Stacheman works at a fast food restaurant that is walking distance from our house. He loves it so much that he goes to work no matter how sick, sleepy or sad he feels that day. It’s an unexpected behavior from someone whose every instinct is to hide in the safety of his room. Only one of his teachers ever expressed belief that he was capable of this. Every single day that he goes to work is a personal victory for him.
I hate that he walks such a treacherous route between home and work. Less than two weeks ago, there was a hit and run on the path that he walks. The land is uneven and littered with animal fatalities. The roadkill upsets Stacheman far more than the twisted ankles he gets when he steps in holes hidden by overgrown weeds. I admit that I overreact to the frequency that his falls tear and ruin his work pants. Since Stacheman doesn’t drive and we have more drivers than cars, walking is a frequent necessity. Stacheman is like a postal carrier, undeterred by extreme cold, heat or rain during his walks to and from work. He HAS called the city to complain when knocked over street signs were left blocking his path for months at a time.
Sometimes, Stacheman says things that make me not like his job. “You know that guy that got shot a hundred times after he shot a policeman? He worked at our location.” It’s not that I think Stacheman would ever do anything evil. He knows the difference between video games and reality, as do all of his friends with the same diagnosis. My concern is someone taking advantage of Stacheman or him being victimized by nasty people. He thinks everyone at his work is wonderful. He recognizes that they are not perfect and that’s perfectly okay with him.
Since he has outlasted almost every employee and manager in the store, I have to guess that he does a good job at work. I know he gets called in whenever somebody else doesn’t show up for a shift. I know that his manager drives him home when Stacheman works a late shift. I know that his manager sometimes picks him up and drives him to work. What I know with certainty, is that Stacheman has to talk for a full hour at the end of every shift. In his effort to blend and look neurotypical, he quite literally holds in everything. As soon as Stacheman is home where he knows it is safe, he talks and talks and talks. Even with the breathless recanting of his workday, he uses enough self control to stick to our agreement that he will never tell me anything about the content or preparation of the items on their menu and I will never give him a lecture about what is and isn’t actually food. He isn’t interested in journaling his day. He isn’t venting angrily about his day. He simply talks about his day and his behaviors. “She screamed and yelled at everybody working registers and then the manager gave her the number for corporate so she could yell at them.” Stacheman comes home from work like a shaken soda bottle that has to release the pressure before it can resume being a functional soda.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit how much I look forward to listening to Stacheman after his work shift. There’s some kind of karmic balancing taking place for all the things he didn’t say when he was young and couldn’t express what he was feeling. Instead of crawling between his mattresses, he talks to me. Instead of angrily emptying every drawer and toy bucket in his room, he talks to me. He talks to me. The child who had to practice scripted conversations in school, is now a man who willingly talks to me.
All of this is an overly complicated way of saying that Aspergers doesn’t mean you don’t feel. It means that you have to struggle with every fiber of your being to control your feelings. Feelings are an on/off switch with no filters. It also means that deep inside people with Aspergers there exists unpredictable potential. Be patient. Recognize the triumphs. Talking is a triumph.