Friday, September 2, 2011

Chapter 3: Stay Zipped Up (and Other Lessons)

There are many parents of children with Asperger's who fear that their child might not be able to manage him or herself when left alone in the world. I'm here to tell you that those fears... are entirely well founded.

The other day, I was heading over to NC State (wolfpack!) to attend my Calculus III class. I had taken the two previous Calculi last year, but my high school does not offer any higher levels of math, so I enrolled at State to continue my mathematical education. In order to get to State, I walk up the street and take a Triangle Transit bus up to the outer edge of State, then board the Wolfline bus (route 7). This particular day I was getting dinner at the Brickyard, and so I wanted to get off at the Brickyard stop. All of this I knew and had visualized in my head. It should have been very straightforward.

Which, invariably, meant it wasn't.

I waited for about twenty minutes at the Triangle Transit stop for the bus to come. And waited. And waited. While I waited I listened to the first movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and thought about the homework I would have to do for creative writing class later. Then the bus appeared over the horizon... zoomed toward me... passed me... zoomed away... I stood dumbfounded for a few moments as I tried to figure out what had just happened. Then I called my Mom, who drove me up the the Wolfline stop. Okay, so a small detour. At least it wasn't my fault.

So I was standing on the corner where the bus was supposed to come and, conveniently, the Wolfline did come. A little early, too. I got on and showed the driver my pass, noting that it was a different driver than before. Oh well. I sat down on the bus, which was much more packed than normal, and put my headphones back in. I tried for a while to do my creative writing homework, but the bus was too bumpy.

At some point I looked up and realized that I had no idea where I was. Well, not quite... I recognized the landmarks and stuff, I just had no idea why I was passing them and where I was headed. I regret to admit that I started thinking mean thoughts about the bus driver, who didn't seem to be following the route. At some point I looked at my map and decided that things could only get worse if I stayed on the bus, so I got off. As I watched the bus drive away, I noticed that it was route 2, not route 7.


So I walked (with orientational aid from my parents over the phone) up to the Brickyard. By chance, the route 7 bus happened to pass me while I just happened to be standing at a bus stop. I got on. Same driver as usual. Same number of passengers as usual. Though no one on the bus knew of my stupidity, I still sat down awkwardly and tried not to make eye contact with anyone. I got off at the next stop at the Brickyard.

I walked over to the food court, grabbed some Chick-fil-A, and went up to the checkout line. When I walked up to the cashier, another employee walked up to me, pointed at my box which contained a char-grilled chicken sandwich, and said, "Do you know what that is?" Inwardly, I was indignant. Sure, I don't know which bus to get on, but I know my Chick-fil-A. I said, "Yes." She laughed and says, "No, not you." She was talking to the cashier, who was new on the job. I laughed with her, though I realized that everything about the scenario indicated that she wasn't talking to me. The fact that she was looking at the cashier, for starters. My self-esteem did not improved.

So I got my meal and I walked over to a table - just my lonely self - and began to eat my sandwich when I briefly glanced down. I noticed that my fly is down. (And it's one! - two! - three strikes you're out...)

I backtracked. When was the last time I went to the bathroom today? Just before the Drama club meeting. In which I addressed a room of thirty people on how to join Thespian society. Apparently with my fly down. I stood on a street corner listening to Beethoven for 20 minutes with my fly down. I rode both the wrong bus AND the right bus with my fly down.

I looked to either side, then discreetly pulled my zipper up and kept eating.

In the end, everything turned out fine. I finished my dinner and got to class on time, learned a few new things, and then went home.

I imagine any of these scenarios I went through could happen to anyone; but these situations can be much more common for someone with Asperger's. Us Aspies often don't like to admit that we end up in some pretty embarrassing situations - we like to focus on the aspects of Asperger's that make us look intelligent. But it's when we least expect it that we miss a bus, or find ourselves in an awkward social situation, or simply realize that we've had our fly down the entire day. I think it is important that people with Asperger's, when in unfamiliar situations, should try and be as aware of their surroundings as possible. It's fun to get lost in thought, and find a refuge deep inside our heads, but it's better to do that on our own time.

And I probably would have been in much more trouble if I didn't have my parents to help me when things went horribly wrong. It's important for parents to be accessible, though not embarrassingly accessible. If my Mom insisted on driving me there so that this never happened again, I'd tell her "no" and not discuss it anymore. I have to keep my dignity somehow.

Hopefully I've learned my lesson. Just yesterday I went to class again, and everything went smoothly that time. Only time will tell if I can remember to check for the right bus, what social cues to watch for, and most importantly, to keep zipped up.


  1. Sounds like a day I had recently except I did not have a zipper to worry about.

  2. I had a dy almost exactly as described except high school morning bus and thru the day I knew people were acting strange and rather confusing and it wasn't until I was on the bus on the way home that a girl on my bus handed me a note I did not expect the message at all in purple ink were the words You have need to zip your pants since u got on the bus this morning good thing ur underwear matched ur pants I zipped my pants noticed that my underwear matched my pants and then had the strangest thought if the colors matched why did they notice? A few moments later i was at my house and then wondered why would people let u go through the whole day completely unaware?