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Ode: Dr. Internet diagnoses autistic tendencies

Micky Jackson
Ally Karsyn
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My world is very small.  It is small in area, socially and temporally.  I have no friends.

I have no tribe. I'm not a Cub, a Bear, a Husker or a Gopher. I use the phrase, “people don’t stick in my head” when I run into people who recognize me, but I have no recollection of. I don't talk to my family.  My father occasionally drives down from Minneapolis, just to see if I’m still alive. He stays for a few hours and drives home again.

But more odd than being alone is that fact that, at some point, my sense of time has evaporated. Yesterday, five years ago and tomorrow all have the same emotional resonance for me.  Life holds no sense of expectation or anticipation or loss.  What I did recently is the same as the experiences of my childhood—they hardly exist and when they do they exist in a fog.  

This may be partially a self-inflicted wound. In high school, I made a conscious decision to shut off my emotions because I was tired of being unhappy and letting others bully and upset me for their own pleasure.   At the time, bullying was accepted—after all “boys will be boys.”

Bullying made me wish that I had an obvious disability. Maybe a cleft palate, a club foot or even a stutter would do—anything to help understand why I was chosen for the abuse.  Then, it would have been not just be because I was me.  It would have made the isolation and rejection make sense.

My mother would sometimes hold me while I cried and explain that the other kids were just jealous of how smart I was. In my naivete, the balm did help the wounds some.  However, my brothers conditioned me well to be a victim, and bullies are good at finding the weak.  My brothers were the most efficient. Having installed the buttons, they knew how to push them.  

Ironically, though, they suffered indirectly.  The four of us were all close in age. Looking back, I realize that they often missed out on parties and trips with family friends because, if my brothers had been invited, I  would have to be invited, too. It was easier not to ask any of them than to risk me tagging along, having a tantrum and ruining everyone’s fun.  Although,  sometimes they simply went and kept quiet.

One of the last times I saw my mother before she died of cancer, my youngest brother let slip it that my family and my mother’s friends and their children had gone to the IMAX Theatre in Minneapolis over 25 years prior and my family never told me to keep me from getting upset about not going.  I can still remember my mother waving her hands, grinning embarrassedly and hushing my brother.  The secret had not held.  Rather than getting angry, with a fixed smile I shut off my emotions. I could actually feel those parts of my brain powering down in a wave and the calm washing over me.

These traits aren’t all negative. As an employee, they’re often advantages. Not easily distracted, dedicated and always on time—my performance was typically excellent.  It was in the area of empathy that I lacked.  In a customer service position, my manager stressed that I needed to tell customers that “I was sorry” about their problem.  My sense of honor and honesty prevented me.  To tell a customer that you were sorry meant that you had an emotional reaction to their problem. My goal was to solve their issue, but they meant nothing to me.

My manager suggested we both take an online autism test.  He hit only a few markers. My results showed that I hit most. Being unofficially diagnosed actually made me feel somewhat better.  I thanked God that Al Gore had the foresight to invent that bundle of tubes called the internet so WebMD was there when I needed it.

Starting over at a new job, a new address or a new school comes easily for me. Each new situation is the new reality with no pining for what was lost, since that ceased to exist for me.

In many ways my past is like poetry—it must be said out loud for me to appreciate it. When a story comes, I am reminded that my life is much more interesting than I think.  In high school, I dated the homecoming queen. One summer, in college,  I worked for a fishing company in Alaska. For many years after college, my default vacation was to fly to France and visit Elizabeth, a French woman I met one summer in college.  I met her on a date.  In my living room.  Her date was with my roommate. He doesn’t talk to me anymore. Elizabeth does. She sends me Facebook messages and is frustrated that I’m hesitant to write back.

I’ve gone to Spain on a whim just because the flight was cheap and found myself in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year, eating unidentifiable food from carts just because they smelled good. The tastes, smells and pace of every new location fascinate while I’m there, but by time my flight lands at home, the memories are shapes with no flavor or color.  Soon the trip never happened.   

It is only in the telling. Once a switch flips in my head, the conversation suddenly turns to a monologue as my eyes fix in a mid-distance stare as the words flow.  Telling of when the FBI contacted me to make sure that I wasn’t the Unabomber—that’s a true story—makes me chuckle as I tell the story, but in my mind, nothing.  It feels as if I have always been alone, but when a story includes some of the amazing women who are part of the tale, I remember the doctors, lawyers, models and professionals who’ve shared time and adventures with me.  They all were important to me, but only as part of a tale do they actually exist.

At a future event I may tell some stories—of meeting Nicholas Sparks and his brother, of not going to the top of the Eiffel tower on one trip to Paris because Psycho Mary thought it was too expensive.  The time I took my father to The Breakers in Palm Beach and the rude comment he made to Susan Lucci about her about her height, while we shared an elevator.  She is quite petite.  Or when one Thanksgiving it just made more sense to suture the huge gash in leg myself rather than go to the emergency room and waste four hours while the turkey got cold.  The pants were not so easily mended.  

Or how while scattering  them, my clothes got covered in my dead mother's ashes and the puffs rose in clouds as my father beat my wool pants and coat. It still has some humor to it even if it is now a trope used in both Frasier and the Big Lebowski.  How odd it seemed to me that Rick Berry, an artist I admire, and his wife Sheila—who as Death has cast iron legs—were as excited to meet me as I was them after months of correspondence.   How it struck me that when we were in their room and Rick was changing that he wore tighty whities.  Boxers seemed more appropriate to me for a professional artist.  And why I believe, Phil Hale, who did Tony Blair’s official portrait at the British National portrait gallery just doesn’t like me.  Did I tell you that when I met Kevin Nealon the comedian, and his comment was that he liked my shoes? But they were Bruno Maglis.  Just saying what the stories are about, starts to bring them to life for me like thinking about them never does.

When I do tell, the words will flow along with the laughter and the tears that they bring.  I tell stories so that I can feel my past.  The binding of the book that is my mind has its spine cracked only when the words flow aloud.  The words make my life real.

The theme today was to explain why we tell stories. Hopefully this will help you understand why I do.  It is when I tell stories that I am alive again.

If only I had someone to listen.

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Micky Jackson was raised in idyllic Ashton, Wisconsin, and grew up living dangerously--traveling unsecured in the back of station wagons, riding bikes without helmets and even waiting in the car at the grocery store while his mother shopped.  He is lucky to be alive.

Ode presents an evening of true stories, told live outside of Koffie Knechtion, 419 Golf Road, in South Sioux City at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23. Storytellers will share personal essays crafted around the theme "Just Work." Admission is $10. Bring a lawn chair.

For more information, visit Ode on Facebook. Click here to listen to stories from past events, recorded and broadcast by Siouxland Public Media.

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