Friday, July 20, 2018

Autism Answer: The Men Who Found Me

*Author's note: I wrote this piece about five years ago. I don't remember why I wrote it. I do remember hoping it would be published somewhere by someone other than me. I do remember hoping it would be understood as valuable by someone other than me. I do remember hoping it would be published by a journal that compensates their contributors. I have submitted it several times to paying publications and have received several rejections. However, I don't believe that means it wasn't understood as valuable (though that is perfectly possible and alright with me). I believe it most likely means it was understood as not for them. That's one of the great gifts submitting work can offer. Understanding the various reasons for, and possibilities of, rejection.

This piece has been rejected several times by paying publications, but it has been accepted and adored often by me. My sons and husband have also felt the value of its message, though they have not read it. And perhaps it will be understood as valuable by you, dear reader. I would be honored if that were the case. I would be grateful if that were the case. Goodness knows that cannot be the case if I keep it tucked away hidden in a file on my computer. 

Whether or not you find this piece valuable or interesting, I hope you understand it as true and meaningful. Because though it carries with it several rejections, it absolutely is

Happy reading!

The Men Who Found Me

I was always there but deeply lost.

When the much older than me dark skinned mechanic, different from me in so many ways, looked adoringly at my colorful sons, helped my autistic brothers fix their cars, and held my milky white hand in his strong callused one, I knew I’d been finally found.

Admittedly, he wasn’t the first man to bring me closer to the surface. He stood in line behind a short list of important others. And they themselves had been in the position to search out the pieces of me, hidden and strewn haphazardly deep inside my container of a body, because of a long-ago man who broke me and left me hidden. 

When I was twelve my step-dad molested and disoriented me. 

He who we loved so much; he who’d stepped up and taken beautiful care of my beautiful mother, given us a home and the gift of adopted siblings, given us stability and a feeling of being powerfully protected—he had done what we knew he would never do. 

I was left lost. A jungle of lies and confusion and guilt and fear buried me deep. 

My mom was a hero, picking up the family and keeping us safe. Safer than safe; we learned to know things. My mom took impossible care of six kids on her own, strong and certain that she could discover answers that would keep us healthy. Against impossible odds—a past filled with abuse and a basket full of challenged children—she carried us to women’s shelters and safe homes, forever remaining the insistent and actively thinking student. Always aware of us children and our needs while climbing and building mountains of knowledge for our sake.  

But men were held at a distance, unpredictable and unlikely to lead to safety. We learned about men, we knew we wanted them around, but we were unable to completely trust them. Unable to learn from them or live as equals.

Leaving me lost. 

Until my first son was born. 

His dad told me he would take care of me because he thought I was appropriately pretty and young. He was looking at the container I was lost inside, and promising to buy it things. He was lying, but I wasn’t expecting much from him anyway. I had been hoping, but never expecting. 

Then I gave birth to my son. My son, who would one day become a man. And when his tiny brown wrinkly hand wrapped around my finger, and his hungry mouth hunted my breast, our love and needs locked and I knew I was in there somewhere. 

I felt him see me when I saw him. 

I began to feel found but was so deeply lost the signal was faint. 

I had another son with the same man, the one who took me to enough restaurants to keep my container impressed, and this boy was more insistent. He was almost downright rude with his demands from me.

He really encouraged me to pick up my pieces and put myself together. He would accept nothing less!

So I walked away from the man who lied and grew a little less lost while I played with my sons. 

I met a kind man, and for a time I struggled to be completely found with him too. But when I was pregnant again I pushed him away. He called me beautiful, smart, and sexy. I didn’t think I could keep that up. 

But for my third son I became more myself. More creative, silly, and snuggly.  

I could feel myself grow less lost, almost entirely aware of my path and my surroundings. The consistent sounds and sticky sweat from my jungle of guilt and fear quieted, chirping less obnoxiously in my head and heart. The path I was walking with my sons felt like my choice. I could intuitively sense something exciting and new calling me in a direction, and I began to trust myself to know it when it appeared. 

Then my mom’s car broke down. This kind, older, ridiculously different than me mechanic came to the rescue. 

At first, he didn’t see me. I tried to be noticed by flaunting my body and lips. I used the only tricks I knew, glossy and flirty. Hips swinging and bodies brushing and lips inviting, but he was avoiding and uninterested. From my place inside where I was almost found I began to consider retreating deeper into the jungle of lost, where I felt familiar. 

But instead I spoke about my sons who were visiting my sister. I put away my flirty tricks and let me talk about my boys. Something about this quiet hard working mechanic seemed to allow it. 

He was not kinder, smarter, or richer than other men. He was there, and he was good, and I was ready to be found.

Talking about my boys drew me out of hiding. My boys had me dancing and showing off
right at the surface of myself.

And that’s when the mechanic found me. He found the beautiful mom, the creative soul, the loving sister, the delighted daughter, the tentative friend, the dancing queen, the flirty girl and more.

He didn’t look at the container I was hiding in, my body and face and hair, not at first anyway. He looked at me.

And I was found. 

Had my sons not needed me I may have stayed too deeply lost for him to see. Had I not needed to find me for my sons, I may have wanted to stay lost. 

But my sons found me. 

And because of them, the mechanic found me. 

Together, the mechanic and me, we had one more son. 

A young man who will grow up having always known me. 

The mechanic and I have been happily married now for eighteen years. We’ve lived in separate homes close together, separate homes far apart, crowded in one home together, and always we’ve worked as a team. 

Over the years I’ve easily trusted him, learned from him, and we’ve lived together as equals. 

When he found me, I found him. A man to help me guide our sons out of their own jungle.

A man who will example and help them to know themselves.

The men who found me were my reason to be found. My reason to find me. And now that I know who I am, now that I’ve grown confident and comfortable with all of the pieces of me as they fit together, I know I will never be lost again.

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Short Bio: Tsara Shelton is a writer of musings, a sipper of coffee, and an addict of anything story. Having learned life exploring the edges of society she finds her footing in the world through storytelling—as a mom, wife, daughter and citizen. She blogs regularly at Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton and is the author of Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up.

Twitter: @TsaraShelton