TOAA Reflections: How a Photobooth and a Phone Call Saved my Life

by Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

TOAA Reflections

How a Photobooth and a Phone Call Saved my Life
By Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Today is an amazing day. It’s Halloween and on this day two years ago I stood in a courthouse and did the one thing I never thought I would do. I got married. Now you may not think getting married is amazing, but far before I knew I was on the spectrum, I knew I was different. I always did things differently, said things strangely and saw the world a little differently than the people around me. I grew from a strange child into a troubled teen and then into an out of place adult that I’m still becoming truly acquainted with. But my marriage isn’t the end of story. It’s the high point of hundreds of small stories that have rolled together to become the life I know today.

One day during my time in high school, I walked into the doors as I did every single day. I said hello to the security guard as I always did. I was invisible to the students milling in around me and slamming their lockers shut as I always was. I was dying inside and there was a shard of glass in my pocket. It was from a glass that had broken the night before and if you looked closely enough it had dried blood around one of the edges. I was wearing long sleeves that day. That was the first time I made an attempt to harm myself and while I may not remember the exact date, the year or who owned the muffled voices I heard leading up to signing myself into a psychiatric hospital, I remember the first voice that was clear to me when I was able to make a phone call at the hospital. It was the shaking but relieved voice of a boy I had been chatting with on Yahoo Messenger for months. We had shared poems with each other and vented to each other after school for months and we lived states away. He lived in Texas around the Houston area and I lived and still live in Pennsylvania. We had never met face to face and we had only spoken on the phone a little up to that point because my parents were understandably worried about their teen daughter having phone contact with someone they met online. It was around a time when predators were becoming especially active in chat rooms and you never really knew who you were talking to after all. After that phone call I wanted to go home. At the time, I couldn’t place that feeling that put my world back into focus so effortlessly. I just wanted to go home.

At some point in my teens I felt a draw to anime and I even went to some anime conventions. It just happened to pass hand-in-hand with the time when I wanted to try being “goth”. I could only really grasp the clothing part of it and I may have been at least half responsible for one of our washing machines dying an early death from being bludgeoned by chains attached to a 10-pound pair of Kikwears. I’ve never liked photos and I hate closed spaces. I’m awful at meeting new people. Every once in a while I come across things looking for something in my office and I also collect a ton of knick-knacks. I usually come across a photo cube in one of the drawers. It’s got an awful picture of me in my goth phase sporting an awkward smile next to a boy dressed in all black who at the time bugged me to take a photo booth picture with him like his life depended on it. I look at the photo cube for a few minutes and then I put it right back into the drawer. I’m not ready to throw it away yet.

I think growing up many women mentally craft their dream wedding or their most romantic way to be proposed to. I had just gotten off of a plane in Houston and after I was picked up, the man I was with got me some fast food and we went back to his house. I was tired and it was late because I had taken a night flight to attempt to avoid the usual airline annoyances. When we got back to his house he was quiet. He had been quiet the whole time up to that point. He’s not actually that talkative anyways. He carried all my stuff in and put it down and we stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. He was trying so hard and he even tried to kneel properly. I finally said something along the lines of “Will you just give me my ring already?”. The ring was a little loose so I put it back in the box so I wouldn’t lose it and we spent the rest of the night watching my favorite crime show “Snapped”.

As an adult I still live with my parents and perhaps 4 or 5 years ago a man moved in with us. He left his job and family behind in Houston and he claimed he wanted to marry me and no one else would do. I worked hard to push him away and avoid talking about marriage for about 2 years and one day I looked at him and said “Get some nice pants. We’re getting married on Halloween.” My wedding dress was purple and only my family was at the courthouse when we got married. He and I both got mac n’ cheese at the restaurant at dinner after the ceremony, but he had gotten lobster mac n’ cheese . I stole some of his because I wanted to try it but hoarded all of mine so he couldn’t try it.

As I stop and reflect on my life as it is at this very moment, I realize I’ve written hundreds of stories and over half of them have the same person in them. It’s just taken me a very long time to appreciate that.  I’ve lost touch with well over half of the online friends I made growing up but I’ve talked to that same boy nearly every single night by phone and now in person since that time in high school. He knows everything down to my blood type and we can wordlessly tell when the other wants to order a pizza. When we’re in a room together we rarely talk and when either of us makes a joke it never has to be explained. It’s just funny. We’ve held hands once that I can remember and it was for about a hot second before I let go. We then went into a 7-11 and got slushies as if nothing happened. There are those who have the impression that a person with autism is deficient in social interactions or lacking in empathy. If you think that, make sure you understand that I may not always be able to stop rambling, communicate well or empathize with you consistently.But I know what it’s like to be in love and I have a photo cube that I’ll probably never throw away.


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