THE HARDEST EMPATHY, Christopher Wood-Robbins

by Christopher Wood-Robbins

In my imagination, I mount a search and rescue mission to find you, my former self. You live inside my mind frozen in time because you have a wall in front of you which you were never able to overcome. You represent the part of me I don’t want to face. Even though I have compassion for the rest of the universe, dealing with you is the hardest empathy I ever had to attain. But it must be done.

Now that it is nightfall, I close my eyes and embark on a journey into the center of my soul. I command the Winds of Time to transport me through tunnels of light and sound. Eventually they drop me off in a shadowy replica of my old kindergarten classroom. I see children playing board games, drawing pictures and singing nursery rhymes in a dress rehearsal preparing to rock the planet Earth. But I find you alone in a burnt-out corner. You are sentenced to a life of banishment from other kids that already learned to ridicule and exclude anything different. Your desperate wailing sounds much like a last-ditch attempt to avoid being erased from existence.

Your piercing cry tears into my unprotected mind like dragon claws on the proverbial chalkboard. I feel an angry urge to holler at you for silence. But then I realize my anger is borne out of an ignorant demon’s grindstone-sharpened tongue. Once I acknowledge that I have been brainwashed into favoring a state of convenience which only exists in fairy tales, I can wrestle my poisonous wrath back into its Pandorian bottle. That done, I look upon you, a shattered casualty barely held together with tears.

Now that I’ve gained clear understanding, I kneel down and take you, my metaphorical child-self, in my arms. As I rock you back and forth you cling to my neck and cry over whatever horrible torment wracks your very being. Maybe you believe your misbehaving somehow caused you to lose someone you love. Perhaps a slimy scoundrel ripped off your innocence. Or it could be you’re carrying yourself like a tortoise in a frightening world that out-performs you a hundred times over in speed and strength. But whatever the case, I know you are not a brat. You’re just a wounded child crying out for an answer. You are the me I could never stand, because I could never understand. I console you by convincing you there are people in this world who love you and want you to grow up and make them proud.

When I finally put you back on your feet, I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out a present for you. I give you a toy spaceship and tell you to go off into the world to learn and enjoy life. You put the ship on a painting table and, shrinking by magic, you hop into your new set of wings. Bidding me a farewell smile and a wave, which I take as thanks, you fly off.

Now that I finally set you free, I can return to my here-and-now and wear the ring of the one who captures my heart. For only after I have held you can the love of my life hold me.

Christopher Wood-Robbins, who prefers to be called “Aspie Chris” in his writings, lives in Central Massachusetts with his wife, Julie, and their tortoise-shell attack cat, Samantha. He often advocates for autism and Asperger acceptance at open mics just to “add another shade to the rainbow of diversity.”

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