(Personal stories about autism. If you would like to see your musings on this page, please email Mary-Minn at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
It’s about time
Time is a-wasting. My friend is 30 minutes late for our art day in my back yard. I can’t decide whether to be anxious, annoyed, or liberated to power through a more pressing task, so, paralyzed by indecisiveness, I compromise by feeling all three. I start by over-analyzing the possibilities.
Could it be that I have the day wrong? I try to call her but am relegated to leaving a message. I ask my husband how long I should wait.
Was I being too inflexible and selfish when I insisted on doing it today rather than Wednesday because on Wednesday I wouldn’t have enough downtime after seeing "The Help" with another friend?
Is she mad at me for being short with her the other day when she one-upped a symptom I was kvetching about by describing an even more gruesome affliction of hers rather than compassionately listening? Or have I inadvertently offended her in some other way? I have to constantly remind myself to anticipate pitfalls and avoid committing breaches of etiquette and tactfulness.
It suddenly occurs to me that she could have had a car accident. She’s one of those Luddites who refuses to own a cell phone, even a prepaid track phone for outgoing calls. Not that I don’t understand her reluctance (I share it)—her down-tech esthetic; her need not to be available at all times, at everybody else’s beck and call; her fear of contracting glial blastoma due to radiation emanating from those phones; her seemingly impotent protest against the tele-miscommunication companies’ expensive "plans" (another insidious euphemism underlining our emasculated relationship with these customer-service-denying entities). I am suddenly annoyed that she won’t surrender even to buying a track phone, if for no other reason than my own convenience. Still, I entertain a sense of guilt, in the possible event of her being injured.
By the time she arrives, at 6:00 pm, 2-1/2 hours later, I have undergone a gamut of conflicted and confusing emotions. She explains that something important came up and she didn’t have time to call me. I am relieved to be spared the details but the absence of remorse on her part gives me no reassurance that she will attempt to do better next time.
She doesn’t see it my way. I’m not the one who has to drive half an hour across town. I must have other stuff to accomplish in the meantime besides awaiting her arrival. For that matter, there is no reason I can’t start without her; she doesn’t want to feel burdened with my "need for companionship" while doing something creative.
Ever slow to catch on to why I’m feeling out of sorts, it will take me well into the following day to figure out that I could have shoehorned in some badly needed exercise during that lapsed time or taken another friend up on his invitation to a spontaneous afternoon float down the McKenzie.
I make it a practice not to ascribe motives so I leave unsaid an accusation that she considers her time more valuable than mine. Much as Copernicus discovered through logic and meticulous measurement that the sun is the center of the solar system, I have discovered empirically that tact is often more about knowing when to keep my mouth shut than about verbalizing feelings in a pleasant manner.
The one indisputable fact is that it will be light only until 9:00 pm, before which time we’ll need to start cleaning up and putting stuff away. Then, we’ll need to start thinking about making dinner, always a process of much improvised perfectionism. I don’t want to be sitting down to dinner at 9:30 or 10 pm. I feel a need to know when a planned activity is going to begin, especially something requiring elaborate set-up and cleanup. I need a large ratio of creative activity to transition time. Also, punctuality is esthetically pleasing to me.
She compares my rigidity with her ex’s, who also has Aspergers, and I accuse her of pathologizing both him and me. So much for not attributing motives!
All this emotion and commotion illustrates the old adage that time is money—only more so. Time is a double-edged sword of absolute and relative. On the absolute side, once expended, time is forever lost. Once spent, there’s no sleight of hand from "debit" to "credit" by simply switching the transaction from "assets" to "expenses" in order to rescue it from the void. On the other hand, the relativity of time stretches all the way from the curvature caused by massive celestial bodies to our earthling perception of the irreplaceable substance.
Every friendship requires its own delicate negotiation—often amounting to special accommodation—with respect to the precious pearl of time. Rather than adjudicate who is right and who is wrong, one needs to figure out each person’s needs, especially one’s own, and how to meet them.
With a clearer head, removed from the mayhem of social conflict in real time, I dissect my friend’s needs and my own. She is juggling too many simultaneous deadlines in too little time but wants to have fun before dispatching of her obligations, rendering our art day a low-priority friviality. I have to keep in mind that "low-priority" doesn’t necessarily mean "less desirable" but rather "less disruptive if left undone", and that "frivolous" or even "trivial" don’t mean "low-grade". Framed this way, all this complicated mess boils down to something more benign.
I, on the other hand, enjoy doing art with her but need to be fully prepared to stick it out without her or to leave my options open for spontaneous opportunities.
In an attempt to introduce equal opportunity, I resolve to make a proposal next time we want to get together: If she’s over a half hour late and hasn’t called me with an update, I can opt to do something else after calling her and giving her a heads-up or leaving a message to that effect. I rarely turn on a dime like that but I want that feeling of freedom to be spontaneous. She can call me when she’s done with her other tasks and see if I’m still up for it. Or, if she’s in my neighborhood, she can dispense with calling and stop by to see if I’m still there.
There you have it: a potential activity with a hypothetical origin and end-point, an opportunity or an occurrence.
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