I Left, Never To Return

On May 1st of 2011,
I went to church.
At a church I’d never been to.
And I returned
To that church.
Pretty much every Sunday.
For months.

I even started going
To the Wednesday night service.
You would think
I liked it there
Very much.

Until the day
In November
When I walked away.
And since then
I have not been back.
Not even once.

I know it disturbed people.
I know it disturbed a friend.
And I’ve tried to explain
Why I did
What I did.

Because of memories.
Because of what I have experienced.
Because of what I’ve learned.

From the time I was 15.
Until I was 22.
I was almost at war
With a church.
Imagine being told
By the pastor.
By the youth director.
By the people
Of the church.
By every friend you have there
That’s your own age.

That you can’t live
The way you live.
That how you live
Is wrong.
That no one
Can be the way
That you are.
No one can behave
Like you.

I lived through that.
For years.
It’s something
You just can’t forget.
And you just can’t understand it
Unless you’ve been through it
Yourself.

I’ve been through something
Similar.
Many times since then.
When I was in college.
Going through the classes
That I took.
But it was much more subtle
That what happened
At church.

I was that nice guy.
That everybody knows.
That no girl ever dates.
Or ever gets close to.
The guy that wound up
As the only guy
In a room full of girls.

I lost count of how many times
That happened in those days.
How many times
Those girls behaved
So very differently
When I was the only guy around.
Than they behaved
When there were other guys
Among the group.

I always wondered
Why that was
Until one morning
At 0500 hours,
When the computer lab shut down
For daily morning maintenance.

There were 3 of us
In the lab that morning.
Another guy,
And a girl.
A very pretty one
At that.

The other guy asked her
If she wanted to join him,
And go get something
To eat.
And she declined.

He got his stuff,
And then he left.
And after he’d been gone
For just a few minutes.
She asked me
To walk with her
To the 7-11 store
Across the street.

Being curious
I asked her why
She hadn’t gone
With the other guy.

“Because I don’t trust him.
I don’t feel safe around him.
But I do feel safe
With you.
With you I know
Nothing’s going to happen.”

Every thing I’ve tried to do.
Every group activity.
Has been a total failure.
Things started well enough.
But with each week that passes,
Things slowly fell apart.
Until in the end,
Everyone there
Avoided me.

And when that happens,
There’s not much left to do.
But leave.

And always,
When I left,
I never heard
From anyone
Again.

And the words I heard
So very long ago
Echoed endlessly
Inside my head.
“You can’t live that way.
No one can.”

And as I went to that church
Every Sunday that I could.
Things began to change.
I saw the same thing happening
That I’ve lived through
Time and time again.

As people learned my name.
And began to talk with me.
In an effort to be friendly.
And that’s when things go wrong.
One day at a time.
One thing at a time.
Until I end up feeling
Like I’m on the outside
Looking in.

This time,
When I started feeling
That thing happening again.

I left.

I left to protect myself
From feeling alone.
Left out.
As if I didn’t belong
Once more.

I didn’t really
Want to leave.
To vanish like I did.
I wish I could explain it.
Explain my history.
I can’t.
I lack the words.

I tried to explain,
Last Friday.
To my Doctor.
Told him that each Sunday
That I set foot
In that place,
I became more isolated.
More apart
From everyone.

That’s what happens
When everyone in the group
That you’re surrounded by
Feels the same things.
It’s not so much
That they believe the same.
It’s not that way at all.

I know that each person
That I met
In that church that I went to
Is different.
And unique.

But they are all part
Of a social group.
A structure.
A society.
That I have no way
To understand.
And could never feel as if
I actually belonged.

I told my Doctor about
The five minutes they spent
Each Sunday morning
Greeting each other,
In the name of God.

I’ve done the math.
I’ve analyzed.
And reviewed.
And studied.
And torn apart.
And reassembled.
Every detail of
That 5 minutes of time.

I figured out
For most of them
That it’s a priceless time.
When they get to visit
With their friends.
Some of whom they haven’t seen
In a solid week.
They smile at each other.
They shake hands.
Sometimes they even hug.

And they talk.
Something they call small talk.
Something I don’t understand.
At all.

I saw them all smiling.
I know that 5 minutes
Every Sunday morning.
Meant a lot to them.

But I have an ASD.
I live on the Spectrum.
And that 5 minutes
Was pure hell to me.

Shaking hands and greeting
One another.
And that small talk thing.
And the noise!

It was like being in a riot.
It was pure chaos.
I felt like a bug
On the ocean.
Waiting for a big damn fish
To come along
And find me.

With one simple snap.
I’d be gone.

I told my Doctor
That I knew
I couldn’t just sit there.
And close my eyes.
And stuff my hands
In my pockets.
And my ear buds
In my ears.
And turn my music’s volume
Up.
To block out every thing.

That would just be wrong.
And no one there
Would ever understand
What the heck was going on
With me.

I left that church.
In November.
Never to return.

I left as much
To protect the people there
From me,
As I did to keep myself
From being hurt again.

That’s why I left.
And why I can’t return.
Because I know this simple truth.
It was a place in which
I’d never have felt
At home.

And I would not have been
The only one
That felt that way.

So I took the lessons
I have learned
Over the decades.
And I left.

And the only thing my Doctor
Had to say to me
When I shared these words
With him
Was,
“I know.”
And then he spoke once more.
“And no one there
Will ever understand.”

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