The Love of the Loveless (Chapter 6) (8)
Down the hill, along the prom, onto the pier - eyes ahead like I was in a tunnel. I made my way up through the cabins, where a few stragglers were still mooching around, eating ice creams, watching the start of the sunset. I went past the last of the cabins, the carousel and helter-skelter, to the very end, where I leaned against the railings. For a moment, I thought I was going to be sick. My heart was thumping so hard I thought my head would explode.
I tried to still myself by taking breaths. I hadn't had a meltdown for a long time. Too much stuff piling in at once. It was hard to explain to people - just like so much else about the condition. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on it. Just like everyone had arseholes. Karen knew nothing, it was clear, and didn't seem to want to know. Or was it just because it was me? Was it that she felt embarrassed about this 'thing' in the family? This blot on the escutcheon? This dodgy kink in the genes. Genes that she shared - though, of course, without the kink?
It was quite secluded at the back of the pier, and there was no one around me. I took the can out of my rucksack and popped the tab. The first mouthful was like a bucket of water dousing a fire. My heart slowed. My head stopped throbbing. The tide was on its way in and was just starting to lap at the columns of the pier beneath me. I could hear pigeons cooing under the boards, in the beams, where they nested. Half a mile out, the pier head seemed to drift on the sun-glowing water like an old wrecked ship. I'd often thought if I had a little rowboat that I'd go out there sometime and spend a few hours - away from everything and everyone. No phone. No internet. No one knowing I was there. Unreachable.
There were always debates going on on Spectrum Central about 'neurotypicals', and how they didn't understand us; how they thought we were bluffers, or feebs, or just oversensitive snowflakes. Lots of people had put up with shit in their lives because of it. Trying to get adjustments made at work - which they had a legal right to ask for. Often, though, it would get ignored. People would struggle in relationships - as I had, with Lucy. The whole thing seemed so puzzling sometimes - even to people who had it. Perhaps it was little wonder that it wasn't understood. I didn't like the 'them and us' thing it seemed to create with a lot of people. All the same, I could see why it was there. Blacks and whites. Gays and straights. Autistics and everyone else. I didn't know how we were ever going to get to a proper understanding. Maybe we never would.
I thought about Karen's words again, slowly processing them. She was right. There was no maybe about it. It didn't bother me too much that I didn't have friends. Not friends like she and Rod had, anyway. Always active. Going to each other's places for parties, barbecues, dinners. I couldn't imagine anything I'd rather do less. I liked being alone. It was my natural state. That was why, since the divorce, I'd remained that way. She was right, too, about when I was a child. She was out with friends all the time. Michael was, too. Always had friends. Always had places to go and things to do. One of the reasons Michael joined the Regulars was for the camaraderie. Their lives revolved around other people. With me, though, it was never the case.
I often used to think about it. When it had started. When I'd first felt that thing of just wanting to be by myself. It had seemed so natural to me. And yet... there was that other side that made me wonder. There were other kids in the street that I knew, and we'd played together - because it was what kids did. I joined in with their games. We played 'He', or kicked a ball around. I'd thought of them, I suppose, as friends. At least, they were the only people I knew outside of family. They were my age. It was natural that we were together, playing. Most of them had been Irish kids, and although I'd never thought about it that way at the time, perhaps they just naturally had more in common with one another. Their families all knew one another. They spoke differently.
School was where the big challenge came, though. And of course, they all went to the Catholic school, and I went to the Church of England one. And I didn't know a single person there. I would never forget those first days in class, sitting at a table with five or six others... and having the first of those experiences that I'd had ever since. The feeling that I wasn't a part of them, somehow. That they were together, and I was just looking on from the sidelines. It almost felt like there was this invisible screen up between us. I could see them and hear them, but not touch them. Not join them. They all just seemed to know things, too, without being told. It was the same in the playground. They'd all go off in their little groups together. Some of the boys would start a game of football, and I'd try to join in. But I didn't seem to know what to do with the ball when it came my way. I know I got shouted at a lot, and laughed at a lot, and pushed a lot.
And then came that fateful day. The one where it really all started. When I knew for sure that I was different. That I wasn't like everyone else. I was there... but apart.
Like that pier head out there, which had once been attached to the land and now wasn't. There it was - alone and abandoned, with no effort ever having been made to re-attach it. And somehow, that seemed right. It was meant to be out there, as it was. Something to be seen, but not reached. Something to occupy its own space, undisturbed. Serving no purpose, except being itself.
Which was purpose enough, surely. I thought so.
I finished the can, feeling properly relaxed for the first time that day. The sun was almost down now, and the sea was liquid amber. Down on the beach, people were standing - tiny black shapes - holding up their phones to capture it. As if they could. As if that photo would show it as it was. And I saw it as it was. A slow, silent miracle. That vast orange fire out there, being absorbed into the sea, its flames going out, the darkness coming.