Memories : Lunch At ODU

It was 1980. And I was trying to be normal. Do things like other people did them. Like being more formal. Dressing more professionally. Carrying my stuff in a case, not in my hands. I’d been trying this for several weeks. And I thought I was getting used to it. Adjusting to the way it felt.

I was so terribly wrong. I found that out one day at lunch. When I made the simple mistake of going to lunch alone. In a place I’d never gone. The cafeteria at Webb Center. I did OK getting there. I did OK getting in line. But then, the line lead to where the food was. It was like this giant buffet place. And there were hundreds of people stuffed in there. Picking what they wanted to eat for lunch.

And there was me. With my case. Waiting through the line. Trying to figure out what to eat. And feeling all my coping abilities crumble. One-by-one. As my ability to think coherently slowly failed. As my ability to process my environment failed. As I become overloaded with information.

I have no idea what I ate that day. I know I ate something. And I know I had something to drink. Most likely a can of Coke. I know I sat at a table. And ate. Alone. Surrounded by an ocean of people. So many people. Too many people.

I remember standing there. In the line, with a tray. Waiting for my turn to pick out food to eat. I remember thinking to myself. I remember very clearly what I thought. “Marcus. No. It would not be a good idea to stand in the middle of the room. Spinning around in a circle, like a top. Rapidly. So your case acts like some kind of giant wrecking ball. And bashing anyone that comes near you. As you scream, LEAVE ME ALONE! Nope. Marcus. That would not be good.”

I never really understood that memory. Until 14 February 2011. When I was clinically diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. That’s when so many things began to make sense to me. My inability to cope with certain environments. Big crowds. The way they overwhelmed me. Left me totally confused. No knowing what to do, or how to cope. And just clinging desperately to a list of instructions in my head. As I tried, desperately, to not panic. To not run. To not scream. To just remain inconspicuous. Invisible. A nobody.

That’s another sign of my disorder, you know. My memory. That I can remember things like that instance when I went to the cafeteria at Webb Center. More than 30 years ago. And I can remember every detail of how I felt. And what I thought.

Don’t tell me I can’t be this way. Don’t tell me no one can be this way. I am. And I know that other people with Autism Spectrum Disorders are this way too. Where a simple walk through the local shopping center on Valentine’s Day, or Christmas Eve is a terrifying experience, and pushes me to the limit of my ability to cope.

In a world I never made.