Patty Hearst, my new BFF

January 17, 2010 at 7:42 pm (Asperger's Syndrome, Book review, Childhood, Family, Farming, Marriage, Rant)

I have a new colleague at work this year. We have lots in common: we are the same age, we both have three boys at home, we both teach these bizarre hybrid courses. But in many ways, we could not be more different. She is tall and blond; I am short and brown-haired with glasses. Her husband owns the country club; my husband owns a dairy farm. She is very organized; I am … not.

But here’s the most startling difference. The other day she referred to her husband as “the morning guy” in terms of kid duty. And then she described him: He goes to work out at the YMCA at 5:30 AM, comes home, makes coffee and brings my colleague a cup in bed, gets their kids up, makes them a big breakfast, gets them out the door, and then cleans up the dishes. My colleague has come downstairs by this point to join them for breakfast and say goodbye. Her husband leaves for work, my colleague takes a shower and heads to work herself. (NOTE: take her job and add to it five English classes, and that’s my job.) She is a gracious and lovely person and said she was so grateful that she could stay home and raise their kids and wait to find a job that she really loves.

For a typical day in MY life, please refer to Tuckered-Out Duck: A Day in My Life.

Now, let’s assume that F. Lee Bailey was speaking the truth and that Patty Hearst was brainwashed by her kidnappers into joining the Symbionese Liberation Army. And let’s also imagine that on April 15, 1974, she for some reason snapped out of it and found herself in the middle of the Hibernia Bank heist.

I imagine her suddenly looking around, looking down at herself holding an M-1 carbine, and saying “What the …”

That is exactly how I felt during this conversation, as if I suddenly snapped out of my 20-year relationship with My Favorite Aspie and found myself saying “Wait … THAT’S a normal marriage? What the heck is this that I’m doing?”

I am sure other people also wonder that as they look at my weird life. Every once in a while someone witnessing my husband and me together will give me pointed looks as if to say, “You don’t have to live like this. There are places you can go” or alternately “I don’t know how you put up with him.” I have actually had people say that exact sentence to me, and I have given them the innocent questioning face, as if to say, “What? All’s normal here.”

I had a similar “What the …” when I read Home Safe over the summer. WARNING: NT wives with AS husbands, do NOT read this book, especially if you are a wannabe writer. Read every other thing Elizabeth Berg has ever written but avoid this one at the risk of anaphylactic shock.

Now, I truly adore Elizabeth Berg. I eat her books like pancakes off a stack. And I have seen her in person: she is lovely and gracious and her books are all warm-hearted and magnanimous and read so smoothly it’s like drinking the best ever cup of cocoa in book form, but I just about threw Home Safe across the room in despair.

The basic plot is this: The protagonist is a successful writer who, for the twenty years of her marriage, has every day rolled out of bed and to her computer in her pajamas to write while her husband takes care of EVERYTHING ELSE. As the book starts, she has been a widow for almost a year (I truly was saddened by this) and she is trying to get herself restarted. She suddenly finds out that her husband has taken a big chunk of their investments and purchased a house in California, which he has had custom-redesigned and redecorated in order to create exactly what he knows is her dream house, right down to the bookshelves filled with all her favorite children’s books, a fieldstone fireplace, a pie safe, a six-burner stove, a bathroom with artisan tiles and a shower with its water falling over a rock ledge, French doors leading from bedroom to garden, a small wooden shed outside for writing, a treehouse shaped like a ship’s cabin.

I’ll stop there before I cry. First, I fully recognize how much I have personally given up to make the dream of the farm come true (giving up any of my writing ambitions in the process), so this protagonist’s pre-widowhood life is beyond my imagining. Second, it is astronomically far outside the realm of possibility for Andy to know and create my dream house. It’s not his fault; it’s the Asperger’s: limited Theory of Mind ability, limited empathic response, and whimsy regarded always as unnecessary and illogical not to mention inefficient.

In thinking about this recently, I know there are several very logical reasons why it took me so long to really realize that something was a bit amiss and that our marriage situation was somewhat askew.

REASON ONE: Kid Sister Complex

I am the youngest of my family, younger by five years than my sister and younger by seven years than my brother. I grew up as the little tag-along, always clueless, always mocked, always sure that EVERYONE knew more about how to act and what to do than I did.

Andy is seven years older than I am. When I met him, I was going through a Linda Ronstandt phase, of the Nelson Riddle Orchestra “What’s New” album era, and I was constantly crooning “I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood, I know I could, always be good, to one who’ll watch over me.” Yep, looking for a father/big brother figure. I confess it. And so I always assumed Andy knew better. He was much older. He was an A-Dult and I was a kid. I followed his lead. Easier and cheaper to paint every single interior wall off-white? I guess so. Every once in a while I would cock an eyebrow and question something, but rarely. I figured, Older is Wiser.

REASON TWO: Dysfunctional Family

I also grew up in a dysfunctional family, loving but influenced heavily by alcoholism. I knew my family was not normal. I avoided bringing people to my house. I did not talk about what was happening at home. And I therefore saw all other families as infinitely more normal than my own. My in-laws, therefore, seemed paragons of normal. After all, they were both medical professionals, had a nice house and a vacation home, recreated with other adults, cooked gourmet meals. My family did none of these things. I assumed I was marrying into an incredibly normal WASP family and would be immersed into normal by means of their eldest progeny. Any choice of Andy’s I assumed to be normal with a capital N.

REASON THREE: The Farm

We knew, walking into the agricultural world, that nothing in our lives would be quite like other college graduates’ lives. Also, Andy was the Ag major. I was English/Art. I knew nothing about farming (besides what I had gleaned from the Little House books) and that meant that whatever I was told about anything related to the farm I took at face value. Also, we did nothing but work and worry for fifteen years. Work and worry, worry and work. Our  situation economically and ergonomically was so outside the norm that all other components of it – including our marriage relationship – were assumed part of the lifestyle marginality. Work from 3:30 AM until 9 PM seven days a week? Normal, considering the circumstances. Constantly do things for the farm, never the house? Normal. Every cow problem a fatal catastrophe? Must be. Him’s the Ag major.

REASON FOUR: Isolation

We are isolated here. I mean isolated. The long days, the far-away family, the lack of time for friends, the ten-mile drive to town, the five-mile neighbors. We had no real reflection of our lives in the eyes of friends or family, no one to pull me aside later and say, “Uh, Mo? Is everything alright?” Our families did this sporadically (Andy’s mother even said to me once “I do NOT like the way Andrew speaks to you”), but much of the odd behavior I was able to explain away by the omnipresent stress of starting the farm.

REASON FIVE: Stockholm Syndrome

This one’s a stretch, but worth examining. According to the net’ s most reliable source of information, Wikipedia, Stockholm Syndrome explains an abductee’s or hostage’s love and loyalty toward his or her captor. The psychological explanation is that people will not allow themselves to remain unhappy for long because it causes cognitive dissonance. To resolve the dissonance, the person psychologically manipulates herself into being happy in the situation in which she finds herself, i.e. “I LOVE my captor. I CHOOSE to be under his control.” The other explanation likens the psychological strategy as akin to newborn attachment phenomenon. It is wise to attach to the nearest source of food and warmth since survival depends on it. And so, I was grateful for any let up in the endless grind. “My husband let me sleep in until 5 this morning! Isn’t he kind!”

But, there’s hope. I did find out about Asperger’s and can now differentiate between AS behavior and normal behavior. All this reading and breaking out of the NT-AS thang has liberated me from my blinders. Yeah, I’ve ruffled some Aspie feathers, but there’s a lot at stake here, especially my sanity.

Here’s Patty Hearst after her release from the Symbionese Liberation Army, with her former body guard, then fiance. Look how stinkin’ happy she looks! And look at that man – Is he going to ask her to lift a finger? No way. It’s going to be all about Patty. You go, girl! If you’re going to have a man with a gun glued to your side, make him not a captor but a bodyguard. And remember, you might have to be the one explaining to him which one to be.

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7 Comments

  1. mlouhutson said,

    Mo, I don’t know where to start. I love Elizabeth Berg too, I’ve been to see her when she came to Charlotte, I have read and re-read “Durable Goods” and given away multiple copies. Her books are wonderful; “Talk Before Sleep” is amazing. But “Home Safe” just annoyed me. One, that this character could be so clueless about the money. Two, that the husband could know every detail of her dream house. Three, that the house used up so much of the money and that all the problems tied up so neatly at the end. NOT.

    Okay, next point. The older I get, the more I realize, there is no Normal. I recognize that your NT-AS world is different than mine, and I get that there are ranges of Normal. But I look around at my friends and their marriages and the compromises they’ve made (that I know about), and lots of us are outside the range of anything our parents thought was a normal expectation. This sounds like I’m belittling your experience, I don’t mean it that way, I mean — I’m guessing that some of the folks you think are normal have their issues too.

    And finally, not to carp on this too much, but: husband, Listening. Dream house ideas. So not happening. My husband is a great guy and really tries to pay attention to what I like/want/need, but on many issues he just can’t get it. He does try, he thinks he gets it, he is consciously making an effort. Not happening. The book is so totally unrealistic on this point. It’s not just Andy, I think there are very few men who are so much in tune.

  2. Skeet said,

    Dear Mo,

    I’ve been following your blog for quite a while but have never commented. I feel compelled to do so tonight after reading this post.

    I feel like you’re my soul sister … so much of what you wrote in this & so many other posts is in line with my life. I thank you so much for putting the world of an NT spouse into such beautiful & funny words. And I want you to know how much support you’ve given me these last months through your dead-on portrayal of life with an Aspie. Thanks.

    I found your blog as I was searching for positive & spiritual looks at this NT/Aspie world. I grew tired of always reading hateful negative comments on various support groups as that didn’t help me any; what I wanted was to feel like someone understood the extremely challenging realities of day-to-day life. Honey, you do. And still you find ways to appreciate your husband’s many quirky positives & to appreciate all the blessings in your life.

    Rant away. Tis good for the soul.
    Skeet in NC

  3. Mary said,

    Mo,

    I’ve also followed you and often laugh with recognition at your stories. While I haven’t read any of Elizabeth Berg’s books, and think that HOME SAFE sounds a little far fetched from your description, I understood right away why it was so difficult for you to read.

    As mlouhutson says, all marriages have their issues, and very few men would be so in tune as to design a house that perfectly meshes with your (spoken or unspoken) preferences and expectations. That said, it’s all too easy for those in NT/NT marriages to miss the peculiar challenges we face in our marriages. It would never occur to an NT wife that such challenge exists, because even when the husband is high on the jerk scale, he is hard-wired for behavior that will never, in a million years, occur to our Aspergian husbands.

    For instance, I was describing to a member of the “Aspergian Wives Club” the other day my frustration in getting my husband to kiss me. And how angry he gets when I ask him about this, leading to him mulishly insisting that he kisses me regularly and I just don’t remember it. In this particular case, it slowly became dawned on me that, in his literal Aspergian mind, a peck on the cheek is the same as an intimate kiss. So yes, I am guilty of not appreciating the small pecks on the cheek I receive when he’s leaving the house because I miss the kind of intimate kissing of foreplay and sex. My friend laughed and laughed, and noted that she has developed a four-point scale for her Aspergian husband, so that she can request kisses in different levels of intimacy.

    In the case of an NT/NT marriage, there are undoubtably husbands who fail to kiss their wives intimately. The difference is that this can be chalked up to either objectifying one’s spouse or to some quid pro quo relating to the wife being too tired for sex or having gained weight or something like that. Further, to *trust* that one’s spouse could be so literal as to not understand that the definition of a kiss varies situationally and beyond that, to understand that he means no ill intent by failing to kiss me “properly,” takes a leap of faith that is inconceivable to those who don’t live this life. So much so, that I find I cannot discuss these issues with many of my friends, lest I open myself to their pity and worse—from the merely bemused to those who think I must be willlfully gullible, to those who are convinced I’m co-dependent or abused.

    Finally, I agree with Skeet. I enjoy your posts because you get it; you communicate the ridiculous situations we find ourselves in without losing site of your husband’s essentially good nature and quirky positives.

    M

    PS. Another book to avoid on the same grounds is A HAPPY MARRIAGE by Rafale Yglesias. A “perfect” husband he is not, he is often self-centered and at one point, a cheat. Yet the detail of the care he demonstrated for his wife over their long marriage and especially during her terminal illness was heartbreaking to me, for I knew that , if I were in a similar situation, and connected to tubes and wires, my husband would be hard pressed to be in the same room with me, let alone provide care and comfort.

  4. mlouhutson said,

    The kissing example in the comment above is very helpful.

    –ML

  5. Amy in Ohio said,

    Oh Mo, how I adore you.
    I too really disliked Home Safe. It just wasn’t, well it wasn’t realistic. And I need Elizabeth Berg to be realistic, I love her BECAUSE she is realistic.
    You are just so brilliant and I trust one day, you will complete a fantastic novel.

  6. thegirlfromtheghetto said,

    Maureen,
    Perhaps it was a good thing I never got around to reading “Home Safe” yet. You killed me with this post, I’m laughing, even though I know it isn’t funny, but it is because I can relate. My double shot of AS hubby and stepson are killing me these days. I am the one who has to do homework for four hours a night with “emotional boy” while “rule boy” escapes into X-box land. I am the one who can’t yell, can’t talk about any of my health stuff, can’t do anything out of the routine in fear to set off anger bombs, and can’t stress out outwardly about my job loss for fear it’ll set him off. We both have very dyfunctional familes and now his bipolar sister went nutters on us after I sat by her side for 12 hours after her double mastectomy.

    I am a crazy person who is now a shut-in and in isolation as we border country. Losing my car next month since we can’t afford two cars with one paycheck. I’m going to go insane, which is why I screamed after no one wanted leftovers last night. Ranted like a nut, went to lay in my bed, but then it was a perfect example for my debate on how I have patience and can still blow up, too lecture I had just given two hours before.

    My only good news is hubby and I went to an excellent seminar on Asperger’s Friday, and I’ve got him talked into therapy, even though we can’t afford it. He knows I’m silently sharpening my knives. At least he pays the bills and cleans our house and does dishes and the heavy lifting. Sorry to brag, but I need to end my rant on a positive note so people understand I do love his crazy ass.

    Side note, did you see the movie “Adam” yet? We watched it this weekend, so good. Hugh Dancy did such a good job capturing the Aspie essance, or at least in my experience.

  7. lelia said,

    I’ve never read Berg. I can’t imagine any man anywhere in the world doing what is in that book. Your co-worker’s husband sounds unreal too. Blessings on his head.

    Your blog is fascinating. I shall need to come here more often. I see I need to thank God for my husband tolerating and even liking much of my, um, aspergeriness?, asperger behaviour. And again I am reminded that my contempt for whiny women is unwarranted, totally unwarranted. Apparently normal women need something I can’t even conceive of. But it makes my husband happy that I have never complained about his nights out at board meetings and church stuff and other reasons to be out for most nights of the week. (I should mention that he quit a lot of things so he could spend my time with me once we got our autistic plus daughter into a good situation) I don’t feel why it is important to spend a lot of time together so long as we have a good time when we are together. A lot of the commenters’ husband’s here sound intolerable.
    I wonder how intolerable I am. I have learned not to fuss over changed plans, out loud anyway.
    The movie Adam was great except for, well, I’m a prude. I like sex, but not in movies or books.

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