Today, I something pretty huge happened. You see, I’m traveling in Europe and attending a conference. At the conference, another attendee offered to take a group of people on a walking tour of this city (they know the city well) the day after the conference – just “come up to me after the session and we can exchange contact information” if you want to go.
I started shaking. I really wanted to go – it sounds like a really fun way of seeing the city, and doing it with someone who actually knows the city is even more exciting. It’ll give me a chance to see things and talk to some of the attendees at the conference who, no doubt, are interested in many of the same things I am interested in. And it’s hard to meet up with people.
But I was shaking.
Would I recognize this person in 10 minutes? Almost certainly, no.
Would I be able to go up to them and tell them I’m interested? Again, no way.
But I really wanted to.
Yet I was terrified.
When you’re an autistic kid, particularly if you don’t fit into the clique of other boys at all, life is pretty horrifying – and that leaves scars. It leaves a scar that makes it hard to go up to people and say, “Yes, I WANT SOMETHING!” You learn that your interests are wrong, that you aren’t cool enough to hang around with other people, and, if by some miracle they let you come along, that’s only because they plan on doing something awful to you away from the prying eyes of an adult. Maybe they’ll steal your money. Or hit you with something. Or violate your body. Or hide, waiting for you to show up and find nobody there, while they laugh at the dumb boy. Or leave you somewhere. Or tell you that they are doing something illegal – and convince you to join in it, only to find out it’s a setup for which you take the blame because the “good kids” turn you in. But whatever happens isn’t going to be that something you want.
But I’m nearly 40. These things won’t happen. The people making this offer want people like me to come, or they wouldn’t have offered. I know all of this.
But I’m shaking. I’m terrified.
And I’m not going to recognize this person after the session anyhow. I can’t just go around to 300 attendees and say “Hey, are you the person that talked about X?” And I certainly can’t ask anyone to point them out to me – then I have to overcome this twice.
It makes you want to cry. Why can’t I have the smallest amount of confidence?
Because I’m terrified. It’s not logical, it’s deep in the heart.
This time, the person making the offer was distinctive enough looking that somehow I was able to find them – they look (to me) just like their partner (same gender, same age, same basic body type, same hair color), so I have a 50/50 shot. And I risked it.
I was shaking.
What kept coming to me was a quote, from a different context, about activism: “Speak your mind–even when your voice shakes.”
I can do that when someone else needs me to. Mess with my family and you’ll find that out – there is nobody I can’t go up to and set straight when they’ve wronged someone I love. Or when someone I love just would be happy if I did.
But asking for something about me–that’s different. That’s hard. And it’s not something I need, I’m not advocating for rights. I am just saying, “Yes, Joel wants something.” But isn’t this, too, advocacy? Aren’t I a person worthy of happiness and joy, and needing someone to speak?
I was terrified.
Somehow, when I found that person. And I gently tried–and failed to get their attention. I wasn’t positive of their name, so I didn’t want to use the name, but I couldn’t get their attention either.
I was shaking.
I just about gave up.
Someone else saw me and said to the person I was trying to talk to, “Hey, someone’s trying to get your attention!”
More shaking. More terror.
But I did it. I spoke, with my shaking voice. “Are you the person organizing the walking tour?”
“Yes, are you wanting to go?”
But I somehow found the voice to say yes.
Tomorrow, when I meet up for the tour, will be another bit of stress and terror. I have to find someone tomorrow, in a building I’ve never been to before (another thing that terrifies me). I’m terrified.
But I’m also excited. And proud. And happy. Filled with anticipation of doing something I want to do. Because I want to do it. Not for someone else. Not pretending I am not interested, lest I be humiliated by finding out I wasn’t really allowed to do this. No, it’s wonderful!
So, tomorrow, that’s what I’m doing.
And I’m terrified.
But the shaking is just as much excitement as it is terror. And probably the cold temperature in this room.