Oops! I Married a Lobster

May 17, 2009 at 10:25 pm (Asperger's Syndrome, Childhood)

lobster

I was so tired when I got home from school. I had been working all day with students, finally kicking the last two out of my classroom at 5 PM and driving one home. I hadn’t eaten lunch, so I grabbed three pizza crusts and some ice cream, read a little Laurie Colwin, and curled up for a short snooze.

At 6 PM, Andy screamed up to me, “MO! Is something wrong with you?!”

“I’m just taking a short snooze.”

“Well, get up! We need to think about dinner and figure out calves!!”

I’m tired, I thought angrily, swinging my legs out of bed and pulling on a pair of jeans.

“I just don’t get why you would want to take a nap at 6 PM! We’re going to bed in two hours. Why don’t we just get done what we need to and then go to sleep?!”

Because I am tired NOW. I want to sleep NOW.

It’s pointless to say this, especially now that I know where this is coming from, Andy’s pea-sized amygdala. No conception that I worked a day. No conception that anyone but a farmer could be exhausted. No Theory of Mind. He simply CANNOT imagine why I could be tired, and his need for completion and efficient timing requires that all my work must be done before HE can relax. Argh!!!

Saturday afternoon, I woke up from a nap (legitimate because it was mid-day and we had both worked in the garden all morning and we were both napping) and looked over at Andy’s head on the pillow beside me and felt like I had accidentally married a lobster, like a man-sized crustacean was lying on the pillow next to me with its juvenile brain stem and little pincers flailing in the air. If I tried to talk to the lobster, it would scuttle slightly and wave its little tentacle eyes and think its primordial lobster thoughts.

When I realize that Andy cannot instinctively understand another’s experience or not feel bombarded during even the most routine of days, I realize just how different we are, almost like different species. I see in my mind the “primitive nervous system” in my high school biology textbook and the diagrams of the “Asperger brain” from the internet and I become nauseous. How can I remain married to a being that is practically another genus?

But then I imagine Andy’s other traits, his childlike wonder, his extraordinary ability to comprehend and synthesize complex systems, how overwhelmed he must be sometimes. And the lobster on the pillow anthropomorphizes and is suddenly standing at its dressing table, like that whimsical engraving from Alice in Wonderland. It has a heart-breaking look on its face as it preens and prepares for the Lobster Quadrille.

lobster_boySo sad, the heart of a lobster, as he “Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.” I see Andy as a child, protecting his shirt tag from excision by the neighborhood bully. I see him in his sixth-grade class photo hunched in the back row, with his cavernous eyes so scared and alone. I see him in college, charged with political fervor, striding across campus in his black overcoat and keffiyeh, his long Roger Daltry curls bouncing down his back. I see him at the Szykowski farm, running a tractor for the first time, so glad to be out under the hot Holyoke sun.alice36aAnd I see that the lobster I have wed is a Lewis Carroll lobster with personality and an Englishman’s brain, with sophisticated emotions inside its crustacean body. And I have sympathy for and understanding of the very real emotions of this creature:

When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,

And will talk in contemptuous tones of the shark;

But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,

His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.
We’re all like that, aren’t we? We all talk a good show when the things we fear are far, but when faced with anxiety, our souls become timid and tremulous, or worse, we betray our Julia with the rat an inch from our face. The only difference is that the lobsters can’t hide it as well. When they are afraid, we know they are afraid, they act afraid, that emotion is worn on the sleeve. We non-crustaceans have those fear reflexes as well, the stimulus does effect the response, it’s just that we can process it in the frontal lobes, understand that it is not life-threatening, and keep it hidden.

Perhaps the lobsters in our midst simply remind us too clearly of those core emotions we have learned to hide socially, can actually hide as a reflex, our great big amygdalas allowing us to do the socially advantageous thing and bury those feelings far beneath the surface. The problem is that for us, those neural impulses just go somewhere else, into a headache, into misdirected anger at a goose, into an hour of web-surfing old boyfriends at the end of the day, into resenting the lobster on the pillow next door.

Perhaps we’d do well to allow a little of the lobster in ourselves, to go somewhere alone and beat a pillow or address the pine tree with our boss’ face and tell it exactly how we feel about it, or actually confront the obnoxious colleague who deserves to be put in his place. Should we, then, join the Lobster Quadrille?

See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!

They are waiting on the shingle—will you come and join the dance?

You can really have no notion how delightful it will be

When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!

He waits for me, wistful lobster, on the shingle. All the turtles and lobsters are eagerly arriving, there, under the moonlight. They smile and chat, the slow and odd, the misunderstood, the savants, they are together and accepted here, they know the measures and etiquette of this minuet. Here, they are the norm and I am in the minority.

I give my analytical eyebrows a knit and linger on the edge of the beach near a rock. I am too controlled to join this group. Besides, I realize as the dance begins, that if I join I will be thrown far to sea and I resist.

But the snail replied, ‘Too far, too far!’ and gave a look askance—

Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.

“What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.

“There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.

The further off from England the nearer is to France—

Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.

And it is true that life with an Aspergian has taken me to some far-off shores, many of them exotic and magical. I now see every wild animal in the landscape no matter how small or far. I understand economics and agriculture in their intricate and dazzling patterns. I can mow a ten-acre hayfield and not miss a blade or waste a drop of diesel. I can cry at the birth of a calf or feel the beating heart of a kitten beneath its endearing fur. I can restrict my anxiety and write exactly what needs to be written in a letter to my supervisor. I can sit in the woods still enough to have chipmunks run across my foot.

I have tasted meals from Andy’s hands that would rival those created by a four-star chef. I have tasted fresh lettuce and ripe strawberries that he has called forth from the earth. I have splashed into a glorious pool from a beautiful deck that was already manifest in his mind months before shovel touched earth. I have smelled fuchsias and lilies and lilacs that have flowered under his touch. I have seen a run-down farm flourish into a profitable Dairy of Distinction. I have felt the tender touch of a man instinctively expert at animal responses. I have read love poems from him that come from a sense of wonder deeper and more pure than I know. I have stripped off some of the endless layers of social veneer that protects me from intense experiences. I have been to the far shore, seen the wonders of France, drifted there under a moonlit sky with a water-wise lobster at my side, my hand safe in his pincer.

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

Yes, I think I will. Lead on, my lobster love.

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6 Comments

  1. thegirlfromtheghetto said,

    Oh, boy, oh boy Maureen. I don’t know what to say here, except that I like the way you wrote it, and I just watched a special about that lobster boy you have a picture of. I am sorry you got yelled at and that your lobster doesn’t always understand you.

  2. andrea said,

    Another great metaphor…and great illustrations. Have you read The Animal Family by Randall Jerrell? Think you’d like it. The family consists of a mermaid, hunter, bear cub, and lynx. In order to love each other they must explore, explain, accept and navigate the differences of living on land and ocean. It takes your metaphor into chapter length and adds some kids into the mix–which of course you could do too…given time:)

  3. carrie said,

    Mo, this is lovely. So lyrical, it sings. So true, I sit up straighter. Bless you and your inability to stop at, “I’m tired!” and go no further. Andy and your children and students and all of us are so fortunate to have you in our lives. xoxo C

  4. brendaquinkydink said,

    Oh, Maureen, this made me cry at my desk…so wonderful….I had to recommend to friends I am trying to lure to Haven’t blog, too.
    What can I say…you write girl, you write in that retreat of yours because I really want to read your book(s).
    Lewis Carroll…one of the loves of my life.
    Sigh.

  5. Maureen said,

    Brenda –
    You are extraordinarily kind. It has been remarkably expansive to throw all this stuff out there and get some feedback. There is only so much garret writing a person can tolerate without some response.

  6. Molly said,

    You write to beat the band. Brava.

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