‘I really should have asked my elderly neighbour for an apple. Or any piece of fruit they might still have at home’, I am thinking, as I rewind the tape of our interaction a few minutes ago. I was just getting into the car, as he left his house and asked how I was doing. My situation was so dire that the thought of asking him for an apple had actually crossed my mind while in conversation. But it all went too fast, and I had not enough time to find the right words to react appropriately and simultaneously ask for help. Before I knew it, the conversation was over, and I got into my car to go pick up my child, still processing the interaction, while simultaneously visualizing the consequences of not having fruit at home for school tomorrow.
The shop is barely 100 metres away from my house, but I simply can’t make it. It’s just too much. I need to walk there, go in there, then there is the mask thing, be aware of keeping distance, I have to use a trolly or basket, then the shop: there is so much around me, everywhere, and the people, and … just … I get tired even thinking of it.
I know I still have paprika in the fridge. I could cut it for my child’s fruit break at school tomorrow. But then it’s a fruit break, and children will pick on him for not having fruit. Paprikas are, in the perception of the wider public, vegetables. And vegetables do not belong in a fruit break. That’s not me being autisticly inflexible, it’s the neurotypical children who in their inflexibility pick on him for this. I know it, because it has happened before. So then, maybe I will have to keep my child at home tomorrow and not bring him to school. But then, I do not have the energy to deal with him at home all day. I could go to the shop in the morning before dropping him off. But then 08:00-10:00am is for the elderly, not for people like me. They might not say anything. But what if they do? How do I explain myself. I am tired. I don’t even want to consider the possibility that I would have to explain myself…
‘Mama, why is your head on the horn of the car?’ my child interrupts my thoughts, and I slowly lift my head off the steering wheel.
‘Because I am tired’, I answer half crying from exhaustion. ‘And I still need to drive you home.’
‘Why did you take the car then?’
‘Because walking would have been even worse.’
Silence ensues on the backseat of the car, as I slowly start the car to drive the few hundred metres back home. As the tires move over the cobblestone they create the sound of a thousand armies, tanks, thunder and galloping footmen. I struggle to breathe as I try not to cry and scream at the same time, while navigating through this sensory hell. There is no escaping. We need to get home. I am trapped.
As I race through the apocalyptic thunder of the car tire noise, I know that arriving home, won’t be the end of it. There are still a hundred inevitable chores pertaining to dinner and bedtime routines that await me. And oh shit, I still have to park this damn car. Oh God help me, how in the world of God am I going to do this with my head exploding?
The occupational health specialist tells me of a comedian who is – as he says – really ‘very much’ autistic. And then he tells me that there are enough autistic people who can work full 40 hour work weeks.
I’m not sure if he is trying to cheer me up or telling me to try a bit harder. I don’t care. Neither of it is helpful. After all, there are neurotypical people who fly to the moon or are awarded the Noble prize. In fact, I wonder, why people think that autistic people struggle to empathize, when it really is neurotypical people, who fail so blatantly at even the simplest attempt of empathy and understanding.