There are forty-five minutes before my get together with my some of my autistic friends. I have driven my partner to a company on the outskirts of town to pick a cheque up before dropping her off in the centre. I planned to park the car at home before cycling back into town but suddenly that feels too rushed. I think I will park the car and find something to do. Maybe I’ll buy a coffee. I don’t usually buy coffee because of the price and I don’t usually hang around town. I feel like I am looking after myself a bit, not rushing around late plus giving myself permission to do something that feels a bit extravagant. I decide to drive a block further than my usual cut price parking spot and to my surprise there is a free spot on the side of the road. “That was easy!”, I think that somehow this easiness backs up my decision.
Walking through the park observing what is going on around me, I see a good friend of mine walking towards me. Her focus is internal I think because she obviously hasn’t seen me, or I guess she could be ignoring me but I believe it is the former. Do I walk on past? I have time to stop though. I decide to wave extravagantly (well any sort of waving feels rather exposing) as she gets closer. Her focus snaps on me and we chat for a bit though my memories are of talking about her upcoming holiday and her avoidance of work.
Half an hour to go so I think there is still time for a coffee. But as I approached the café where I would normally go with a friend or family, I change my mind. I feel like further treating myself to a pastry from a more expensive supermarket but also a better quality of pastry. It the nearest we get to a patisserie here. I reason I can get coffee at the venue where we are meeting though a part of my mind cries out, “you know it wont be good coffee”. I push the drink appreciator back and allow the food one to the foreground. The pastries look tempting which I take as a good sign. Being the indecisive person I am, my eyes land on the almond and hazelnut croissant and a red fruits and custard tart. Which one? Perhaps I could buy both? I look at the prices. The combined total is about the price of a coffee. Both it is then.
Walking along the high street to my rendez-vous my focus is now on getting there. An internal urgency is taking over the external surveillance. I am not looking at the people around me now, perhaps there are too many of them? Something disturbs my attention but it is only a graze so I continue walking. There it is again, a voice perhaps? I couldn’t tell you what it was but I stop and look around. Someone is saying “hello” behind me. It’s another friend I haven’t seen in years it feels. She’s the kind of friend that is always very interested in what I am doing and provides clear thoughtful replies. I feel safe talking to her. We are always open and honest I think. I know it will probably make me late, but I also know that I cannot ignore this chance meeting and accept that I will need to offer an explanation to the group.
Greetings out the way, I point out our glasses match and that she is wearing a lot of blue today down to some stud ear-rings she has in. Looking back I think that might be classed as an “autistic comment” i.e. one that a NT wouldn’t make. She wants to know what is going on my life. I catch her up on the children and then I tell her about my diagnosis. She pauses and somehow I know she is weighing her impression of me, nodding, her eyes focussed somewhere else. She is curious as to where on the spectrum I am, then she wants to know what difference the diagnosis has had on me. In her past she has worked with children from the other end of the spectrum adding that she often cried when walking home afterwards. I am not sure whether the tears are for the children or herself but I let the question pass, not brave enough to enquire perhaps. I talk about my missing the emotional component in interactions, my recent bad decision at work still clinging to my consciousness. We discuss this for a bit. The pros and cons of focus. The contains that society places on people and how things are perhaps changing.
She asks what the time is and I glance at my mobile. It is ten minutes past my appointment slot. Time to leave but I have difficulty stopping the conversation because I feel the need to externalise my thoughts. It would seem the difficulty in stopping to chat is mutual but eventually we manage it both expressing out appreciation of each other.
I am now jogging and walking intermittently towards my meeting. On my way I rehearse in my mind what I am going to say but I get stuck on the “I’m sorry” bit. I don’t feel sorry. It is a convention of society and I am curious to know how my compatriots feel about saying sorry too. The door is locked so I ring the bell. I am let in by one of the support workers there who offers to make me a drink. I ask for coffee and remember the pastries clutched in hand. She asks what I take in it as I climb the spiral staircase. “Just milk”. “No sugar?”, she says. “No sugar”, I echo back. A few minutes later she turns up with tea having been distracted by an empty mug with a tea-bag in it by the kettle. She wondered if somebody in the group had done it for me, but I point out I asked for coffee. She laughs and says she will drink it and returns shortly with my coffee.
I tell my group about meeting the second friend and deciding that that was an opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. I ask if they feel upset that I put them second and was late. Not one person minded, they all understood the situation. One even said that they expect to be lower down the pecking order anyway and that if anything they felt guilty that I felt the need to run at other times too. Nobody cared about me saying sorry either. They didn’t see the point. It is an accepted part of life for them. An accepted part of life for us, I suppose. Being late happens.
I feel lucky to have found this group and to be part of it.