In one of my favorite passages, Page describes a powerful connection to certain things:
What anguished pity I used to feel for piñatas at birthday parties, those papier-mache donkeys with their amiable smiles about to be shattered by little brutes with bats. On at least one occasion, I begged for a stay of execution and eventually had to be taken home, weeping, convinced that I had just witnessed the braining of a new and sympathetic acquaintance.
This touches on an aspect of autistic life I don’t hear much about. Sometimes a “comfort object” is more than an object. To call such things “friends” is not a hyperbole or metaphor; I have known such friends. I remember a particular hematite crystal, purchased for less than five dollars, which I wore around my neck every day for maybe three years. Chosen for a variety of symbolic reasons, it acquired more and more meaning as I kept it with me through a troubled time in my life. After losing it, I was inconsolable. I still miss the Beany doll who was my childhood companion, still remember the exact spot on his cheek where the color had rubbed away. Like it was yesterday.
Yes, I realize even non autistic people feel this way at times about jewelry or stuffed toys. Like the piñatas (I also have a history with these), a broken rocking horse, discarded by a neighbor, rescued by me and not so much loved by the rest of the family was at least “understandable” as a friend. A friend with a face on it, like Thomas the Tank Engine, is within the acceptable bounds for affection, even for adults. It’s the other kinds of “friends” autistic people make that I really want to talk about. Tea kettles, for example. Hammers, potholders, that sort of thing.
As a young adult, I stocked shelves at a Kmart store; my section was cleaning supplies and pots and pans. The cheap enameled metal tea kettles, in almond, harvest gold and avocado, were often dented during shipping or through mishandling by customers. It was my sworn duty to discard these items and record their cost in a book to account for the loss. Instead, I hid them behind other items in the stockroom, promising myself I’d throw them out “later”. Of course, later never came and the collection grew larger, as the year’s end approached, when they were sure to be discovered during the annual inventory.
The kettles were on my mind a lot during the months before the inventory. I visited them less often, out of guilt, I suppose, but was comforted by their presence nevertheless. Returning after two days off, I peeked behind the boxes of cookware and saw the empty space between the cartons and the wall. The tea kettles had been “taken care of” by a co-worker who wanted to protect me from the manager’s anger, as I was about to be found out. It had to be done, I understood that, but I felt sick. I think I went home early that day.
I’m not sure it’s possible to translate what these objects mean into terms accessible to others who have not had these sorts of relationships with things. I started to make the effort here, but I’ve changed my mind. It should suffice to say there are things I love that some people do not understand. They are a part of who I am. That should be enough.