How’s this for an eventful couple of years: I discovered that I was autistic. I lost much of the hearing in my right ear for reasons unknown. I turned 40.
And now—let’s go ahead and rip this excruciating band-aid off—my marriage of ten years has ended.
(This is not going to be a post about what lead to this, nor will it be about the ongoing cascade of pain, depression, and fear I’ve experienced, as I’m just not ready for that, so adjust your expectations accordingly.)
The cliche about turning 40 is that I am now “over the hill,” and if so, the timing for that could not be worse. Over the course of two years I have made the most profound self-discoveries of my life, having the nature of my brain, personality, quirks, aversions, talents, and handicaps revealed to me as products of Asperger’s syndrome. In the midst of this, I was given opportunities to put my talents into practice in new ways; directing plays, doing a residency at a writers’ refuge, hosting a podcast with an actual audience, writing for an excellent technology website, and soon, the publication of my work in a journal near and dear to my heart. Of course I’ve also been learning to deal with my hearing loss.
The end of my marriage, obviously, is quite something else. It is utterly disorienting. It gives me the feeling of being uncontrollably adrift, like an astronaut on a space walk whose tether has been severed. This is particularly so considering that Maine is not my home turf. We came to live here to be near my wife’s family. While they have gone out of their way to make certain that I feel that I am still and will always be a part of that family, it remains that I have no circle of friends here of my own. Almost all of my acquaintances are second-degree connections from the marriage. Because of the love of these wonderful in-laws (former in-laws?), I am not actually alone. But because I have no social or familial foundation of my own, in some important ways, I am indeed alone.
I keep thinking of the song “Busted Heart” by the band Bishop Allen, which says:
To the shipwreck shores
Of a dark and strange country
I was born
A stranger thinking out loud
In a foreign tongue
I was out of place
I was looking all around
Just a trying to find a friendly face
But they’re all gone
This reminds me of how I feel in any new environment, really, but seems particularly apt for suddenly finding myself spouse-less in Maine.
What a thought. At the dawn of my fifth decade, I am forced to reset. I begin 40 without nearby close friends, without nearby relations, and without a significant other. (In fact, I haven’t been “single” for more than 16 years.) I begin 40 with a new debilitation, my hearing loss, and with a still-new and bewildering understanding of why I am as weird as I am, my autism.
In one positive sense, it’s a refreshing chance to “start over,” and begin a fresh, new life with a deeper understanding of who I am, what I’m capable of, and what I’m not. But it’s not really starting over, because the time has still passed. I don’t get to start from 18 again. I still have to go from 40.
And so it must be. When I was diagnosed as autistic, part of me mourned for the years I had lost in which I had no idea why I was the way I was, why I couldn’t meet others’ expectations of normalcy, why I couldn’t bring myself to share others’ priorities or interests, and why I felt like a member of some different species.
The second verse of “Busted Heart” reminds me of what it’s like to be weird like me, to have Asperger’s:
And wisdom is a whisper
And I’m trying to understand
What I say, what I think,
Where I sleep, when I breathe
What I do with my hands
So perhaps I am now in a dark and strange country, but maybe it means I have the chance to re-enter that country with this greater understanding, but instead of laboring to apologize and make up for my oddness, I can embrace it, and advocate for my right to be the way I am. More than that, maybe I can “be like what I’m like,” and consider my differences to be positive, distinguishing qualities.
No, really. Maybe. The song is called “Busted Heart,” which is a sad thought. But read the lyrics of the chorus:
And a busted heart
Is a welcome friend
And when that heart leaves
What will you do then?
Really, my heart was busted long before my marriage, long before I grew up. In a way, I was born with a busted heart. But you know what? A busted heart is a welcome friend. Not to me, but to others. I’m a little broken, and I think out loud in a foreign tongue, but because of that, not in spite of it, I might be worth having around…to someone.
I’m 40. I’m over the hill. Over that hill is a dark and strange country. But maybe the people there will be cool.