Once, long before I knew I belonged on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, someone touched me. It was nothing big, at least not on the surface. I’m not touch-averse; in fact, I love a spontaneous gentle touch from someone I really like. She tousled my hair, in passing, as she walked by.
I squirmed. I repositioned myself. I was self-conscious at the mere attention, but inwardly, I was gleeful. (I knew that since this occurred in a room full of other people, it would not have been socially appropriate to fully express the joy I felt.)
Sensing my response and mistaking it for discomfort, she pulled back a little quickly, and it dawned on me that she thought I wasn’t the touchy-feely type, that I don’t like to be touched, or that my personal space was otherwise heavily guarded (it can be, but not with her). I can be affectionate with people I like and feel “safe” with; gender and age do not matter.
My pulling away was not a rejection of her touch. In fact, her touch made me utterly glow inside. I honestly can’t pinpoint exactly why I pulled away. I think I did so because I was so surprised. Surprised that anyone would touch me. Touch me so lightly, nonchalantly. So safely.
Given the presence of many others in the room, the touching moment didn’t linger. It was in passing only. But it sent me an important and powerful message: she cared. Out of everyone she could have chosen to touch, she picked me. That’s what surprised me: that she noticed me in the first place, and that she cared enough to make the gesture.
Why would she make the effort? What did she sense? Could she read my mind? If she could have, she would have known that I was in desperate need of being touched, shown affection, my existence validated kindly by another human being.
I deeply regret that my response wasn’t the right one. How I responded was not how I meant to respond. I meant to jump up and down for joy.
I can never tell her this, however, because she has since passed away.
I still look up to her. I still love her. I still try to emulate her sometimes. I still look fondly back on her memory, my interaction with her, my contact with her, being in her presence.
I hope that in whichever dimension her soul now resides, that she now knows how I really felt that day. I hope she understands everything now. (I hope I do, too.)
I hope she forgives me.
Maybe someday, in another world or another life, we’ll meet again.
And this time, I won’t pull away.