On a cold winter’s night I was invited to dinner at a gourmet pizza joint with a group of people I didn’t know very well. They’d all come from office jobs, and were guzzling bottles of wine, and I was way out of my depth. I wasn’t drinking, and I was trying to find a gluten-free, plant-based option on the menu, and the second I stepped out the front door on that freakishly dark and freezing evening, I was already looking forward to getting home to a warm bed. Meanwhile, the other pizza-goers were looking forward to getting back to one of their houses, smoking some weed, and ‘gettin’ looose!’
So when one of the women at the table said that she’d been having a recurring dream, which, according to her, ‘didn’t mean anything,’ because ‘dreams make absolutely no sense and are, like, ridiculous,’ I offered to interpret it, because luckily - or perhaps unluckily for her - dream interpretation is one of my passions.
I’m autistic, and a Sagittarius, and a number 11 in numerology, and a Manifestor in The Human Design System, and a dragon according to Chinese astrology. I am my special interest, and astrology, numerology, tarot, and anything located in the self-help, psychology, spirituality, or relationship section of the bookshop has a home in my heart, and on my shelf. So when I’m presented with the rare opportunity to share something I consider to be of value, I have a habit of jumping on it.
We’re constantly being told that we’re too quiet, too loud, too slow, too quick, too sensitive, too rude, too obsessive, too picky, too inappropriate and too weird.
I found myself interpreting the dream of a woman I’d never met, in front of a group of people I didn’t know. I explained that the guy in her dream was someone that she must believe can help her open up the more sensitive parts of herself and, afterward, she went white, and everyone at the table fell silent. Toward the end of dinner, she told me through red-wine stained lips that I was ‘brutal’ before reassuring me that she ‘admired’ it. Yet I wrestled with being called ‘brutal’ for years.
I asked the friend who’d invited me to the dinner what had happened, and she said that the guy in her dream was someone everyone suspected she was sleeping with, even though she was in a relationship with someone else, and that she had been vehemently denying having feelings for him.
I felt terrible, and I couldn’t see how I was going to prevent something like that from happening again in future. I hadn’t been using honesty or directness as a way to guilt, intimidate, or manipulate her. I didn’t even know her. To my mind, all I did was interpret the symbols in her dream.
She was the one living with unresolved feelings, and struggling with her partner, and underestimating the power of her subconscious. However, I was the one guilty of underestimating my gifts and abilities, which is something that many autistic people are inclined to do.
We mightn’t be wired to adhere to certain social conventions and expectations, but this doesn’t inherently mean that we’re unempathetic.
We’re constantly being told that we’re too quiet, too loud, too slow, too quick, too sensitive, too rude, too obsessive, too picky, too inappropriate and too weird. So feeling out-of-place, and without value, is a common theme. And when we’re presented with an opportunity to contribute something that’s deemed to be impressive, or of value - a la, ‘yeah, go on, interpret my dream, why don’t you?’ - it can be a cataclysmic event.
I wasn’t invited to pizza night again. However there’s not much I would do differently, which is not an easy conclusion to come to. In fact, it’s harder than deciding not to do any of it ever again. Choosing never to go to a dinner, or to open my mouth would be very convenient, and clear-cut. It would also mean that I was placing someone else’s carefully constructed social facade over my honesty with them, and with myself. We mightn’t be wired to adhere to certain social conventions and expectations, but this doesn’t inherently mean that we’re unempathetic. It means that we’re different, and that we might have to work hard to be heard, and understood, which can lead to all kinds of frustrations.
What I would do differently is handle my gifts and abilities with greater care before casually parading them around like I did. My love of all things esoteric is no more of a novelty item than being autistic, and there’s no need to perform like a circus animal in social situations.
I went to the pizza joint that night with a desire to connect, and offer something of value. I may have been naive, and I may have been ‘brutal’, but when I’m honest with myself, and with that woman, I know that what happened between us happened for a reason. Even if we can’t comprehend it, and in many ways it felt uncomfortable, it was also what life - and what truly communicating - is all about.
Madeleine Ryan’s debut literary novel, A Room Called Earth, is being published by Penguin Press in the US & Canada & Scribe in the UK & Commonwealth during 2020. She doesn’t have social media, so if you’d like to receive updates about her work, please sign up for her newsletter here.