Perfectly Imperfect

The goal is not to be perfect; the goal is to be accepted for the imperfections.

The Aspie Diary | Broken Recorder

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Whenever I hear someone says ‘… like a broken recorder’, it strikes a chord.

For the longest time, I believed that everyone thinks like me; or at least the brains function similarly.

Once in a while – right, that could actually be an understatement, because it’s once in a relatively short while – I have flashbacks of events, to the specifics, like a broken recorder refusing to get past that bad section of the vinyl disc; it’s almost an indulgence to wallow in the self-pity, because that is what the flashbacks do to me, I feel sad for myself by the end of the ‘songs’.

I have always known that I am socially handicapped, but even by saying it out loud, a tiny denial sneaks in. It is conflicted, because I seemed to be doing fine when out with a group, except that it is never the same level of enjoyment for me as with for you.

Maybe you went home not remembering a thing about the gathering, maybe you remembered that cute boy/girl who said something brilliant, maybe you discovered opportunities. I went home having flashbacks of what I had said and should have said; that would be the kindest outcome, heaven forbid that I said something ‘stupid’, it will soon become the latest soundtrack in my brain and replays itself relentlessly – forever.

Forever, is not an exaggeration here. I am beginning to truly accept that I have a brain with a snapped connector – rather, it was never there – similar to a group of people known as Aspie, yet different from the majority.

The flashbacks of social awkwardnesses go as far back as I was a small child.

[ ‘Die’ ]

When I was just a few years old, we dined out as a family. I said ‘die’ in a random subject. The father scolded me fiercely and loudly and said that I ruined everything for everyone. I didn’t speak a word for the rest of the evening.

I was usually quiet. I didn’t know if I were going to say the wrong thing and ruin everything for everyone. People seemed to dislike me even when I didn’t speak; they hated me when I spoke. I was wrong being quiet; wronger when not. It was difficult when rules are vague. My sister was bubbly, she spoke rudely as a child sometimes, but she was well liked anyway. When I mimicked her, I didn’t receive the same responses. I guess she was just prettier.

[ Lunch at Swensens – Sharing ]

I spent most of my school holidays at my grandpa’s. My two younger aunts were single and lived with my grandparents. My 7th aunt was generous – still is – to bring my cousin and I to the Swensens when out on a date, whom she is now married to. Swensens was a big deal then. They served a generous size of fries, and my aunt ordered one for my cousin and I to share. I didn’t take chili well – still don’ – so I poured ketchup on one side of the plate to dip my fries into. My cousin poured chili next to the ketchup. I was, still am, careful with my cousin, I never understood why she didn’t like me – like I never understand why others whom I barely spoke with dislike me – so I let her.

She mixed the sauces together. I was uncomfortable, but I didn’t say anything, I simply poured another portion of ketchup on another side of the plate. That was my way of compromise and not crossing with her. She poured the chili next to the ketchup again and mixed them together. I was upset, but I didn’t dare to say anything. I must looked awful, I felt tears welling up in my eyes and I fought back the tears. My aunt noticed and stopped my cousin from repeating it. She gave instruction, with assertiveness in her voice, that the cousin was to leave my ketchup alone. I was very grateful for that. It was rare that anyone stood up for me, and I truly appreciated it when anyone did.

This, however, might have deepened the animosity between the cousin and I.

I never knew why my cousin disliked me, just like I never knew why my late grandma disliked me – others deduced that it was jealousy that my grandma felt towards me over my grandpa, after all, I was his favorite pet. If anything, I was just afraid of her, and I avoided being near her throughout my childhood, into my young adulthood. We are still not close.

Every now and then, the scene replayed itself in my head. What could I have done better to avoid the consequence?

Growing up, I don’t share well. I have always known I am different, and being different, I am never easily liked. I have habits that others hate – which is also baffling to me, since those habits hardly concern others. I strongly dislike, almost offended, when someone picks food from my plate, unless I agree to share. I eat in sequence – vegetable/fish, rice/potato, meat. Oddly, some people are disturbed by that.

That incident at Swensens led me to a ‘solution’. I order a plate separately for others and have my own. I do not mind paying for extra, I mind sharing.

Sharing is difficult. I am not automatically equipped with the ability to decide if I should take that piece, or will I pose as a greedy person to have taken the perhaps bigger piece? I know now that you don’t have that kind of struggle when sharing, at least not remotely at the same level of pain as I. 

[ Read Between Lines ]

I know now that I am quite smart, yet socially stupid. Since social skill plays a major part in attributing to the aggregated score of being ‘smart’, I was made believe to be stupid.

I have difficulties reading between the lines, at least not by the first run. I am convinced that I am a quick learner in technicality and terminology of sequence, but not in highly volatile social language. Social behaviors change as quickly as technology, almost instantaneously at the first spark of new event.

Overtime, I understand common jokes and sarcasm, because I watch plenty of movies and soaps. *Keyword – Overtime, there is a minimum required exposures to the same jokes and sarcasm before I understand them as what they are meant to be. I am still susceptible to ‘dumbness’ with new forms of social lingo. I lack the ability to reciprocate in the politically correct manner. I understand now that I do get hated for being socially stupid.

[ No means No or Yes, Yes means Yes or No ]

Even now, I still can’t always tell if a person means no when he says no.

Many years ago, I was dating a sweet guy, a guy who mattered a great deal to me. Due to his job, he traveled frequently. I was furthering studies in higher education. We had little time together. When he was not traveling, he slept through days due to jetlag.

A former boyfriend who stayed as good friend invited me to join him on a trip as his colleague had to give up his booked tickets due to last minute overseas posting.

I consulted with the boyfriend before replying. The boyfriend assured me numerously that it was absolutely fine. I must have known then that I have always been stupid with understanding the yes and no as they are. I attempted the question – just to be really sure – in different ways, extended and super extended style. I was, still am, literal, I always want to be sure that people understand exactly what I mean. I asked the question like, ‘if you don’t feel good about this at all, I will not go, and I will not be upset’. I thought that was the right way to make sure that my guy understood that he mattered more than anything, and I would not risk the relationship.

‘I want you to go, really’, he assured.

I now think he meant ‘I want you to go, but not really, you should know better not to ask to begin with’. We broke up soon after I returned from my trip.

I believe it is universally understood and expected of, because apparently the friends of the boyfriend assumed that it was a form of betrayal on my part. Nothing happened during the trip. The former boyfriend was a good friend, a friend whom I knew for a long time. We spent a great deal of time apart during the trip. He needed time for himself, and I was happy to be alone. We met for meals and traveled together. It was however, one of the best holidays I had. I realized that I felt ‘liberation’ for the first time. I didn’t have to try to please anyone because I was alone. I felt so relieved and at ease that I will not slip up and make another social mistake.

I never knew why we broke up. We had other problems, mainly arisen from my insecurities and stressful studies.

Not only that this event becomes the favorite sob-song in the playlist of the broken recorder, I dreamt of painful dreams every other night, for more than 10 years after the breakup. Different backgrounds, same endings. I could not wish that I never went for the trip, everything is carefully designed to happen the way it did, that trip was the anchoring point to discovering myself in liberation.

Honestly, I still can’t tell if someone means otherwise. I always assume the reply as honest, and I take it as it is.

We are always expected to decipher the mysterious social code of yes means no, no means maybe. For crying out loud, just de-complicate matter and mean yes when you say yes. 

[ Expectation Unmet ]

I don’t persuade. I don’t like to be persuaded.

Growing up, I have been blamed for not persuading. Confused much? People have a funny way of determining ‘sincerity’.

I asked, you said no, I accepted and moved on. You then said that I was insincere in asking. You asked, I said no, you got upset and said I was not a true friend.

I don’t harass. You said no, I accepted with no prejudice. You think I should at least try to persuade. Damn, why don’t you just say yes? You don’t say yes, because you think a straight yes is a symbol of desperation? You want to feel important enough that I will come down on my knees to beg?

I am sure I have tried begging at some point of my life. Begging for forgiveness with the sister for heaven knows why; pleading for forgiveness from an angry best friend for whatever I still don’t know why she was upset about; mentally down on my knees to just want everything back to the way it was for whatever I still don’t know what happened.

When I say no, I really mean no, so that you don’t have to lower yourself to beg, plead, and go down on your knees. They are unnecessary. Being a friend, or a person, I do not get off from being more superior.

I don’t expect a response when I don’t ask a question. I blame today’s society in shaping us into some forms of manipulative creatives who mistakenly believe that the only way to highlight our (seemingly ridiculed) intelligence is to beat about the bush and expect others to know the unspoken question.

On the similar logic, I always thought that someone was merely making a statement when they don’t end with a question. I learnt that I was expected to ask when not asked. I know, it’s insanely wrong, but correct in the normal world – which I think my autistic world appears to be more normal, at least untwisted.

You won’t believe what I am being blamed for. You say, ‘I am hungry’. When I was younger, I dismissed that as it was and moved on with other stuffs. You got really mad at me, madder when I asked what you were mad at. So, I had to ask for forgiveness for whatever you were mad and madder at. Normally, after a few days of clueless begging, you felt better, but never told me why. Others helped me understand by wild guessing that you were mad because I didn’t ask if you would like to eat.

I begin to understand that women are generally manipulative and have nothing better to do than designing mind games that lead to frustration of herself or others. Can you blame me for feeling more comfortable with being around men? 

[ Men are as complicated ]

With male friends, I get into lesser trouble, at least for the initial phase, when they convinced me that they genuinely (apparently not) believed in platonic friendship. It was easier to be around male friends, they are less needy and they don’t bang the door at my face for whatever I don’t know why small stuffs.

Things became messier when they started to like me, as a girl. I have very poor quality antenna plugged into that department. I can’t really tell if the guy suddenly liked me romantically.

When I was in Secondary 3, a really sweet guy and I became very good friends. He was not a popular guy – I am told recently that I have a thing for the underdog (mirroring myself, I defend the underdog) – being a Prefect (school disciplinary team) and overly prim and proper guy, especially with the teachers aka curry favors. We were close because I found exceptional qualities in him as a friend, he was loyal and smart. He bought me a present on my birthday and assured me that it was just a gift for a friend. He said that a friend does not rejects gift from a friend. I believed him. It turned out, he liked me romantically, and my acceptance of his gift was the unspoken gesture of acceptance of his courtship.

Of course, I never knew there was a phase of ‘courtship’. Friends blamed me for accepting the gift. I returned the gift and spent a great deal of time doing damage control and explained that I liked him as a friend, nothing more. I apologized for the misunderstanding and if I led him on. He hated me for…ever. Years later, after we graduated from school, we met at a gathering, he still spoke of it with much anger. I was deeply sorry for the way things turned out.

That stuck in my head, along with other ‘sad songs’ in the broken recorder.

I never meant for that to happen; I valued and cherished his friendship.

More men troubles growing up. Learnt from that Sec 3 lesson, I became more ‘cruel, just to be kind’ with male friends. If I even suspected the guy liked me more than a friend, I risked bruising my pride (of otherwise) and told him at the beginning that I will NOT like him romantically. I said plainly,’ I don’t and won’t like you romantically, so please don’t like me that way.’ I thought I covered the base, and got that out-of-the-way from the great friendship. I even told the story of the Sec 3 experience and I would hate that history repeats itself.

As it turned out, men are as complicated as women. Say, men can bear a bigger grudge than women when it roots to their mighty ego.

At some point, I will still lose the friendship. Despite my repeated ‘Please don’t like me’ reminders, the good connection between us meant differently for a guy, than for me. I always almost ended up being hated or even got scolded from the friend of the guy who liked me. I guess they never knew this, as much as they suffered a heartbreak from rejection to a romantic relationship which they might forget in the 1st second of a new relationship, I suffer years (of permanence perhaps) of heartache from losing a friendship.

I wished for a standard formula to deal with friends, male or female, so that I do the right thing to keep the friendships.

I think they assumed that perseverance and time can move the mountain. They don’t know and I didn’t know then that, I am a different mountain. I am more capable in keeping promises and staying loyal, I am downright stupid in assuming the unknown. They must have thought it’s mutual when the ‘connection’ becomes ‘privileged connection’. I never think it’s their fault that the friendship ended; I wished I could say the same for how they feel towards my role in outcome.

I do the weirdest things. I already know by my mid twenties that I don’t guess well. I asked this male friend if we were heading towards a romantic relationship, since we seemed to have grown very close. The feelings were mutual, but he had a clear mind not to approach that direction, for many rational reasons. He was astonished that I was that candid though, perhaps he didn’t think such candor exists in a woman to come right out and ask plainly. We agreed that we will remain as platonic friends, and I was confident this time that we will be good friends for a long time. Unlike in the past, when I was young and stupid, I was older and of course, the truth is I am still socially stupid, but at least we were both older and matured. We shared many common interests, I foresaw that our friendship would be an enriching and beneficial one, at least in the department of personal growth.

We started to see other people, but we remained close. I enjoyed his exceptional insight into psychoanalysis and other related topics. We talked about the people we dated. Things went south when he realized I was dating someone serious. I was accused of being scheming and cunning like a fox – an attempt to make him jealous. Despite my defense, he assumed the worst of me. I was disappointed and hurt. It was the same story all over again.

See, I have a stubborn stupid brain at birth. There is one important connector missing in my brain. Like a foot soldier, I do as I was told, by default. (Things are more different now on the ‘obedience’ part, because I now question, but by default, I follow instruction faithfully, that drove my sister completely nuts!) When we agreed to be just friends, I did just that. I always play my role to my best. I assumed that people mean what they said. I don’t go to and forth with the same matter. I may discuss in length before the decision is made, but once the decision is made, I try to stay on course. That, I thought, is out of respect towards the person whom you agree the matter with. Apparently, I belong to another era, or planet.

What was different with this friend was that, for the first time, I assumed my right to feel that it was not alright to be wronged and accused of  (I have his other good friend to thank for, as her hostility towards me when we didn’t even knew each other, had me booked therapy sessions with my trainer (in the counseling educational institute that I was studying) to iron out the underlying issues with people treating me poorly even before we knew each other), and told him that I was disappointed that he thought the worst of me over a bruised ego, and of something I didn’t try to do. I was really upset and told him that there would be no reason that we should remain as friends, if I was what he thought I was.

He was the last best male friend I had. Men, or women, as long as they are regular and normal, are too complicated for the stupid me. I always ended up being the bitch.

[ Unkind public humiliation ]

I don’t attend weddings, funerals, or any functions that involve many people.

There is a valid reason for Aspie to adopt the ‘anti-social’ coping method. I know it must be unimaginable for the normal you to even think of what is it that I am trying to express. It is not just that event that I have to brace myself to handle; it is the aftermath that I am preventing.

I live long enough to understand – even before I know I am an Aspie – that every event that I go to, is a chance to expose myself to after-trail of a haunting song in that broken recorder.

I traveled to a foreign land for a joyous event. I was invited to join my friend at a dinner with her husband’s friends from the MBA program. One of the female friends arrived late. We introduced ourselves and shook hands, I put my hand out, and she ignored me. I saw her condescending sneer, so did another friend. He was kind to distract the awkwardness.

I had not met her before, we didn’t know each other. Perhaps information was shared before my arrival. A lowly regularly educated country pumpkin unworthy of her handshake, perhaps.

It was not the embarrassment to myself that I was bothered with; I wondered if I was an embarrassment to the friend who had invited me to the dinner. I was sorry for the latter.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

When I said earlier, ‘relatively short while’ that the broken recorder plays the favorite playlist, I actually mean everyday. Sadly, there is no off switch for this. I have been involuntarily trained – basic survivor’s mode – to recount my steps.

As a child, I spent hours staring in blanks. I did not respond. I just sat there and gaze blankly. My sister used to say that I rationalized now and assumed that I thought that when I was young; she said, when we were that young, we do not rationalize.

She was wrong. I rationalized then, and I was recounting my steps. She never lacks friends, she never had to replay the tapes in her head to observe what she did wrong. I do this all my life, involuntarily.

There is no safe place for me with people. I never feel safe, except when alone. Being completely alone, even for a small section in a day is of paramount importance. I used to take long showers. Bathroom is very private, it is just me and me alone.

Once in a long while, I wallow in the self-pity, and feel sad for myself.

Since a long time ago, I stopped hoping to be understood; a small part of me never stopped hoping not to be misunderstood.

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