We met in 2003.
My son was turning 11 at the time.
It was a time in my life when I was looking for something “different” for myself and for my son. Instead of having the typical laser tag party or Chucky Cheese event, I opted to take my son and his best friend, Julia, who was also celebrating her 11th birthday, for an adventure. I booked a weekend in a lighthouse which was also a bed and breakfast.
No TV’s, no computers, no phones, no electronics—a weekend to be outdoors and explore nature.
There, I fell in love. He was the Inn keeper.
A quirky, brilliant, interesting man whose room was filled with books, milk crates to store his few pieces of clothing and his few pieces of furniture—which he made by using recycled wood. I found him fascinating and “different.”
He owned little but I saw someone who had a big life.
As I was getting ready to depart, he put his foot on the door and giggled and said, “I don’t want you to leave.” We dated long distance and married a year and a half later at the lighthouse on a perfect summer day. Truly the most magical and beautiful day.
Shortly after he moved into my world in Long Island, I started to notice that his “quirkiness” was much more. My sweet and wonderful husband had Asperger’s Syndrome.
A form of Autism that is considered higher functioning. The text book description: a developmental disorder characterized by severely impaired social skills, repetitive behaviors and often, a narrow set of interests, but not involving delayed development of linguistic and cognitive abilities.
He in fact, was brilliant. His memory was extraordinary, having the ability to repeat verbatim information on a variety of topics. His interest were concrete and research based. He had no interest in anything that could not be proven or scientific in nature.
Sports were a source of incomprehensible waste—complete and utter waste of time. Sitting and watching television was completely alien to him—he had not owned a TV in over two decades, preferring public radio.
My husband was never diagnosed with Asperger’s.
He grew up on a farm in the Mid-West in the late 1950s where there was no understanding or knowledge of such a thing.
His inability to sustain eye contact was seen as disrespectful and insolent. When he was not able to relate to the other children in kindergarten, his parents were told he was just not ready and to try again the following year.
He was creative, smart, gentle, loving but was often isolated and considered odd by his peers. He dropped out of High School because he found it boring, redundant and not practical enough. He found working with cows, gardening and astrology profoundly interesting and immersed himself in these studies.
The lighthouse was the perfect home for him, it was isolated except for when guest were there and then, he was enthralled to speak about the history of the lighthouse and of the surrounding area to an attentive audience who would not interrupt him to his delight (something I did constantly because I wanted a conversation not just to be talked at).
He truly enjoyed cooking and entertaining people. He was quick to laugh and enjoyed speaking of his interests. When his social quota had reached it’s capacity, he spent his time in his room researching whatever topic he found interesting at the time or reading.
We eventually came up with a system when I needed to interrupt or ask him a question. When he spoke to me, I would raise my hand as an indicator that I needed to interject. This would eventually become frustrating for me, as conversation did not flow naturally.
My husband moved into my busy and sometimes frenetic world which included a 13 year old teenage boy. His world collided with mine.
He was rigid, inflexible, and obsessive, and “impeccable with his word” ( if I said “we are doing such and such at 10 a.m., we’d better being doing such and such at 10 a.m.) which at times is a wonderful trait but not when it is so rigid that there is no room for error. Never one to deviate from a plan, any changes in a plan propelled him into a whirlwind of stress and anxiety, as well as everyone in our household.
His sweet demeanor became one of anxiety, anger and unhappiness. We both struggled as we both yearned to be understood.
He would say things like, “I don’t understand the world, but worse, the world does not understand me.”
It became an enormous struggle. I did not know how to get through to him and I was ignorant in the ways of coping with his disability and his struggle outside of the Lighthouse.
No matter how much I loved him I could not seem to find a way to deal with it or how to make it work in our marriage. It was one thing to do it in my work, but it was another story in my marriage. It left me feeling sadly defeated and him angry because I simply could not live in his world and mine was an overwhelming confusion to him.
We loved each other desperately.
Through many tears and arguments, as we both struggled to be heard and understood, our marriage slowly disintegrated.
It has probably been one of my greatest sorrows, and I do believe, for him as well.
I know, even years later that my union with him was a blessing and probably one of the greatest learning curves of my life.
No time nor love wasted. He taught me greater compassion, greater patience,and how to best advocate for the children I worked with as a School Social Worker.
He taught me about gardening, composting, herbs, canning and storing food. He taught me about frugality and how to be conscientious with money. A simple walk in the country was an education as he patiently told me what certain plants were good for.
He taught me how to give love, how to receive it and how to hold it in my heart.
He taught me that to have a full rich life one did not need to have a closet full of stuff. He taught me how less is more, but most importantly he taught me about a love that goes beyond understanding and sometimes beyond reason.
There is No App for Happiness: An Interview with Max Strom. ~ Kelly Prentice
Author: Maria Arroyo Fazio
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of L. Scarnato-Hyman
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