Outlines and Mirrors and Turning Away

I am reading
And the words go into my eyes
Into my brain
And I am connecting
Again and again
With a man I’ll never meet
Who doesn’t know I exist
But who is connecting with me
All the same
He is one of the rare ones
Who writes with his eyes
Into restless souls
And understands things
That he’ll never say
And when he turns the corner
With his mind
To avoid having to explain
I can see the outlines
Of where his words don’t go
The places his mind
Evades and avoids
And it’s as much a communication
As if he’d said it out loud
Is it wrong
To be grateful
For his suffering
Because it mirrors my own?
Maybe that does make me
A selfish monster after all
Far more than being unable
To cry
Or maybe we are all
Selfish monsters
Some of the time
And only believe otherwise
Because nobody is saying it
Out loud
And when I try to find the words
To say what’s in my heart
My mind turns away
Just like his
So as not to betray
If you want to really know me
Look for what I will not say
Even to say this much
Feels like handing the keys away
Handing keys to strangers
In a dangerous world
Well no matter
Because you need more than keys
To understand what you see
When you unlock the mind
Of a person
Like you, or like me
You can peer all you want
At the silhouettes formed
By my retreating thoughts
But if you come here with malice
Even just a trace
You will never understand
What’s staring you in the face
You’ll get twisted and turned
Around and around
Until you find yourself outdoors again
Dumped on the ground
If you come here as a friend
Then the key is all you need
Come in, you’re welcome
Let’s all plant the seed
For a tree of protection
To grow in this place
So that none of us need worry
About malicious strangers
With keys and with greed
You can drink the water
From the well in the ground
I will join you in a moment
And without a sound
We will look past the barriers
Look past the pain
And burrow a tunnel
To keep out the rain
Then you and I
Can be the kind of friends
Where the learning
And the sharing
And the joy
Never ends
I can feel you right now
Over thousands of miles
Hoping all the while
That there’s someone
On the other side of time
Crossing that line
Without leaving a sign
There are billions of people
And millions of years
And somehow we connect
In an underground village
Without fear
Without shame
Without disbelief
Though we shake like a leaf
At the wonder
The shadows we cast
Are taller than trees
But the light that creates them
Is brighter than anything
We can stand to see
One day we’ll meet again
Inside of that light
And there we’ll uncover
The end to all fright
But until then we live
In our burrow underground
And talk to each other
Without making a sound
And I’m no longer alone
No longer in pain
No longer imprisoned
Inside of my brain
I wrote my way out
I wrote my way to you
You wrote your way to me
And our life begins again:

Opals and Oyster Shells

A stranger handed her a necklace on the street
He said “I know what you are, and I know you’ll be angry with me.
But meet us in the library tomorrow at half past three
And you’ll get the answers you know in your heart you seek.”

And then he turned and walked away, abruptly as he came
And she was left so shaken she couldn’t remember her own name
For the necklace was a pendant made of opals and oyster shells
And she dared for just one moment to believe it could get her out of hell

Because hell was this world, that as a child she had just called More
Because it was More than she imagined could have existed before
Before, you didn’t imagine, you didn’t hope, you didn’t plan
You just swam in the colors and wallered in the iridescent land

And Before was so easy
And More was so hard
But there was no going back
Once they bombarded her cranium with words
She could never throw them back
So she learned to adapt
She learned to accept
That her rescuers were praised
They’d pulled her out of heaven
And into hell
But everyone was amazed
They’d taught her to speak
To read and to write
To get along with other kids
And that was all that mattered
She was just an object in their personal dramas
So she learned to live how they wanted her to live

But now she was grown
Standing in the street
Necklace in hand
And every hair on her body stood up
And she turned
And she ran

On automatic pilot she ran to the sea
She knelt down in the sand
She opened up her hand
And saw opals and oyster shells
She put the necklace on
And she cried burning tears
Of rage and desire and self-pity and shame
But most of all they were tears of loss

It had been twenty years
Since her forced exile
From the only place she’d ever felt at home
She’d tried every way she knew to get back
But the damage was already done
Once they’d given her
More words
More thoughts
More contemplation
More More
There was no going back to Before

Oh she was a success for them
She went to a mainstream school
Nobody knew of her past
Though the kids treated her like a fool
But being odd was no problem —
For the ones who rescued her
It was enough that she could talk and read

So she grew up
Got a job
Dated men
Lived on her own
Surely it didn’t matter much
If her heart turned to stone

So she stared at the oyster shell
And remembered that world like a dream
Where you didn’t need to know you existed
You just floated from scene to scene
And the colors in the opal
Brought back memories of light
Of dancing and swimming and wallering
In rainbows cast by sunlight
The oyster shell reminded her
Of the underwater ocean feel of Before
And the smooth pearly light
She had felt such delight
Until the outsiders dragged her into More

In her mind anyone seeing the necklace
Would see right through her
And the lies and broken promises of More
So she wore it under her shirt so nobody would see
But she also showed up at the library
Next day at half past three

The first person she saw
Was a wisp of a woman all in grey
Tiny and slender with black curly hair
Body dancing to a rhythm
That made her look not all there
But she recognized the rhythm
And almost bolted out the door
For the rhythms this woman danced to
Were familiar from Before,

Instead of running she stood in the doorway
Shaking from head to toe
The man from yesterday took her hand
And whispered in her ear “I know.
Some of us are still mostly Before
Some of us are mostly More
And some of us go back and forth
Like a revolving door.
It’s scary at first to see people
From your own private world
But most of us have similar stories
And it’s not so private anymore.”

She allowed him to lead her to a seat
Still shaking like a leaf
The whole floor shook, she shook so hard
And she couldn’t quite believe
But each one had something —
Their eyes
Their hands
Their movements
That gave them away
And that made her feel
Cautiously welcomed
So she came back every day

She learned that most of them
Had been pulled out from Before to More
Though a few — it seemed the happier ones —
Had simply outgrown Before
A smaller number had never really left
And kept one foot firmly in Before

She bitterly envied the last ones
She’d spent so long trying to get back
They made it look effortless
She could only feel her own lack
And yet it was they
Who welcomed her most
Who wanted to find her way home

It was one of them who made the necklace
Of opals and oyster shells
Sensing that it would best remind her
Of where she’d been

It was one of them who listened all night
To her tales of being pulled into More
Of the terrifying moment
When language appeared and locked the door

The opals and oyster shells
Felt like a bridge to Before
Not a bridge she could fully cross
But she could stand on it
And swim in an ocean of sensation, without thought
And now that there were others like her
She could see how lucky she’d got
To feel the currents of Before overtake her
For the briefest moment’s glance
It made her feel that
She had a chance

[This is a true story. It’s not my story. But it’s the story of too many people I’ve known. It was written in response to a writing prompt from fullyarticulatedgoldskeleton: the words opals and oyster shells.]

Bill’s Grandma And Me

A stream flowed around her
But never touched her feet
Birds perched on her head
Beaks sifting through her hair

Bill said not to talk to her
There’s nobody there, said his friend
Don’t waste your words
On the living dead

A bird flew out from her hair
He whispered in my ear
The secrets known only to birds
To old women taken for dead

With no motion at all
A smile played across her mind
She inclined her head
And invited me to dance

Did I agree —
Or did she just take my hand?
She whirled me through the air
Caught me, set me down

Yes, there were others there
But all save one of them
Couldn’t see the dance
Noticed not a thing —

Just a senile old lady
And an idiot child
Staring nowhere
Being nobody
Experiencing nothing


The Mind Bridge: A True Story

You saw me spinning outside
Along the edges of a dance
Asked questions
Were told I was crazy
The first thing you were told
Besides my name

We were so very different
And I had trouble communicating
But from the very first day we talked
You were making inroads nobody had ever made
Never in my life
Had someone peered into my mind
And seen me

We were only twelve years old
And you instinctively knew
That the way to communicate with me
Was to find books in common
And talk in metaphors
Gleaned from the pages
Of the books we had just read

It was A Wrinkle In Time, I recall
We classified people as
Meg-like or Charles-Wallace-like

For the first time ever I was able
To break out of non-communicative echolalia
By using echolalia from a book
I told you I was Mrs. Who
The character who could only communicate
By quoting the words of others

For a 12-year-old autistic kid
Who had never heard of autism or echolalia
I doubt anyone could have done better
Than we did that day
At building a bridge between our worlds

I didn’t recognize your significance
For a long time
In fact I ignored you
I was embarrassed sometimes
At your interest in me
I didn’t know what to make of it

You saved every telephone number
Of every mental institution
Every residential facility
I was committed to
Even for a day
So that we could keep in touch
No matter what

Nobody else did that
Not even the people
Who claimed later
To have been ‘so close to me’
None of them ever did that

But I’ve seen your daily planner
Full of crossed-out phone numbers
For mental institutions
That I have no memory
Of speaking to you in
Because I was too heavily drugged

When I became nonverbal on the phone
You were the one who devised
Impromptu communication systems
Cycling through the alphabet
Until I tapped out the letters
Not even my psychiatrist
Took me seriously enough
To do this for me
I cried

Then each of us tapped out
The rhythm of a prime number
You took two
I took three
You took five
I took seven
We would go as high as we could
My favorites were seven and eleven

You knew that the rhythm of numbers
Was one of my favorite things
So when I went nonverbal on the phone
You devised the prime number game
There were so many areas
Where we met in the middle
Despite our brains being quite different

I was a highly sensing and sensual person
And I brought to our friendship
A heightened appreciation for
Basic sensory experiences
That you had all but forgotten about
You even took up stimming
To understand the world
As I experienced it

You were undersensitive
And you lived in your mind
A mind full of mathematics
And ideas, and concepts
That were normally too high
For me to climb to
But you carried me up
Specially made ladders
To teach me graduate-level math
And make me think I could do it

You were so brilliant
That everyone knew it
Even in our gifted program
You were singled out
For special tracking
I’d never even heard of
The gifted of the gifted

No one was less surprised than me
When you won the International Science Fair
By discovering a new property of
The Fibonacci sequence
You weren’t just good at tests

I used to wonder what someone like you
Saw in someone like me
Who was already exgifted
By the time I began to know you well
I wondered how a mind like yours
Could see anything worthwhile
In a mind like mine

But the magic happened between us
When we each built a bridge
I built mine out of mud and sticks
And redwood cones
You built yours out of equations and proofs
And lots of geometry
And we were able to stand in the middle
Where the bridges met
Hold hands
And look out over the landscapes
Of our two minds

Nobody had ever built me such a bridge before
Nobody has ever built me such a bridge since
Until I saw the bridge
I had no idea how lucky I was

“I was content to be an object in your world”
You told me once
Commenting on the long time
When I couldn’t seem to understand
That you were offering friendship and love
When you weren’t sure
I noticed you were really there at all

How can an autistic child
Who has only known bullies
Masquerading as friends
Understand friendship and love?

One of my friends
When she was a teenager
Got so confused
By a genuine offer of friendship
That she painted a painting
Where the sky was the ground
And the ground was the sky
And all the colors were reversed
Then she broke down crying

Me, I just stayed wary, for years
When I was vulnerable around you, I waited
For the sucker-punch to the gut
That always came
When I was confused or overloaded
And the laughter that always followed

But the punch
And the laughter
And the ridicule
Never came

Instead of garbage
You handed me a flower
Instead of a locked door
You handed me a key

I unlocked the door
I stepped out into a world
Of living color
And I said goodbye
To the bully-friends

And I took your hand
And stepped onto the bridge
And we held hands
And looked at the sunset together
You standing on mud
Me standing on geometry
On a bridge
I have never seen the like of


In the Sea of Nun

You told me I didn’t know what water was
I told you, “There is more to the sea of Nun than you could ever guess”
But you told me words were the only way to wisdom
Do you know what life is like floating without fins or flippers to move yourself from here to there?
Do you know what it is like before those words you hold so dear?
Have you been blown around in the currents?
Have you had to make your life wherever the water took you?
I may have seemed like a sleepwalker to you
Without the parts you use to guide and steer
But part of me has always been wide awake

I sit alone, and time is gone
You come in, and turn into a blur of movement and sound
I am like a statue watching living people fly past
But when I’m alone, time stands still for me again

In between your words is silence
In that silence is the world
Beneath all your ideas things come together on their own

I am awake when you call me asleep
I have a voice when you call me silent
I can navigate where you see only chaos
(In the waters of Nun)

The lines are twisting underwater
I feel them spread and branch away
They twist around the corner
They wrap around me sideways
They double, triple, even more
They slide around and up and down
And still it all makes sense to me
Or maybe it makes me to sense
Either way this is my home
And there is life in the sea of Nun

One day I woke up
There was more than the sea
There was a strange place
I found myself there
I didn’t go there
Make no mistake
I just was here then there

How can I describe it?
You have always had a ghin
What is a ghin?
It’s what you’ve always had
I don’t have a ghin
Something else was built
But how can I describe the building?

You have a ghin
You can never know the steps it took
I didn’t build it
It built up like collecting dust
So the dust settled on me
More dust
More dust
More dust
More dust
Eventually the dust hurt
And more dust

And then a mound of dust
A mound shaped a little like a ghin
But it was not a ghin
I will call it a foom
My foom tried to be a ghin
It had not the. of a ghin
And the foom hurt
And the foom hurt
And the foom hurt
And you said “She is alive, she has a ghin”

And they all danced around
They looked at the foom
They touched the foom
They said “She is alive, she has a ghin”

“Where did she come from?”
(He pointed to the sea of Nun)
“Oh surely not there”
“Nothing from there is alive”
“Nothing from there has shape”
“Nothing from there is real”
“Nothing from there has a ghin”

They set me in the shallow water until I floated
They poked me with long sticks
They watched me bob around
They laughed

I felt the currents underneath me
They could not feel those currents
To them there is only chaos in the sea of Nun
They saw the part of me that was above the water
I lived in the part of me below

And they pushed, and they pulled
And I floated side to side
And they clapped, and they laughed
And the sea of Nun became my tears

I stopped moving
They threw a rope and pulled
I washed up on the shore
They formed a circle around me
Then they drilled me full of holes

They filled each hole with a different machine
And they whirred and they clacked
And I buzzed and I bounced
But the machines all fell out
So they pushed me back in the sea of Nun

And there I stayed and there I dreamed
And there the currents pushed me round
And there I drifted, there I slept
Until I grew flippers