Night fell on a perfect July Saturday. I sat on the front porch as candles flickered in the dark, under a full moon, and listened to stories being told. Old stories, told by old friends, that were new to me.
In the back yard, we passed around sparklers, and ignited them in the flame of a tiki torch. We waved them like when we were kids, the sparks smarting our hands ever so slightly, before burning out. A long forgotten feeling.
I watched my own blog appear on a mobile phone screen, as I talked with a brand new reader about where my ideas come from, and comic books, and yeah, it would suck so much if we had to have 8-inch smiles like The Joker.
I laughed as a plot was hatched to snatch a hideous Christmas wreath that stays up all year. I laughed at a debate over whether a couch, discarded on the side of the road, should be taken into one’s home. And I laughed most of all as a lawn chair spontaneously disintegrated beneath its occupant.
Every July, my friend Basha and her husband host their Freedom House Party. This year was my first invite. We’d worked together for nearly ten years, but had never socialized much outside work. When I moved on to my new job, we’d agreed to stay in touch, and here was a chance to do so. This was no time for my usual social anxieties. I was happy to be asked, and happy to accept.
original cartoon, confounding me with sarcasm. She understands now why that doesn’t work on me. She has continued to want to learn about Asperger’s and what the world looks like through my eyes. I am so grateful for that. She invited me, knowing a party was outside my comfort zone, but wanting me to feel welcome and accommodated.
It was a wonderful time. I was incredibly social, for me. I didn’t try to be anything I'm not. I sat quietly and listened when I felt like it, and joined in the conversation when I wanted. It was all natural. As other guests danced the night away, and mingled, and drank wine, I enjoyed the night at my own pace, in my own way. And I couldn’t help but marvel at how we saw the same party through different eyes.
Basha was happy for me. “It was very courageous and cool for you to come,” she told me afterward. Maybe just a little. I confessed to an attack of nerves as I arrived, but I expected that, and I was prepared. I sat in my car for a few minutes, until I felt settled, and decided, “OK, I should go in now.” After that it was smooth sailing. The noise and the crowds never overwhelmed me to the point where I needed to get away. There was a dancing space, and a separate space to sit and chill.
Our conversation then turned to the movie Adam, in which the Aspie title character and his NT love interest grow to understand each other. She learned to talk to him literally, without figures of speech, and he learned to tell and understand jokes. Basha asked me, “Do you think you are changing? Do you think the way you think is changing since you learned about AS and started talking to others about it?”
Oh yes, I said. It’s been a year and a half now since I first disclosed. At the time, it was like revealing my deepest secret. I could stop being ashamed of it and actually be proud. I learned to accept my own limitations, like how I don’t remember faces. I began to share my experiences openly through my writing and cartoons. Most of all, I’ve continued to grow more comfortable in my own skin.
And I think that is why the party went so well for me. I didn’t have to pretend to be normal. I didn’t need any special accommodations. I was just another guest, taking part, enjoying good food and good times. And that is what I most wanted.
The Freedom House Party was a night I won’t forget. It was two weeks after the 4th of July, but in that house, Freedom was the word. Freedom to be myself, freedom to enjoy in my own way. Is there any better kind?