Monday, July 11, 2011

The Open Window

People with Asperger's tend not to handle new and unexpected experiences well. One reason I have difficulty knowing what to say or do in a new experience is that my brain just stopped. For example, the first time I experienced a flat tire, the world faded around me, and when it came back, I was still standing there motionless, staring at the tire, but now a nice man was changing it for me, a pleasant surprise but rather disorienting. (For other examples, click on "Coping with New Experiences" in the left column, near the top.)

Fortunately these shut-downs are not usually so severe that I lose time like that. Usually when the new and unexpected happens, I have a jolt of disorientation and freeze up, but I'm still vaguely aware of the world as it moves on without my participation. Sometimes I also have a rush of agitation, which may be similar to the flash of anger humans often experience when we get hurt, and perhaps that's also why people with autism sometimes rage when the new and unexpected happens to them.

It seems like the kind thing would be for the world to fall still and silent to give us time to gather our wits and get caught up. But the one time the world actually did that for me, it turned out to be anti-helpful. I'd gone to sleep with the window over my bed open to let the cool night air in-- I must have been very over-heated and sleepy when I decided to open that window since it has no screen. I'd long since removed the screen so I wouldn't have to keep getting up in the night to see if a naughty cat was finally ready to come in. Anyway, sometime in the middle of the night I woke up aware that Mmander was climbing in through the blinds over my head, though I hadn't known that he was outside. He was making a racket with the blinds, so I sat up to assist him.

We got him through the blinds okay, but then he stopped with his front paws on the head of the bed.

"Come on, Mmander," I said impatiently. I was too sleepy for this.

He didn't budge.

"Mmander!" I said.

Then I saw that something was wrong with Mmander's tail. The fur was missing.

"Oh, Mmander," I said in distress, reaching for the bedside lamp. "What happened to your poor tail?"

The light came on, I found and put on my glasses, and Mmander was a possum.

"Oh my goodness," I said.

The possum responded the way possums respond to unexpected things like when suddenly being nose-to-nose with a human. He or she froze.

"Oh my goodness," I said again. "Oh my goodness," I added.

The possum stayed frozen. We kept staring into each other's eyes, just inches from each other.

"Oh my goodness," I announced.

Even though I'd never had a possum on my bed before, I'd had plenty of possum-sized cats on my bed, so the situation was similar enough to previous experience that I still had some electrical activity taking place in my head. I was, after all, still capable of speech.

"Oh my goodness," I said.

So okay, not a lot of electrical activity. Actually, I might still be sitting there oh-my-goodnessing today if the possum hadn't eventually unfrozen, backed out through the blinds, turned on the window sill, and climbed down the way he or she had come. Then my brain started functioning again, and I closed the window. Gently. It occurred to me that I didn't want to be rude in addition to having disappointed the poor possum, who probably hadn't gone to all that trouble because it wanted to be oh-my-goodnessed at.

Apparently I need the world to keep moving, as agitating as that can be. If it freezes with me, there's nothing to kick-start my brain, and then I'm capable of out-possuming a possum.

Anyway, I sat there for a few moments while my brain re-started, and when I remembered who and where I was, I walked into the living room and turned on a light. The General looked up sleepily from one cat tree, and The Commander looked up sleepily from the other cat tree.

"You're in the house," I accused Mmander.

He just slowly blinked at me and put his head back down.

I was ashamed of my rudeness. "Oh, I'm sorry I woke you up, boys. Never mind. Go back to sleep." And as I turned out the light, I added, as much to myself as to them, because the world is a strange and dangerous place, "Everybody . . . watch your tails."

Gen-Gen and Mmander came in and out through this window so many times in their thirteen years, the slats of the blinds broke off. This is the hole in the blinds that the possum had difficulty maneuvering through in the dark, so I assisted him/her.

This is the wooden "ladder" that I put under the window to assist Mmander because he was never as agile a jumper as Gen-Gen was. Its presence disturbed Gen-Gen, who stood looking at it apparently thinking, "How am I supposed to jump over this thing?" Mmander, who had unusually high spacial intelligence, took one look and understood it immediately. He climbed up, came in through the window, ran to the back door, and circled around the house to do it again.


And here's the new kitty, General Korrd, trying out the window-ladder for the first time. He likes to sit on the top of it each morning after breakfast, taking in the morning air, and listening to the birds. The hole in the blinds is too small for this big fellow, which means that I could replace the blinds now. But I won't. Someone might need it.

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