I lay in my bed not wanting to move. I don’t want to open my eyes because I know the sun will be too bright. As I try to get comfortable in my bed, everything starts to bother me. The smell of coffee from the kitchen is nauseating. Why does the whole house have to smell like coffee? It is so strong that I can’t escape it. I pull the blanket over my head to try to keep the smell at bay. I hate the smell of food. I also hate perfume, shampoo, soap, deodorant, air freshener, and anything else that has a smell. It took Momma forever to find detergent and fabric softener that I can stand. I reach over and turn the air purifier on the highest setting. I can’t stand coffee. Now I smell toast. Everyone says you can’t smell toast, but I do; and I’m never wrong. I like macaroni. It doesn’t smell. I have to get up. It is almost 7 a.m. I have to be up by 7 a.m. because my show is on at 8 a.m. At least my tutor doesn’t come today. She smells like stinky perfume and I hate it. I told her it smells. I lost my Game Boy for a week for that. I need to get dressed. I want to wear my red shirt. It doesn’t have tags so it is my favorite. I can’t find it. It isn’t in the closet and it isn’t in the drawer. I go ask Momma where it is and she says it is in the laundry. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. The red shirt has no tags and I need it. I sit on my bed and think. Momma says to pick another shirt. She says the blue one has no tags. I need the red one. I will tell Momma we have to go to the shirt store and get more red ones.
I need to slow down; at least that’s what the doctor says. He said I was autistic. I don’t like that word. Momma said I can say artistic instead. It sounds better. I am finally dressed and can watch my show. My show is not on. I have the right channel. It is supposed to be on. I don’t understand. It is supposed to be on. I’m getting mad. If it is supposed to be on, there is no reason why it isn’t. No one gets it. They say I’m strange. Like my last day of school. There was a different person driving the bus and I wouldn’t get on. I didn’t know him. Maybe he would hurt me or take me someplace different. I wasn’t going with him. I wouldn’t let my sisters get on that bus either. Erin was so mad, but Kelly understood. She understands me. She said she would make me grilled cheese and put Star Wars on for me. I like Kelly. My show still isn’t on. I’m hungry. I want cereal. I hope it’s the kind with the red things in it. But my shirt isn’t red. Maybe we have cereal that is blue. We do. Now I can eat. I told Momma that today is a blue day and we have to have a blue lunch and a blue dinner. It still smells like coffee out here. I’m going back to my room. I can play music. I have a song called Blue. I will play that all day. My show still isn’t on.
I have to slow down. Momma says my brain just works differently than other people’s. She says it isn’t cluttered up with junk like other people and that is why I say what I think, and hear and smell so well. Momma gave me a book about a boy and a dog. The boy in it was just like me. He had a pet rat called Toby. I wanted a hamster. I told Momma what he said about his rat:
Most people don’t like rats because they think they carry diseases like bubonic plague. But that’s only because they lived in sewers and stowed away on ships coming from foreign countries where there were strange diseases. But rats are very clean. (Haddon, 19)
Momma got me a hamster, but he was too loud. He was always running and scratching. My fish is quiet. Other people don’t like me. They think I’m weird. I don’t like other people. They make strange faces at me. Kelly showed me how people on Star Wars make faces too, but it’s OK when they do it. They aren’t doing it to me. They can’t see me and think I’m strange. They say I make faces. I only do it when it gets too noisy or smelly. Then I go into my room where it’s nice. Momma let me pick out everything in it, so I like it. No one can come in here. Momma taught me how to make my bed and change the sheets myself. She also taught me how to run the sweeper by myself so I can keep it clean. It doesn’t smell. Everyone thinks I am crazy because I smell everything. Kelly told me about a book where the lady can smell the wallpaper. The lady said, “But there is something else about that paper—the smell!” (Gilman, 11). There are other people like me. No one can come in here. This is my place. If someone comes in here, they will ruin it. They might touch my stuff. It’s my stuff. No one can come in here. I go out to the living room every night to watch Jeopardy with Momma. I beat her last night. Momma says I always win when they ask about Greek mythology. I love reading about that. I can’t wait till it’s on. I will sit on my bed and wait. It is 9:30 now, Jeopardy comes on at 7. At least I didn’t miss it. I will wait. I need to slow down and relax. Momma said I should think about college. I don’t want to go. School has always been awful for me. Momma just said they weren’t ready for a guy like me.
I went to kindergarten twice. The first time, they lost me. I was just in the boy’s room sailing boats. They were really mad at me for that. I don’t know why. They never said I couldn’t sail boats. Momma took me home and I didn’t go back. Momma said I would go to a different school. I got a new backpack and box for my crayons. They were nice at the new school, but they had funny rules. When I went there, they made me leave my art stuff there. I don’t know why they wouldn’t let me take it home because it was mine! When Momma picked me up, she asked me how I liked it. I told her, “Those bastards stole my art box!” I lost my Game Boy for a week for saying a bad word. School was OK for a while. I joined the Chess Club. When I had to get a brace for my back, people got really mean. The brace went from my chin to my hips. I couldn’t bend and I didn’t fit in the desk. They had to get me a special seat. Kids made fun of me. They would slap my books out of my hands and I couldn’t bend over to pick them up. They would tip me over and I couldn’t get up by myself. One time they did it, I had to lay in the hall for a long time. Then a teacher came out and yelled at me because I wasn’t in class. Momma came and took me home. Then I got a tutor. She is OK…except for the stinky perfume. I don’t have to wear my brace anymore because the doctor said it didn’t help anyway. Momma said I could go back to school if I wanted to, but I don’t. School has mean people. I miss Chess Club, but Kelly plays chess with me. I always beat her, but at least I can play. I am getting sad. I want to play chess but Kelly isn’t home and Momma can’t play chess.
Calm down, calm down, calm down. My show still isn’t on. There is nothing blue for lunch. My favorite red shirt is in the laundry. Kelly isn’t home. I still smell coffee. This day sucks!! Oops, bad word. I’m not bad. Sometimes there is just too much coming at me. Too many noises, too many smells, too much change. Why does everything have to be so hard? It is very simple to me. If something is supposed to be on, then it should be. If we are supposed to have dinner at 5 p.m., then we should. If someone tells you something, it should be true. If someone says they are going to do something, they should do it. That isn’t hard. It is a lot easier than math. I just don’t understand people who don’t say what they mean, or make faces, or don’t keep promises. That is normal? I’m the one who is strange? If I understand when they lie, why can’t they understand I don’t like loud noise? If I understand when they make faces at me, why can’t they understand I don’t like perfume? Why do they have to be so mean? Then they wonder why I like to stay in my house or my room. It’s nice there. No one is mean to me. No one calls me names. No one ever tries to tip me over. Momma and Kelly understand me. Erin doesn’t understand me, but she is never mean to me. Sometimes I feel mean, but Momma says no meanie buckets are allowed in her house, so I don’t say mean stuff when she is here. Erin tells on me if I’m mean and I lose my Game Boy. Kelly never tells—that’s why I like her more. I am mean to Erin because she talks to Dad. He is mean and she shouldn’t talk to him. He doesn’t like Kelly and he doesn’t like me. Kelly said it is because Erin is like him and we aren’t. I asked Momma about it. She said I could talk to him if I want to, but I don’t. She said not to worry about grownup business.
Wow, I don’t have to calm down. I am calm. I am safe in my room, and all the things I love are all around me. I don’t have my red shirt, but I have a nice blue one on. I don’t have a blue lunch, but my belly is still full. I guess I could ask for macaroni. Kelly still isn’t home, but she will be home in an hour. I still smell coffee but that reminds me that Momma is home. I’m fine. I don’t need to be scared. If I leave this house and someone is mean, I still get to come back here and feel safe in my room. Momma said some people are mean because they are broken. She says everyone is broken, but it just shows more on some people. Some are broken on the outside and some are broken on the inside. I think that is true. Maybe someday I will go to college. Momma says there are broken people there too. Maybe they will understand me and be nice. Maybe there is a nice world outside of my room. Maybe I will check it out. I can do it. I’m artistic.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Other Stories. Mineola, NY: Dover
Publications, 2014. Print.
Stephens, Simon, and Mark Haddon. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:
adapted from the novel by Mark Haddon. London; Oxford; New York; New Delhi; Sydney:
Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2016. Print.
Karen Reilly is a single mother of three children, one of whom was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. She was a nurse for 25 years before becoming a fulltime college student and part-time teacher.
This article was featured in Issue 69 – The Gift of Calm This Season