I have nothing against being wrong - not in general, not in principle. Being wrong is part of guessing, and guessing is part of trying something new; and, after all, one of the biggest reliefs of my entire life was discovering just how wrong I was about who I am, a couple of years ago.
But there are times when it's harder than others. Times when I have to just admit that I was wrong, and if there's any usefulness to be had from the mistake, it's lost in the sheer pain of how awful the mistake was.
I made the mistake of thinking things were OK with my relatives.
This is the only way forward now.
* * *
The trash cans are just sitting there, on the curb.
Maybe for some people it's "just" a "simple" matter of opening the garage, pulling them inside, and disappearing into solitude again.
Not for me.
I can't go out there.
Instead, I have to be in here, fighting off the whispers of anxiety and dread that say someone out there is judging me for not having taken the cans inside yet.
Never mind that half the neighborhood just leaves their cans on the road all week.
Never mind that even the people who do bring them up a driveway, into a garage, around to the side yard... they often take a day or two to manage it themselves.
I almost wish I could say something, as if to explain what's going on and just avoid further conversation entirely. Tell everyone. But why? I don't want their pity, their offers of help, or their involvement.
All I want is to be left alone... and they already do that. No one ever bothers me here.
But I can't go outside.
They know I'm here. It's not some kind of secret. I'm not fooling anyone. Nor am I trying.
I know why all of this is.
It has nothing to do with being left alone. It has everything to do with not being rejected. Not being treated as a problem, as a freak, as an abnormality, as a monster.
No one here has ever given me a reason to think they would respond that way.
But I know who did.
There's a flashing storm of images in my brain, words and sounds and faces, a parade of horrible people doing horrible things. Echoes of long-faded physical pain flash through my nerves.
Being beaten by my father at a party, him hauling me into the driveway of the host's home and hitting me over and over again, for embarrassing and inconveniencing him. I'd had a social anxiety attack and lost control of my bladder, surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar setting. Somehow his impression of the right response to that was to begin smacking his eight year old child.
That was the right response to everything. Hit me.
I remember exactly one time - eighth grade - when I dared to walk away from him when he started getting angry at me. I left the room, went upstairs, and quietly locked the door to my bedroom behind me. Without even leaving the kitchen table downstairs, he yelled for me, promising that if I didn't come back down and listen to his tirade, he'd "make me remember" the consequences. I didn't get hit - that time - but I remembered anyways.
I have no idea what he was even pissed about, all these years later.
All I remember is the depth of how awful, how profoundly terribly incomprehensible, it all felt. To be struck time and again, for almost two full decades. "This is only for your own good. I'm only doing it because I love you. It hurts me more than it hurts you."
I'm not afraid of my neighbors saying something shitty, or being ignorant or rude. I can handle people acting badly.
What I'm scared of is the remote chance that I'd see the same look in someone's eye, that tiny flicker of disgust, the judgment, the silent hurrying away as if I'd ruined their day just by existing.
The look he gave me all the time.
I dread trying to talk to them, trying to help them understand that the strange woman living on the corner lot just needs some space and some privacy... I dread the beginnings of things starting to work out, people still being just as respectful but with a little more knowing behind the casual waves from across the street... I dread the eventual outcome of the illusion shattering, the bubble bursting, and someone finally telling me they couldn't handle being kind to me anymore because I'm just too much.
The way my mother always did when I sought refuge with her after yet another incident with my father.
* * *
I tried again, all those years later, to make it work. To tell them the truth - who I am, what they did, why I struggled for weeks deciding whether or not to even give them another chance. I sent them the recommendations... books to read, documentaries to watch, people to talk to.
For a little while, it seemed like it might have worked. We talked on the phone, now and then. Occasionally even ventured past the petty small-talk that I always find so exhaustingly pointless.
And then it stopped. The illusion broke. For everything that has changed, nothing really changed at all - not with them.
A year and a half ago, my father promised to answer the letter I wrote him explaining who I am. He has since disappeared again into whatever obsessive religious hole he's finding interesting these days. I've heard nothing from him, but he's found plenty of time to write letters - to absolute strangers, trying to sell them his advice.
A year and a half ago, my mother promised to try and build an actual relationship with her youngest daughter - with me. And when we'd finally reached a point where I felt comfortable telling her that I am autistic, and relating some of my struggles to her, she fell back into the same old habit she always has. It's just too much, can't we talk about something else?
I turned thirty-five years old over a month ago. I have heard absolutely nothing, from either of them, since the beginning of this year. For all their promises, for all their assurances that they've changed and become better people, they're still just as problematic as ever.
I spend most of my nights and weekends working through the leftovers of the traumas they both put me through. Violent abuse on one hand, and dismissive neglect on the other.
Someday I will be able to get my trash cans without seeing their shadows hiding around every corner.
I am breaking the cycle.
This shit stops with me.