Sometimes I get so full up with the things that I have heard, that I lie awake at night, thinking about them. I sometimes wonder if there is something wrong with me, especially at the wee small hours of the morning when the house is dark and the cats are quiet.
In a way I’m glad that I have that still quiet time to be able to think. It’s not easy being a listening ear and while several people have suggested that I should go into counselling professionally, I don’t really want to make this a job. Stress comes with jobs and I’m perfectly happy designing my jewellery.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I write or design, but tonight I found myself thinking about one particular person who I see irregularly. She seems to be quite a happy and stable person, despite all the blows she’s been dealt and when she does come and find me, I know its because she has been kept awake at night by something that she needs to talk about.
Yesterday morning after I’d been swimming and was lazing around in the cafe, not wanting to go home and lose that delicious satisfied feeling you get after exercising well, this particular woman appeared at my corner table. I’d been sketching in my design book and she looked down at the pages I’d just drawn a ring design on.
“Can I take a look through?” she pointed at the sketch book.
I shrugged. “Help yourself.” and pushed it across to her as she sat down. “What do you want to drink?”
“I’ll have a double cappucino with chocolate please.” she leafed through the sketch book.
I ordered another cup of tea and her coffee. “You don’t normally drink coffee this early. He been keeping you awake again?”
She sighed. “Yes. We found out why he’s so… ”
“Nah, he’s not troublesome. Troubled maybe, but it’s not is fault.”
The waitress brought our order, and my client sipped reflectively until the teenager disappeared again. I just waited.
“This is pretty, my sister would love it.” she tapped a picture of a fairy brooch I had designed a couple of days ago.
I smiled, knowing that she had something to say, but wasn’t sure how to begin. “I can make her one if you want me to. What stones does she like?”
She rolled her eyes. “She’s currently obsessed with amethyst. It’s her birthday coming up so it would make a great gift.”
I made a note. “I’ll email you when it’s ready. Shouldn’t take me too long.” That’s the other thing about being an unintentional Bartender; after a while people give me their contact details. I’m always careful with these, but they do come in handy when I’m making a piece for one of them.
“Thanks. He’s obsessed with computer games this time.”
Ah, that must have been the problem that was keeping her awake. Her family all have a touch of OCD, but her youngest son seemed to be the worst. “Did you finally take him to the Doctor?”
“Yes. But the school got in there first.” she stared out the window for a moment. “He’s been diagnosed as Aspergers. That’s why his obsessiveness is so bad. I thought he was just being more OCD than the rest of us.”
“So why is he keeping you awake? Surely the diagnosis means that you can get him some help now.”
She sighed and for one long moment, I thought she was going to burst into tears.
“It has helped explained a few things that had been worrying me. Like why he’s always so precise with his vocab and the reasons for his collections. But because he’s so obsessed with those damn computer games, he’s been waking up early in the morning to play them.”
I frowned. “There’s nothing wrong with getting up early. If there were, I wouldn’t be here at six thirty every morning.”
She laughed. She has a pretty laugh and I often see men stop and look at her when she laughs – her face brightens and she becomes more beautiful.
Sadly, this particular time, it was full of bitterness. “What’s wrong?” I knew that if I didn’t ask, she’d just shrug the problem off and hide it inside… and that’s not a good thing for anyone.
“I don’t really know. I thought that him being diagnosed would make me feel better, that it would make me relax with him. ”
“I see it everywhere now. In him, in his older brothers, in his father, in his grandfather and my father. I’m scared.”
And that was always the thing that brought people to me. Being scared doesn’t make you a bad person, hiding it does. It sits inside and rots into an acid that eats away at your spirit.
“Nothing wrong with being scared. It’s a survival thing. Why are you scared though?”
“I know, intellectually, that it’s not my fault. It’s a genetic thing, a different wiring of the brain that makes Aspergers people see and experience things differently. They can’t understand why other people don’t know what they do or treat them as if they are dirty. The moment he was diagnosed I knew that the label would both make things better and worse.” she shook her head. “He’s getting help at school to fix the educational stuff and help him with the social things. That’s the good side of it, but I worry that he’ll never be able to look after himself.”
She blinked and I spotted a tear running down her cheek, absently noting that she didn’t have any make – up on. What I thought was eye-shadow was actually tired circles.
“And last night I woke up at half three in morning, he’d put the bathroom light on and that always wakes me, to find him playing that stupid game on his DS. I wish we’d never bought the thing!”
“He’s almost a teenager. You can’t keep him a baby any more.”
“I know that. He just couldn’t understand why it was wrong for him to be playing at that time of the morning.” she sniffed and I passed her a tissue.
I’ve always got tissues on me. You never know when I’m going to need them, you see.
“I took it off him, rather angrily I must admit, and he hit himself saying that he was stupid and useless and shouldn’t be alive.” she wiped her eyes. “Then I couldn’t get back to sleep for thinking about what he’d said. I don’t want him growing up like his dad, thinking that he’s stupid because he doesn’t understand what people want of him, or that he’s too useless to do anything, especially as he’s becoming a teenager.” she looked at me and I was shocked by the level of fear in her eyes. “He’s already being bullied at school for being different, and I don’t want to lose him to suicide because he thinks he shouldn’t be alive!”
I took a deep breath. It was times like this that I really didn’t know what to say. I knew a fair bit about Asperger Syndrome, my brother had it and my cousin was autistic, so I’d read up on it in order to know how to deal with them. I fell back on the practical.
“So the school are sorted out. Have you told the school about the bullying?”
“I tried to. They say they know about the teasing he gets in class and his teacher jumps on it when it happens, but they can’t really police the playground very much – not enough staff.”
“Does he know why he’s different?”
“Again, the school are working on it. I feel so helpless! What can I do to help him at home? They didn’t give me any clear answers.” she sniffed again and I passed another tissue.
“You could try Cerebra. They help out with Aspergers problems. It’s a neurological disorder, so they might be able to help you with the home side.” I paused for a moment, thinking. “OASIS is american, but they’ve got a lot of information on their site. I know there are a lot of books out there as well, on the Syndrome. Sometimes just reading about it can help.”
She smiled. “How do you know all this?”
I laughed. “When you have a weird family like mine, you get all sorts of things pop up. I think that you need to talk to someone though. It seems like you have an awful lot on your chest and while I don’t mind sitting here and listening to you all morning, you need someone who can actually help you with answers.”
Nodding, she finished her coffee. “Cerebra, you say? Thanks, I’ll give them a ring.”
“Anytime. You know I’ll listen to you… just not at half three in the morning, I have enough trouble with insomnia as it is!”
We laughed and she seemed so much happier.
“I’ll email you when that brooch is ready.” I tapped my sketchbook.
“Yes, that’d be perfect. Thank you.”
I watched her leave the cafe, happier than when she’d come it. That’s why I do it really; listening to people I barely know, I mean.
I always feel like I’ve done my bit for the human race by defusing tensions like that. She’ll go home and instead of yelling at her children and arguing with her husband, she’ll be happy and motivated.
I’m just glad I only have the cats to deal with.