But as she was already cocooned within herself by then, it was something of a one-sided goodbye. So I thought about a lot of things, things I hadn’t thought about in a long time, like the letters I used to write to my grandma when I first started university, letters I filled with funny stories and anecdotes that I embellished for her amusement.
And I remembered how I couldn’t articulate the anxiety and fear that filled me as I tried to carve my tiny little life into a world that felt far too big for me.
But I remembered finding comfort in those letters, because I wrote them with my grandma in mind. But as the world got more and more overwhelming and my ability to negotiate it got worse, not better, I stopped writing those letters. I just didn’t think I had the life that Grandma would want to read about.
Grandma did not know I was gay, and about six months before she died, out of nowhere, she asked me if I had a boyfriend.
Now, I remember making a conscious decision in that moment not to come out to my grandmother. And I did that because I knew her life was drawing to an end, and my time with her was finite, and I did not want to talk about the ways we were different. I wanted to talk about the ways where we connected. So I changed the subject.
And at the time, it felt like the right decision. But as I sat witness to my grandmother’s life as it tapered to its inevitable end, I couldn’t help but feel I’d made a mistake not to share such a significant part of my life.
But I also knew that I’d missed my opportunity, and as Grandma always used to say, “Ah, well, it’s all part of the soup. Too late to take the onions out now.”
And I thought about that, and I thought about how I had to deal with too many onions as a kid, growing up gay in a state where homosexuality was illegal. And with that thought, I could see how tightly wrapped in the tendrils of my own internalized shame I was.
And with that, I thought about all my traumas: the violence, the abuse, my rape. And with all that cluster of thinking, a thought, a question, kept popping into my mind to which I had no answer: What is the purpose of my human?
Out of anyone in my family, I felt the most akin to my grandmother. I mean, we share the most traits in common. Not so much these days. Death really changes people.
But that is my grandmother’s sense of humor. But the person I felt most akin to in the world was a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, a great-great-grandmother. Me? I represented the very end of my branch of the family tree. And I wasn’t entirely sure I was still connected to the trunk.
What was the purpose of my human?
The year after my grandmother’s death was the most intensely creative of my life. And I suppose that’s because, at an end, my thoughts gather more than they scatter. My thought process is not linear. I’m a visual thinker. I see my thoughts. I don’t have a photographic memory, and nor is my head a static gallery of sensibly collected think pieces.
It’s more that I’ve got this ever-evolving language of hieroglyphics that I’ve developed and can understand fluently and think deeply with but I struggle to translate. I can’t paint, draw, sculpt, or even haberdash, and as for the written word, I’m OK at it but it’s a tortuous process of translation, and I don’t feel it does the job.
And as far as speaking my own mind, like I said, I’m not great at it. Speech has always felt like an inadequate freeze-frame for the life inside of me. All this to say, I’ve always understood far more than I’ve ever been able to communicate.
Now, about a year before Grandma died, I was formally diagnosed with autism. Now for me, that was mostly good news. I always thought that I couldn’t sort my life out like a normal person because I was depressed and anxious.
But it turns out I was depressed and anxious because I couldn’t sort my life out like a normal person, because I was not a normal person, and I didn’t know it.
Now, this is not to say I still don’t struggle. Every day is a bit of a struggle, to be honest. But at least now I know what my struggle is, and getting to the starting line of normal is not it. My struggle is not to escape the storm. My struggle is to find the eye of the storm as best I can.
Now, apart from the usual way us spectrum types find our calm — repetitive behaviors, routine and obsessive thinking — I have another surprising doorway into the eye of the storm: stand-up comedy.
And if you need any more proof I’m neurodivergent, yes, I am calm doing a thing that scares the hell out of most people. I’m almost dead inside up here.
Diagnosis gave me a framework on which to hang bits of me I could never understand. My misfit suddenly had a fit, and for a while, I got giddy with a newfound confidence I had in my thinking.
But after Grandma died, that confidence took a dive, because thinking is how I grieve. And in that grief of thought, I could suddenly see with so much clarity just how profoundly isolated I was and always had been.