The Stranger A guest post from a close friend

A friend sent me this story she wrote tonight. Thought it would be a good place to publish. She’s an expert on the autism spectrum, and I don’t take enough time in my blog to appreciate mental health.

Here’s her story, which is a look into how she sees the world and among her first steps toward giving aspies and others a voice. She’s afraid of being judged for it, but I think it’s great.

It’s a fictional tale based in the realities of psychology.

The Stranger

I noticed him right after James started screaming.  I am always aware of who might be new, who might know James, and who would not.  After all, in this small town almost everyone did, except for the man now walking up to me.  He said, barely taking his eyes off of the wailing 39 year old, “is he ok?”

“Yes, he just received some shocking news.” I said.
“He looks like he’s in the terrible throws of grief, what happened?”

I hesitated momentarily then, guardedly, I added, “he’s also autistic.”

He looks like a normal guy who just lost his mind in grief.” The man politely replied.

James was on the grass in the middle of the scenic part of our town square, alternating on his hands and knees and wallowing on the ground. He was screaming as if he’d been stabbed, but also like he was being Tazed.

I told the newcomer that the intensity of what he was experiencing peaked the stress chemicals in his body and he had reached a point that had passed his body’s ability to cope with those feelings, physically and mentally. James feels things more intensely, obtrusively, acutely, and more accurately than any man I’d known. He managed to almost never have one of these meltdowns in public, until now.

James was now several minutes into this when the stranger quietly said, “Poor guy.”

“James can tell you that he is both gifted and burdened. He was in his early 30s when he learned that he wasn’t a failure but a strong and creative autistic,” I added.

I looked away from James and turned to the newcomer, “He’s been through a lot personally but he’s been through more just by watching others than you could imagine. He can tell you how things relate to each other and how they relate to you. He sees and feels like he contains all the different types of people and perspectives he’s ever absorbed. He’s been aimlessly wrestling with depression and avoidance since his teens and suffered with PTSD since his 20s.

He’s fought suicidal thoughts right up to his 39th birthday.

With ADHD and Autism, his life expectancy is 40 and suicide is the leading cause of non-accidental death for his group. 10 times the rate of his peers.  Loneliness is really the cause if you ask me.”

“What do mean?” He asked.

“Something like 80 to 90 percent of Autistic adults never marry. They want to, but don’t possess the social mechanisms that give most people the ease in starting and maintaining relationships. That’s right, it’s easy for most people, by comparison. He feels and senses so much that it becomes impossible not to be very direct and honest and vulnerable. All the things he tries to do to look normal become very evident that he is trying and it signals his social mechanisms to not quite feel right. You have to learn how to speak his language some. Then he kind of blossoms. He speaks our social language as best he can and has a powerful command over English.

He’s been very strong. We have all thought at one point, and he has thought at many points, that he would break. But he is sensitive, not fragile. He’s sensitive like a very accurate seisometer. He says it must only feel like he is breaking. He says it’s like the information comprising his world gets too deep or too detailed. Like he becomes aware of too much without any ability to understand it or control it. I think it’s him being born out of another egg into a newer stronger container.

With my lip unexpectedly starting to quiver, I quickly found my resolve and continued, “To hold a gentle soul that can hold more of himself together each time he breaks open out of the former container, which had failed to grow fast enough. Nothing solid or predictable like a narrative could hold James and his consciousness for too long. Something would have to give. We have learned about him and accepted him. We hold him, or hold a desirable distance from him, after he has a meltdown.”

“That is extraordinary, but it appears you are all leaving him alone to break!” He wondered aloud. “You don’t understand. For one, we all know we wouldn’t approach James during a meltdown. Afterwards you can pretty much get him safely and listen to what he needs. Today’s different.” I said.

“His mind is like a giant simulator, making sense of the world through scenarios and he feels all he that he sees and imagines. His senses blend together. I’ve seen him want to die it’s soo very intense, but he keeps having hope to experience more than his own heart, mind, and that suffering isolation. He once told me that the pain was not all that bad by itself, but that it was Hell all by yourself.” I said.
After about ten minutes of James crying, rocking, pounding on the ground and reaching to the sky, he calmed enough for his breathing to slow.

“You see the woman with the white pants standing nearby? That’s Beth, she has been dating him for two years and James just asked her to marry him. Knowing James, I can tell you that he’s searched through every type of clinical study and thought looking to fill his humongous heart with purpose and meaning.

He needs it like a jet plane needs fuel and speed. He told me once that he’d determined whatever purpose is to be found until death arrives, is to be found by seeking a deep and intimate bond with yourself, the universe, and your one other; to submerge your three wills together and create something genuine and true and new and better whatever that means to you.

And to pass it on a little cleaner than you found it. He also believed that he wasn’t meant to be, because he lacked the skills and ability to make a truly deep connection with anyone. He admitted to me the very dark feelings of hopelessness that he felt waiting for a death that would surely cement his life as one that would have been proportionally better the shorter it could have been. And yet he is soo very light! He is not easy to understand.”

“Oh my God!” exclaimed the stranger. “So she said no and he’s falling apart in front of everyone?” “No” I replied, “She said yes!”
“Then why is he collapsed alone?”

“He’s not alone, we are giving him space. And you are watching him being born again into a world worth living, from a crazy and intense world where he could understand a painful amount about himself and others and the universe around him but could not feel connected to it. He’s battled so hard and this is how hard it is for his heart to accept that kind of warmth. This is a release of a volcano that was trapped under a Glacier that is now cracking from the warmth of her heart.”

I looked at the gentleman and wondered how much of this made any sense. It’s taken a while for us to understand the beautiful differences we have between us. Needing other people to fit your expectations and needing to fit theirs gets in the way of learning from each other’s unique expressions. We were lucky to understand James because he can be vibrant and extremely useful but can also become dark.  He needs only one thing, for us to show him just a little of our light and to take as much of his that he offers.”

“He is broken by the beauty he sees in that lady’s heart. To him, that she lets him stay and watch her be herself, melts him down onto his knees as he flows into her and she into him. He continues to commit more and more of himself to her. He feels elation to send out his love and believe she’s sending hers back.

But, it is a fearful thing to love what death can touch. That’s what I imagine his world must look like to him right now. That old pain was a shape of him that was in desperate need of being broken and she did it beautifully. They did it beautifully, together. There, she comes to him, now that he can breathe and he’ll continue breathing because she comes to him.” I left the newcomer and went to congratulate my two old friends.


Dr. Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. You can find his work in Cracked, High Times, HuffPost, Lifewire, Forbes, Fast Company, and dozens of other places, although much of it is no longer under his name. Dr. Penny loves annoying fake media.

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