Last Tuesday, one of the most important beings in my life died--my diabetic senior fatcat, Stormy.
I'd noticed him slowing down a lot in the last few years; taking steps one at a time, needing step stools (or upside-down laundry baskets!) to get up on the bed, being extremely picky about his food and the cleanliness of his litter box (having four cats, I am diligent about cleaning their boxes everyday, but I am not Superman and I can't devote all my time to cleaning every poo as it drops from their bums, but Stormy had Stormy Standards and if they weren't met he'd poo on the litter mat).
After laying in bed nearly all day because the house is freezing and there aren't enough boats, I went downstairs to feed the cats. Stormy wasn't sleeping on the couch like he usually would be, so I checked the kitchen and found him under the table, unresponsive.
For those of you that haven't had the pleasure of meeting Stormy, he is the kind of cat who purrs instantly when you show him anything remotely resembling affection, like making eye contact with him or booping his fuzzy tummy. For him to be unresponsive to me petting and picking him up and rocking him like a baby meant that he must have been in pretty severe pain.
I followed him to the litter box, where he peed on the plastic mat instead of the box, right next to a small pile of bloody, runny poo.
In my heart, I knew it was the end.
I hugged him close for a while and bawled. I finally mustered up the stength to call the vet's office, still sobbing, and told them my cat was dying. They asked if I wanted to come right away--I paused, because I didn't want to bring him in, knowing full well that he wouldn't be coming back with me, but I didn't want him to suffer.
He ended up purring once he was placed on the table. We said our goodbyes, and then he was gone.
I've personally never seen the purpose in open caskets--I know for a lot of people it's a final goodbye to their loved ones, but to me, that's not my loved one in there. It's just their shell, their container. They're not there anymore. They're in my heart, in my mind, and in the lessons they've imparted to me and the memories they've built with me, and I've always felt more comforted by that than by seeing their body one last time.
I stared down at his lifeless body.
I felt the shell, it's emptiness.
Something in me broke, and I completely lost it.
I kept shaking him, wishing it wasn't real, hoping against all hope that if I just nudged him hard enough, he'd awaken with his crotchety old man meow and then everything would be okay, and I wouldn't feel the oppressive and suffocating emptiness in my heart.
But life doesn't work that way.
It was two days before Christmas, and I couldn't face the thought of enduring the holidays without him. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing my relatives, and I love all the eating and laughter and weird Italian yelling that accompanies a typical Christmas in my family.
Knowing that I would be coming back to a Stormyless couch was too much for my heart to handle, so I just laid in bed for four days, in the hope of sleeping away my broken heart.
When I wasn't sleeping, I was on Facebook, desperately trying to occupy my mind with anything but emptiness. I was looking through that "On this day in the past" timeline, when my ex boyfriend popped up.
With another girl.
We'd been broken up for a little over a year, but seeing him happy with someone else hit me so hard that in that moment, I could barely breathe.
It's really rare for me to experience a feeling like that, and it really set me on edge.
We were fundamentally different people who could never quite figure out how to communicate with each other, and even though it took me way longer than I anticipated to get over our separation, I thought enough time had passed, that I was over it.
As it turns out, not so much.
And I have no idea how to cope with it.
It's not that I hate him, or that I don't want him to find happiness with someone else. Even though we're very different, he is a good person and a loyal partner, and I genuinely wish him all the best.
But it also rips my heart to shreds that he's with someone, and I don't fully understand why.
My life is so stagnant right now--because of my significant health problems, I don't have a job, and because I don't have a job, I don't have my own space or money, so dating just seems out of the question.
I am smart, loyal, and sexypants, and even though I may not always communicate it very well, I love deeply and fiercely. I tend to say "if/maybe" to marriage, but the truth is, it's something I really want and feel like I need. I don't feel weak or needy, but so many aspects of my life are so incredibly difficult for me as an autistic and as a female, and I want there to be someone to help me weather the storm.
I miss the feeling of partnership, and I long to experience it again, but I won't settle for someone who doesn't understand me or speak my language. I don't know if such a person even exists, but I'm holding onto that hope desperately because I just don't think I can do this alone.
My ex helped me heal the hurt that I experienced from a friend who took sexual and emotional advantage of me. It was something I never imagined I would get through, and I thought of ending my life on more than one occasion because it just seemed unreal to me how utterly dejected, dirty and awful I felt. I had struggled with these feelings for almost a year when one of my mentors (his mother, ironically) told me that once I find the right person and fall in love with them, those feelings would dissipate.
She was right. They did.
I never really got to express my thankfulness for that because he broke up with me (twice) via text message. I'd finally gotten a job that was somewhat in my field, and I was moving to a city about an hour and a half away. He started looking up jobs that he could do in the area right away, but I was more hesitant. We had argued a lot, or what I felt was a lot, being that it was my first real relationship and had no other gauge to juxtapose our relationship to. Before he uprooted his own life, I wanted to make sure that we were solid. I think he interpreted my reluctance as wanting to break up, and in order to feel in control of the situation, he broke up with me first.
The breakup lasted less than a week, when I finally texted him that it felt weird not to text him. I honestly don't remember what happened after that, other than being so relieved to have him lie next to me and hold me again.
Shortly thereafter, I had a particularly bad day at work. I don't remember what happened exactly, only that I felt awful and needed comfort.
He said he was busy, at some concert or something with his friends, and that we would see each other soon.
I was livid, and I handled it badly.
Early on in the relationship, he bailed on our plans a lot to be with his friends until his dad piped up and told him that he wouldn't have a girlfriend anymore if he kept it up. It irritated me that it took his dad saying something about it for him to adjust accordingly, but I tried as best as I could to make allowances for our age difference--he was just a couple years younger in age years, but that made him even younger in maturity years.
I understand that unexpected things come up, and that he needed to help his friend through a particularly nasty breakup.
It happened a lot, though, and autistic people are very well-known for their inflexibility when it comes to changing plans.
It's something that I need to work on, and honestly, I'll probably always be working on it, because having a routine schedule helps me feel like I have things under control, which is a feeling that I don't often get to feel. When people break plans it upsets my routine, which is often very carefully planned out because I require a lot of down time because of how socially overloaded I get by everyday things--going to work, the grocery store, the gym, etc.
Even though I can be inflexible about seemingly trivial things, I will drop anything and everything if someone needs me. I put my academic life on hold for a friend in the throes of an eating disorder; I got my first D since fourth grade, and ended up having to take Incompletes for all my other classes because I put everything I had into helping my friend.
To me, that's what love is. Unwavering loyalty and a willingness (within reason, which is a line I struggle to delineate) to put your needs on hold for another person.
I'd had a terrible day, and I needed him with me.
He didn't understand why it was such a big deal to me.
I snapped, as autistics are wont to do when they get overloaded. I don't even remember what I said, but it was apparently bad enough to make him want to break up with me again .
I texted him later and tried to explain why I got so angry, but the damage was done.
We were done.
I all but begged him to see him in person, because even if we did decide to break up, I didn't want it to be over texting.
He said he didn't want to break up face to face, and that was that.
I finished out my two weeks at my job, then I was off to training for a few days before my big move.
I had already taken down some things of his in preparation for seeing him on weekends--socks, shirts, underoos--because he often forgot to pack them.
I never got closure, and it's bothered me ever since.
I was so torn about moving--uprooting yourself is never easy, but it's especially hard on those of us with limited social skills.
Not to mention that living on your own can be incredibly expensive, especially when your job doesn't pay much.
I was afraid to leave, but I was afraid to stay, too.
I really loved him, but it felt like I could never get through to him.
At the beginning of our relationship he was so eager to learn about Asperger's, and at the time I thought it was because he was really vested in me, but I've often wondered if he was just vested in the idea of me.
He said one of the things that really drew him to me (other than my bod, which was smokin' at the time) was that I didn't play mind games. I sent him endless and probably annoying Snapchats of my cats, because that's who I am, unapologetically--a person who is quirky, funny, and obsessed with cats and puns. I am who I am and I don't try to hide it.
In the end, though, it seems like he couldn't really handle me being autistic. It has its perks, to be sure--I'm loyal, honest, focused, intelligent, humorously self-deprecating, and, not to mention, a cat pun extraordinaire. I'm kind of awesome.
But I definitely have my limitations, too.
I can be inflexible, stubborn to a fault, oblivious, and I have very real sensory issues that impact my daily functioning.
He was angry at me for showing interest in doing things that he enjoyed, like going to concerts.
Even concerts with bands that I love can be draining to me, let alone bands that I don't know that involve driving for three or more hours (I also have pain issues that make long-distance driving very difficult for me) and being around screaming, sweaty twentysomethings.
I couldn't go, but I bought him one of his favorite band's t-shirts that I had to special order from Australia (he was a big dude and they're a bit obscure). Instead of believing that my struggles were real, or reading any of the books I asked him to read that dealt specifically with almost all the things we fought over, he chose to hold that against me, and as part of the reason for breaking up with me.
The first month or so after I moved, he was all I thought about.
It drove me nuts, and nothing I did seemed to make it go away.
Before we actually dated, he had this habit of posting problematic, anti-feminist memes on Facebook because he knew he'd get a rise out of me and I'd respond. After we broke up, I had to unfriend him because I never knew if he was doing it deliberately to get a rise out of me or just because he thought it was funny, and I hated feeling like he was playing mind games with me.
I felt the only way to stop obsessing over everything he posted was to just remove him from social media altogether, but I did keep him on Snapchat, because that was my last connection with him.
I'd noticed that he'd use the 'My Story' function to read my snaps, so for a while, that made me feel not totally disconnected to him.
Out of the blue, he Snapchatted me a picture of his new Xbox.
We went back and forth for a while and then I just straight up asked him if he did it just to talk to me, and he said yes. He was having second thoughts, and he wanted to talk.
I told him that I would be in town that weekend, that I could meet late on Saturday night after family dinner.
He was all I thought about the whole rest of the week: what would I say? What would I do? Would I be proud and stand my ground, or just give in and tell him I still wanted to be with him?
I didn't want to seem overly eager, so I waited until later in the day to send my perfectly crafted, meticulously casual plans to meet up.
He responded: lol I didn't think you were serious.
That was a real blow.
I spent a while trying to figure out how to respond, and ended up just asking him when I have ever not been serious about something like that.
He never responded.
I wanted the earth to swallow me whole.
I only seen him once in passing after that, as he was driving past my house. I'm still not very sure what to make of that, but I did live near a business he liked to frequent, so I'm trying to not place so much meaning on it.
Even though it got easier as the months flew by, it has never stopped hurting.
Maybe it's a "first love" kind of deal, or "one that got away," or "person who helped me believe in love again" or "asshole who stomped on my heart and was weirdly manipulative about it" thing.
I try to remember that I felt the same way about never being able to recover from what my so-called "friend" did to me, and even though it is still one of the worst things that's happened to me, I ended up learning a lot about myself and the fact that I'm autistic. There's a pretty good chance that I still wouldn't know had it not been for that.
I think "positive thinking" is sometimes obnoxious and problematic, but I do believe that at the very least, you learn about yourself and how strong you are when you go through that serious shit, even if most days you feel like it's completely broken you.
I am in a seemingly endless spiral of sadness because of things beyond my control: the death of my best friendcat, my seemingly undiagnosable autoimmune problems, the financial ruin that accompanies moving to a new city when your wages are set at the poverty level and you're not allowed to get a second job, being disabled enough to not be able to find employment but not disabled enough to qualify for disability etc. etc.
There are precious few things in life you can control; that's a life lesson that keeps beating me over the head on a regular basis.
It took Stormy's death to realize all of the pain and weight that I've been carrying around since my breakup.
I think part of me always blamed myself, because that's almost reflexive when you're autistic and you don't really understand the world.
It hurts me in a way I can barely describe--to my core--that my ex has just moved on.
Part of it is because of the way he acted, and part of it is that I'm resentful that as my life seems to fall apart, his is falling into place.
I've always known that I am destined for greatness; what I have envisioned as greatness has certainly morphed and shifted over the years, but I believe with all my heart that I'm going to do something truly incredible someday.
To be honest, though, I think the little things are the most incredible.
It's all the women who have reached out to me through Facebook and told me that the things I share and write have impacted their lives.
It's every response to comments that I post on articles about autism from strangers thanking me for being me (and believe me, those are especially treasured by me because they're so few and far between).
It's being asked to write an article for a local disability advocacy network because of something I wrote.
It's being asked to write two other book reviews by an online disability community advocating for inclusion and representation in literature after writing the first because they were THAT blown away by my truths.
In all these seemingly small acts, I'm really impacting people and changing perceptions about what it means to be an autistic woman.
Change may start with one person, but it has a ripple effect, and I'm rippling into a lot of people's lives.
I'm a big fucking deal.
[I don't know how to format a break here, so just imagine something artsy fartsy and cool like ~*~ instead of this]
I wrote some of this up yesterday and, after a technical snafu prevented me from posting it, I came back to it just to edit for clarity and spelling errors.
I've been writing for almost two hours (hence the longness!).
I cried three times.
Thanks for the weird life lessons, heart.
Here was my original ending (about 700 paragraphs ago):
It feels awful and I just want to sleep through the next four months of my life, but unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way.
I know that this too shall pass, but I have to wonder if the only way to heal a broken heart is to patch it up with a new love, and that just seems exhausting and problematic and annoying.
I really don't know much about love except for the fact that it hurts.
I'd like to think it's worth it, but as previously stated, I am trapped in a sadness spiral, and it feels like I'll never break free.
Here is my new ending:
I don't know whether or not I will ever be over my first love, but even though it ended painfully I'm glad it happened because it taught me so many things. I feel really inspired and fired up and unstoppable right now, but I might not tomorrow, and that's okay. It doesn't mean I'm not strong; sometimes the strongest people have NOPE days and instead of seeing that as a weakness, we should see it as a sign of strength because it takes bravery to admit you're scared shitless.
I do think I will find love one day, and that it will be real and powerful and exhilarating and terrifying. I think I use a lot of maybes when it comes to love because I'm afraid to hope for something, only to be disappointed.
Honestly, I'm like 85% convinced my cats are my real soulmates anyway.
This was really raw and cathartic for me, and I'm glad I finally got around to blogging again, because awesome shit always happens when I do.
My thoughts and words are powerful.
They are life-changing.
They are life-saving.
They are mine.