Adolescence blacked me out. As a child, I burned with an inextinguishable light, but things changed, as things do. I was homeless at fifteen and working full time by sixteen. I worked at my cousin’s tire shop and lived in an 8’ x 10’ shed next to the shop. I went to school on Friday and made up for missing the work day by working on Saturday. I worked hard during that year and completed my school work, plus made up extra work for the classes that I had previously failed, but I was also killing myself slowly with drugs and alcohol. Everybody knew that I was different. Nobody knew that I was autistic. Anger, frustration and sadness permeated my life.
I wore black. I shaved the back of my head and grew my bangs long to cover my face – to block out the light and hide the fear in my eyes. I had friends. Some had mohawks and Doc Martens and others wore Guess jeans and enjoyed huge houses. I loved every one of them, but not myself. My two best friends were boyfriend and girlfriend. She’d even made a symbol with three points that meant “us” and she scribbled it everywhere.
One night we were at his house. He lived with his dad. It was the 80’s, so his dad had giant speakers and a stacked stereo system. We had the house to ourselves. My dear friends were in his bedroom talking and laughing. I sat in the living room, my head against a speaker, my black leather motorcycle jacket wrapped tightly around me. Bauhaus eliminated their laughter. I let the music drown out the world. The notes swam through me like so many hungry barracuda. Depression filled my lungs and I wanted the barracuda to take me away, to eat every piece of my suffering flesh and eliminate me throughout the open sea so that I could feel free.
She came out of the bedroom. I sat alone in the living room where only a faint blue glow from the lights on the stereo system shone. I looked up and saw her silhouette against the light that streamed from the bedroom, down the hall, and she looked like an angel. She’d come out smiling, stopped and stood, staring at me, before her smile left and she spoke the four words that would change my life forever.
“You’re so dark, Adolfo.” Then she turned and went back into the room to enjoy life.
An ocean of tears filled the living room. I knew that she was right. I didn’t sleep that night. Instead, I swam. I held my breath and kicked and pushed and surfaced with the dawn. I quit drinking and doing drugs. I learned to meditate. I studied Child Development in college and healed the child inside of me with the gentle love and compassionate understanding that the little boy in me needed. I watched my breath and awoke to the beauty of flowers and sunshine and rain. I learned that I am those things – that I am everything that I am not. Take away the sun and there’s no me. Take away the plants and there’s no me. Take away the rain and I cannot exist. I learned that to love everything is to love myself and it all started with four honest words from someone I loved intensely. Four words delivered by her breath and received by my tear-streaked nose.
It only takes one breath of fresh air to bring life. And one breath connected to another is the continuation of life. It took so much effort to be angry, to swim among the barracuda and struggle in the waves that my own perception had created. Now I float.
The sea in me is calm, understanding and unending. Storms pass overhead but my current beneath remains steady. And there, in that ever-flowing current full of life, I find myself as coral, sand, bright colored fish, algae, plankton and even barracuda. Separating myself from life had created the destruction of my self-esteem. Reuniting with reality had restored it and now I see you in me and me in you and we are not separate so I smile to myself to smile at you. And I am, again, an inextinguishable light!