I watched him pace back and forth across the far side of the deck, standing as far away from everyone as he could. He kept looking cross the deck at all of us, like he was watching us. Like we were some kind of science experiment, and he was recording his observations, and would try to make sense out of them later.
Becky nudged me, and asked, so quietly it was almost a whisper, “Is he OK?”
“Does he look OK to you?”
She shook her head. “He needs help, doesn’t he?”
“Yes. He probably does.”
Richard noticed us talking. “He’s scary, ain’t he? The way he stays off to one side, and just watches? It’s like something’s wrong with him. And I can’t tell what it is. And that’s just damn creepy.”
“Do you think he knows?” Becky asked. Her eyes told me she wanted me to answer yes.
“He’s gotta know. How can he not know?” I sighed. “I mean, look at him. The way he’s been getting stranger the last couple of months. He’s gotta know something’s wrong.”
Richard chimed back in, “I tried to tell him. They’re gonna fire him. Or something like that. Get him out of the workplace. Tried to tell him he’s becoming too disturbing and disruptive at work. And they get rid of people when that happens.” He shook his head. “So, yeah. He knows.”
Greg injected himself into the conversation. “No. He doesn’t. He’s not going to see Monday coming.” He tried to smile. “They’re gonna send him home on Monday. Tell him to apply for medical leave. And he’s not gonna know why.”
“How can you say that? How can he not know?” Becky was always concerned for him, for some reason we could never figure out. “The way he behaves. The way people act around him. The way we avoid him. How people like Richard talk to him, and flat-out tell him what’s going on, and what’s going to happen. How can he not know?” She took a deep breath. We all did. We needed it. “Hell, I’ve even talked to him. Told him he needed help.”
Greg just grimaced. “He talked to me, Friday.” He nodded at Richard. “Said you talked with him. And he had no idea what you were trying to say. Something about people who don’t behave appropriately being removed from work. But he didn’t understand why you were telling him that.” Greg just sat there, closed his eyes, and shook his head. “Yeah, we know he’s screwed up. And we know they’re sending him out on Monday. And he’ll get angry. And who knows how it’ll end.”
“It’s not going to be a problem, is it? Sending him home? He’ll go. No one will get hurt?”
Greg shrugged. “How can anyone tell? Can you tell? I can’t tell what he’s going to do.” He took another deep breath. “They’re sending him home Monday Morning. First thing. They’ll call him in, talk to him, send him home on leave without pay. Tell him to talk with his doctor about getting put on medical leave. It’s going to happen. Not that he knows it.”
Becky always chewed on her thumbs when she was nervous, or stressed. She did then. Put a thumb right up to her mouth, and left tooth prints on it. “How can he not know?”
We found out, three months later, that he hadn’t known. He hadn’t seen it coming at all. That he felt betrayed by all of us. And, we found out too, he’d been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. And never even knew he’d been acting in ways that were disturbing and disruptive to all of us. Not that he knew it. He didn’t. He just knew we all felt he was a problem. One we’d had to get rid of.
And his diagnosis with an ASD was the last nail in the coffin of his time at work. We all knew that the day we learned about it. Not that he knew it. But he’d learn. Like he’d learned his behavior was unacceptable. He’d learn. People like us don’t work with people like him.
None of us ever spoke to him again.
It was just better that way.
I’ll never forget that night, even after I’m dead.
755 Totally Disqualified Words
I wrote this for Siobhan Muir‘s #ThursThreads, Week 62. It’s somewhat over the 250 word limit, but I hope you enjoy it anyway. Please go read all the entries in this week’s #ThursThreads. They are good reading.