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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 2/16/07

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Drowning In A Sea Of Asperger’s (Part 2)

No secret reservoir of patience, no magic fountain of flexibility, just steadfast acceptance, until the police appeared on the scene. After his lies were submitted to official channels, trust was eradicated. A marriage cannot exist without trust.

I hired a lawyer − for not only had he accused me of being abusive, he planned to have me removed from the home. He also sought sole custody of the children and planned to garnish my wages to pay the mortgage.

“You need to hire a lawyer,” a friend advised. A court stenographer, my friend knew the score. “Legal battles are not about truth. He’ll make a good impression on the judge. You need a lawyer.”

Twenty thousand dollars later I was free, free of his mood swings, free of his lashing out, free of his black aura, divorced according to both Jewish and American law. Free.

Ronald accused me of turning the children against him. “Brainwashing,” he called it. No, I did not have to talk them into anything. He did it all by himself.

“You think I listen to mommy,” our 23-year-old son taunted, “that mommy tells me who to like and who not to like? I hate you because you are a despicable father.”

“Why didn’t you get us a nice father?” our daughter reduced her mother to tears. So many tearssalt on the tip of my tongue; Alice in Wonderland drowning in a sea of misery, drowning in a sea of Asperger’s. And if you labeled it, if you gave it a name, did that provide structure, a measure of control?

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?

If a person is grossly obese but nobody tells her to lose weight, is she fat?

If someone is married to a person who has Asperger’s Syndrome, but her spouse has never been officially diagnosed, is her marriage tainted by mental illness?

“I am guilty of enabling,” I confessed to my peers. “Failing to take a stand made him think his behavior was appropriate.” Would my life have been different had I taken a stand? No, he was incapable of change. The marriage would simply have dissolved sooner.

Autism, derived from the word auto, means self, my self-centered husband, a product of self imposed isolation. Ronald never matured beyond Piaget’s preoperational stage, where the small child views the world in terms of himself. My husband never did progress beyond the “me” stage. When events didn’t transpire as he envisioned, he erupted. Then, after demolishing his environment, he switched gears and changed moods.

Like a pendulum, my husband swung from anger to neutrality, back and forth, high and low, angry and calm, never happy − manic-depressive minus the euphoria.

An acquaintance, mother of a bipolar child, elucidated what it meant to be manic. “Mania is not a synonym for joy,” she explained. “It just means energy, and that energy could be negative.” Manic depressive, Ronald exhibited bouts of energetic rage interspersed with listless depression. The past couple of months had been spent sitting on the couch, staring into space.

During the early years of our marriage, he’d spend his Sundays doing home repairs, long tapered fingers caulking windows, installing light fixtures; a truly eclectic handyman. When had his productiveness stopped? When had he adopted a couch potato persona, sitting endlessly, accomplishing nothing?

I spent my days searching for a manual on “How to Repair a Marriage,” like an archeologist digging for clues, a scientist deciphering facts. One nondescript day, while wandering the aisles of Barnes & Noble, a hidden force lured me to the special education section. My hand reached for a book on Asperger’s Syndrome. Were the knots in my life about to be untangled? Was the mystery of my marriage’s failure about to unravel? Thumbing through the non-fiction manual, I wondered why a woman skilled in communication had failed to communicate with her husband.

I ran home to explore further. Online I discovered that though my husband did not manifest the physical characteristics of the syndrome, he did possess many of its social characteristics − more than 50 percent, or 24 out of the 35 listed behaviors.

His symptoms included difficulty accepting criticism, excessive paranoia, and an inability to read between the lines or decipher body language. He was serious all the time, a scowl permanently etched on his forehead. Yet another symptom of Asperger’s was an inability to relax. His difficulty forming friendships combined with an intense concern for privacy. Asperger’s had incarcerated Ronald in a cloak of isolation. As I explored Asperger’s further, I realized that his strange behaviors were largely the result of an unrelenting and uncompromising illness, and not a deliberate attempt to sabotage tranquility. How ironic that a man determined to control his environment had been under the domination of Asperger’s all along.

Unearthing the mystery after the marriage’s demise was like discovering that you had been tormenting an ill person, cursing a deaf person, sticking your tongue out at a blind person. Would I have behaved differently had I known?

I would have needed someone to explain things to me. He would have had to concede, to admit defeat, to relinquish control. His disability was his inability to recognize his illness. I had attempted to play a game without rules but could not navigate the board. Was it fair? Was life fair?

Real life rarely comes with specific instructions. Episodes merge into one another until you are suddenly floundering. No instant solutions. Kafka’s Trial features bureaucracy gone awry, characters wallowing in reams of red tape. And isn’t that how the story began, with a sheaf of papers delivered by the neighborhood police? And then the sheaf of papers developed into thick files, shuffled by incompetent lawyers, expanding into scores of hearings, attended by many − where nobody listens.

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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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