. He grew more distant, always angry and sad. We moved from the friendly neighborhood.
Some years passed. News came that the man I once admired much, chose to end his life, which he believed was filled with nothing but misery.
Believe it or not, this uncle whom I don’t even know his name, impacted me greatly on my beliefs system. His life philosophies make perfect sense to me, and that sit well with me, always. They are simple and straightforward, and they don’t involve gauging or estimation. Give it all, he said. Always stay true to your friends. Be loyal. Clear conscience. Expect nothing in return.
It seemed like the right way to live a decent life. I imagine that anyone would be a fine person if harnessed with all these good values.
See, I have this life long struggle. It has become clear to me that these values are not widely adopted by most modern people. Not only that I am an outcast from the normal; I have also made myself a dinosaur. I imagine that it must be heavy for any regular friends to have me as a friend.
As mentioned in my previous posts, I don’t get to keep friends around, long enough. Even with my best friend, I am never fully confident, because there is always a chance that I may slip up and offend her; or when she couldn’t take my quirkiness any much more. I am great with being alone, but even for someone like me, who is highly self-absorbed in my own activities; there are times of loneliness. I feel exceptionally lonely when I am misunderstood for what I never intended to.
You would think that we would get used to losing friends. “Friends come and go all the time”, they say. Not for me. It’s odd, but I am never able to say, “I’ve gotten used to being taken granted for; or misunderstood”. I pretended that it was okay that people don’t understand me, it turns out, it is never okay, because people can be very cruel with spreading malicious rumors about me. It gets to me, sometimes.
The struggle is that, I sometimes convinced myself that it is the rare values that I took from the kind uncle that made me odder than I already am. By giving all, today’s regular people couldn’t handle complete surrendering. Many people want to just tap and go. I want to stay and be there.
I think I can imagine why friends are not comfortable with me around. It’s hard to bring a walking dinosaur around.
The coping mechanism kicks in for me too. What I have learned from the same man who passed the good values to me, also handed me one of the options to cope with betraying friends. To change myself. Stop being kind. Be someone completely different from whom I am.
This is the true struggle. It is a way of staying untrue to myself, and pretend to be ‘normal’ like everyone else is. It means abandoning what sits perfectly right with me, only not to others. At times, the thought of shutting everyone else out crosses my mind. That way, I won’t get hurt, I thought to myself. I did that before, it helped me through very difficult phase in life, but I think I am happier being myself.
Recently, a new chapter has been opened.
I have to believe that everything is falling into the right places for me now. It was a strange moment and opportunity when my mother and I had a conversation on family issues. It appeared to be the perfect timing to explore into sharing my self-discovery into Apserger’s Syndrome with her.
I had never thought this would be possible. My mother is deprived of education. Some topics could be extremely challenging to grasp. I went ahead to share with her anyway, because in spite of her lack of education and knowledge into Austism Spectrum, she is a an extraordinary and loving mother.
Like most newly discovered adult Aspie, there were ‘no wonder’, ‘ah ha!’, ‘now we know’, kind of expressions in the conversation.
Personally, I think it is important to have someone who grows up with you to walk this journey with you for a bit. It not only affirms what you have just discovered, it’s an enormous relief that I have finally redeemed myself for some hurt and pain that I never meant to cause.
I was and probably still am, a very difficult child. “No wonder you wailed and yelled the second I stepped on the paddle of the sewing machine. You were happy when I stopped and sat there doing nothing. You were satisfied with just having us staring at each other.”
There were many stories about my notorious behaviors as a child. Some of the stories were told and retold countless of times amongst the relatives. The story that I bit off the synthetic leather covers off the chair. The story about my insistence on specifics, and will not relent until I got what I asked for.
Be mindful when sharing with a parent though. Guilt often creeps up on the parent. It is difficult for a parent when she learns that the child has been suffering all this time, and she was one of the general public who failed to see more to it, and didn’t do more.
I made sure to tell her that she didn’t know then, I didn’t know then. She assumed that I was just more stubborn, peculiar, and difficult. She always knew I was different from other children. Autism was a term used on me as a teasing joke.
I told her I’d never enjoyed the visiting during festive seasons. I felt extremely stressed and always end up feeling sad after the visit. Stressed out by the overwhelming crowd and noises. Saddened by the remarks that I received on regular basis – the obvious difference from the other cousins. The lack of willingness to conform has always been a problem.
“Why didn’t you say so then?”. I did, more than once, but I was a child. A child’s request – a non-regular one – is often regarded as rebellious and non-conforming.
Always remember that Now is different from Then. Her primary concerns and priorities were to make sure we received our education, we had food on the table, and we had the basics.
For the longest time, I feel liberated!
I think, I will keep my values and lose the friends who just tap and go. I enjoy quality conversation and sharing. I don’t want to go back to the days when I tried too hard to fit in. If I don’t fit anywhere, so be it.