“I don’t get this,” Eddie said. “You’re not making sense.”
I quickly counted to 3 before responding. I often had to do this with him. He was so blunt at times.
“OK Eddie, where did I lose you?” I asked. A few of the other student’s snickered and sighed. Eddie looked around quickly and then shook his head.
“No, it’s OK. I get it now,” he said and nodded his head.
No, he wasn’t understanding but as soon as he heard the others chuckle, he shut down. He looked like he was about to cry. I decided to ignore it for now and continue with the lesson.
He didn’t utter another sound the rest of the evening.
Afterwards, I asked him to stay for a moment. I again heard some snickering.
Eddie’s face turned red.
“Did I do something wrong again?” he asked.
“Nope, not at all. You’ve done lots of things right. I just want to talk with you for a moment,” I said.
Eddie was in his mid-30′s and the entire time I had known him, he always seemed to struggle with expressing himself. He seemed swallowed up in the class and unsure of himself. Subtle comments were lost on him. He had been incarcerated 6 months ago for burglary and didn’t seem to understand why he was here.
I pulled up a chair next to him after everyone had left. He would make quick eye contact with me and then look away.
“How are you getting along in here?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Is everyone treating you alright? Are you having any problems that I can help you with?” I asked. I leaned forward a bit and put my hand on top of his. He stared at it for a moment and then pulled his hand away.
“No, but I’m used to it,” he said and began to think very hard. “I keep doing things wrong, but I don’t know what they are. I just want to read my books, but they don’t let me.”
“Who is ‘they?’ I asked.
“The guys here. Don’t you understand anything?” he asked.
“Apparently not,’ I said and smiled. He looked at me for a few seconds and was once again in deep thought. Then he smiled back at me.
“Eddie, did you just think about whether or not to smile at me?”
His face turned red again and he nodded.
“You don’t know how to act, do you?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I know you’re supposed to smile at people when they smile at you.”
“That’s OK. You don’t have to worry about it with me. Just say what’s on your mind and it will be fine,” I said.
He struggled through the program but when he turned in his lessons, they were amazingly intelligent and articulate. I could tell that a great deal of thought was put into each and every lesson.
He learned to not say anything in class but to talk to me afterwards. I tried as best as possible to explain things to him so he could understand them.
He wasn’t dumb; he was very bright. He just lacked social skills.
One night, he sat down and said he was distressed. He was getting released the following week and was scared.
“Why are you scared? Don’t you have any place to go?” I asked. I hated this part of my job.
“Yes I do. I’m moving back in with my parents. They want me back.”
“Well that’s great! What are you upset about?”
He turned red again and began to fidget. “I won’t get to talk to you anymore.”
I felt a lump in my throat. He was right, but I had already figured out what to do.
I reached into my purse and grabbed a pen and a piece of paper. I wrote down an address and handed it to him.
He looked at it. “What’s this for?”
I ruffled his hair. “It’s a PO Box that you can use to write me. They will make sure I get it, so no matter where you go, I’ll get your letter.”
“Really?” he asked. He looked like a child who had just been given a huge bowl of ice cream.
“Yes, really,” I said.
He stood up and shook my hand. “OK Susan, maybe I will write you.”
“That would be nice,” I said. He left and I never saw him again.
Three days ago, I got a letter from him. He said he was doing alright and had found out he had Asperger’s and didn’t know it.
It was a long letter, filled with his thoughts, ideas and what he does everyday, what books he is reading and anything else that came to mind.
He signed it “Thank you Susan for being the first person to listen to me. Please write back and let me know you are OK.”
I wrote my letter back that night and mailed it the next morning.
Life is good. I have a new friend.
Care for those around you. We all need it.