It must have been early 2018, February, March maybe. October 2017 i had become very ill from a lot of stress and hassle, and it took months before i could walk without a cane again, and go further afield for groceries. I was in a supermarket one block away, wondering what to eat and buy. At one point a group of tall young men in tight sportswear walked in, and while i was still hesitating between apples or oranges, i was surrounded by athletic bodies and their laughing and talking. Feeling a little embarrassed among all that youthful beauty, i shuffled cautiously between them.
Not unusual, such a scene, but something remarkable happened: a feeling of intense affection, perhaps even love, forced itself upon me. And that didn't come from me; i didn't know them, and even though they were all handsome guys, i couldn't think of a relationship or sex. It seemed like they wanted to protect me, or that there was some kind of crush on me. But how could that be?
As quickly as they were in, they were gone again, and i made my way between the groceries and customers and outside, a busy city where you must watch out and everything screams for attention (especially if you are me). It wasn't until i got home that i was able to process it somewhat, but i still didn't understand exactly what it had been. The only thing i could imagine was that i subconsciously wanted them to protect me, but at the same time i found that very out of the blue. The feeling slipped off me, and disappeared into everyday things.
I lived in a social housing complex in Zuid, our facade had monumental value. Across the street was a rather hideous apartment building with fairly high rents. It was undoubtedly bigger inside than ours, and they had the beautiful view (our facade), while we had to look at the pointless architecture and the balconies of these clearly wealthier fellow citizens. Right across from me lived a single man who threw parties with some regularity, and there was a horde of men on the balcony, and i sometimes heard them say something about me and burst into laughter, so later, whenever i thought he might throw a party again on the balcony, i closed the curtains in advance.
Furthermore, there was a neighbor from a distance away in my rental complex, whom i suspected of ringing my doorbell occasionally at night. He had made some escapades, i had kindly but firmly rejected him when he got too pushy (he had been staring at my window from across the street - another neighbor had sent him away; he had also tried to grab me once) and he wasn't very pleased with that, to say the least. First, he began to complain to my neighbours, so that i soon became subject to gossips with the text that men should watch out for me, because i would make everyone's head run wild, and then leave them alone. That was already quite an unpleasant situation, also because when we passed by occasionally, he crossed the street with a face twisted with anger. I was sometimes afraid that he would do something to me.
Then there was another neighbor, also from a bit further, who when we walked passed, and I said hello to him, just stared at me, but never said anything. Even when he stood outside his house and saw me approaching in the distance, he would stop what he was doing and stare at me. This guy also sometimes stood across the street, watching my window; before I realized it was him, i thought i was being watched by social services.
And there was a time when i was scolded by a shopkeeper, just down the corner, when i walked by. No idea why, i didn't know the man; maybe once he had said hello to me, and i said nothing back; i'm almost deaf in one ear, and it often happens to me that i don't hear people - a lot of sound is lost due to passing traffic. Somehow they are always men who think i owe them something. For example, i once walked past a flower stand, some men were talking and i felt them looking at me, but i feel that very often wherever i am - when i was a little further i suddenly heard one of them shout angrily : “You can say something back!”. I didn't respond. Just keep going, my motto has become…. This was still a fairly mild situation, i've been through worse. I have also had a number of times that i did say hello in a friendly way, and then i was called names, (whore, kech, those kinds of statements) of course only after i walked a bit further. Or that time when an old man said hello to me (he walked on the side of my good ear) and i said hello back in a friendly way, but he turned out to be even more deaf than i am - and sure enough, there the swearing started again: bitch, you can say something back!
Bigots. Men are bigots.
You will now understand that i was not really in the mood for vagueness and fuss.
And then what happened? Vagueness and fuss.
It was some time after the grocery store thing that i completely forgot about at that point. Late at night, i was drawing at the dinner table - i heard some shouting across the street, and someone shouting 'Matthew, why don't you wave to your sweetheart!' and my magic water stirred: was this about me?
It's hard to explain: it has a lot to do with my autism, i feel things, i sometimes see and hear things that other people don't notice, small details and gestures, how people sometimes say things: i see, hear, and feel all that. Incidentally, for those who now think: but you are half deaf... that is also a bit more nuanced than you think. Everything comes in weirdly scrambled through one ear, my other ear seems to compensate for that: sometimes i hear things that people with (apparently) good hearing don't hear. Also, in some situations i have the strange gift of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: i hear people say things that were not intended for my ears. Or they did not care that I could hear it. Or people thought that I wouldn't be able to hear it anyway. And in some cases, i couldn't help feeling that they wanted me to hear it.
Tip: If you don't want anyone to hear something, just don't say it.
Of course there are also things that escape me, i'm not a super person and i can't do everything. On the contrary. But over the years i have seen and experienced a lot, and certain things just stand out to me. I can't possibly describe it all.
What i hate is that many people then label that as: those are assumptions. But that's not what they are. They are small facts that together form a whole, and i always check things, and almost always something often happens that allows me to check it afterwards. It is also often the combination of circumstances, those facts… Maybe i should try to explain that separately. It's... complicated.
Also through other events, i soon found out that this Matthew lived diagonally across the street (not the balcony party guy), on the top floor of that ugly building, and that he had a crush on me. I saw him standing on the balcony once, he had just watered the plants, and now he was standing there, looking at my house, his arms wrapped tightly around his bare torso. There was something sweet about it, maybe.
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Another little problem: i have some trouble recognizing people. Likewise with Matthew. I ran into him on our street once, but i wasn't sure it was him. He didn't say anything, so i didn't say anything either. And afterwards there have been a few times, in different stores. Once he said hello to me, but that was just such a moment that i didn't recognize him - we had never spoken a word, i had only seen him in the distance, and at that moment i thought: handsome guy, and i looked behind me to see who he was talking to. I thought he was talking to someone else, and that it was a bit strange.
Now there is something else that has to do with my autism: people i have not spoken personally or several times, i hardly recognize. Especially if it's in a different setting. And for me, a setting is already different in very small details, so chances are quite high that if i've met you once, i probably won't recognize you immediately afterwards, or have doubts. In addition, i am also very insecure because of everything i've been through, and if someone says something to me or waves, i actually think by default: is that really meant for me, and will first look behind me. Another thing that is hard to explain. And has also brought me angry people several times. People think i say nothing on purpose, while i'm feverishly busy orienting myself to the environment, to myself and all kinds of things, and then also have to place a fairly unknown person in all that: that is often quite difficult. And explaining it at the moment is certainly not possible: people are often on the move, and before i know it, they're already gone, or i'm already gone myself.
Only days later, i realized it must have been him. I really hated that, but yeah…. What was i supposed to do?
Occasionally i caught snippets of conversations. I got the impression that he was very concerned with me, but i still wonder why he didn't dare to visit me. He knew where i lived. Once i even heard him confess to someone that he had been at my door, whether he had also rung the doorbell, i don't know. Perhaps he was the one who rang the doorbell at night, and whose flip-flops i heard as he fled down the porch steps. I found it quite confusing, and at a certain point also annoying.
Once i got out of the subway and walked past a terrace where some people were sitting, i didn't really pay attention. I heard a young man's voice say: "That's her". And a young female voice: "What, who?" And something i didn't hear and then that woman again, louder now: "Oh that's that failed artist!" And she laughed loudly. The young man joined in the laughter, but it sounded more like the laugh of a farmer with a toothache.
Another time i heard how - in a very polite way - he rejected a young woman because he was in love with someone else. I felt bad for him. He suffered from my presence. There were times when i wondered if maybe i should talk to him. I've even made a photo of the doorbell panel of his building, trying to see which doorbell to ring. I wasn't sure, and i was afraid that a note in one of the mailboxes might make things worse.
At one point i suddenly remembered the scene in the supermarket. And then it dawned: he had been one of those young men. He probably had some very fiery thoughts or feelings at the time, and i felt it. I still find that very special.
What i also find special is that he was so young - i estimated him at about 25 years old, but maybe he was much younger, or even older, i have no idea - while i was 55 at the time. I've had younger lovers before, but i found this quite extreme. Not that i'm judging him or other people, absolutely not: everyone should do what they feel comfortable with. And that is different for everyone. I didn't feel comfortable with it. I felt so different, and i have a son who was in his early 30s at the time. Maybe it was a point of complexity for Matthew as well, that was also the reason for him not contacting me. I also thought i overheard him talking about being in therapy for that, but i'm not sure.
To me, it felt as if a friend of my son had a crush on me, and that didn't feel right to me. Not too long ago i met another young man whom i really liked, but i had the same feeling about it. He was a bit older, and a lot more mature, and i found him nice and interesting because i felt we had a lot in common. Maybe it was more of a creative click, i don't know, it was confusing. Unfortunately, another case of exit-Hannah happened there, more about that later. (yes, gotjeezus I know, it's all a bit much)..
I sometimes heard Matthew and his friends talk, in fragments that blew from their balcony towards me. That's how i heard him explain to them why he liked me: "I don't know, she just has swag." Several times after that i looked in the mirror, searching for my swag. Where is it then? In any case, i felt honored with the statement. Honestly: i seem to have something that makes me stand out, and quite a lot of people don't beat around the bush. Comments on the street, not always fun, often sexist, stares, sneaky photo makers, and hassle. Always hassle. And still: i'm 60 now, and i'm still getting comments and stares. It's actually completely weird and fucking strange.
How did this story end?
I moved to another district, and I never saw or heard from Matthew again. I hope he forgot about me.