I need a dress for a wedding
It is a custom I don't understand
And endure for the sake of friendship.
My heart burns in my clenched chest
as I browse the bright colors
Not finding the color I need.
I consciously draw breath, in, out, in
Keep breathing, air like water
to wash away the stain of terror.
There is always more fear to replace what I exhale.
The employee, well-dressed, blond,
intense red lipstick crisp on her pristine face,
above her fashionable clothes,
"May I help you?"
Unaware, she ignites my red-pain anxiety into a new inferno.
"No thanks, just looking. "
I repeat the pat line,
An uncomfortable lie,
Just to make her go away.
I really mean:
"I don't belong here,
"No one can help me look normal…
I will never feel normal…
My fears are illusions
I know they are illusions
I tell myself they aren't real—
If only I were a credible witness.
I am almost forty.
Shopping still feels
like I am marching to my death,
like I am fighting for my life,
like my insides are burning,
like my skin sloughs off, charred and liquid
like they are judging me,
I am in the wrong place,
doing the wrong thing,
looking at the wrong products.
I am too fat for this section,
Too thin for that,
Not cool enough,
Too geek, too punk,
Ten-years out of date,
So five minutes ago,
No dresses here,
Sportswear over there.
And they know.
Who am I to be here?
I have no right.
trying to disguise myself in their clothes,
lipstick, perfume, pastels in spring,
lace and sequins and belts and 2013 styles
They are all the rage.
So they say…
They also tell me you cannot find silver dresses
This late in the season.
Customs that seem so arbitrary,
Except to the millions who participate
Everyone but me.
I try so hard to not care.
Yet my Asperger’s mind only possesses one social instinct–
“You are doing it wrong.”
It shouts and I cannot ignore it.
No relief will come
Because no instinct will tell me what to do right
Or maybe the doing-it-wrong mechanism is misfiring.
Maybe I'm just fine.
Maybe no one is judging me
Maybe I'm succeeding,
pulling off the artifice
I will never know.
No one will tell me.
And I need to be told.
I am upper class by the numbers,
But inside I am of a caste lower,
than any on Earth.
A caste with a different brain
An imposter species,
who has to consciously try to make eye contact
at the precise time,
laugh at the exact moment,
Say hello, goodbye, pleased to meet you,
But not too early, or too late,
I cannot reveal the hesitation I feel
The unasked question:
“Am I still doing it wrong?”
I can never diverge from the track of known rules
Lest I make some unknown mistake.
And be thrown out
out of the store
out of friendships
out of social circles
out of society
like I have no right to live inside.
Like a leper,
I have a social disease which is not contagious.
It cannot spread.
Yet it disgusts all the same.
As if my fingers rotted.
As if my face were pocked and swollen.
My nostrils red.
My eyes falling out.
As if my heart were an open, seeping wound.
Step back, you normal person.
Or you might catch it.
To distract myself, I compose this poem
in my head.
I note that it is just a long series of tweets.
Too many to remember.
If I stop to write it, surely,
It will break some law I do not know.
"Thou shalt not write poetry in the mall."
It must be written on the walls for all to see
In the finger of a neurotypical god
Glowing in letters only a neurotypical can read.
Each person I pass has a head full of rules
I cannot read.
There are more rules I do not know
than there are unsilver dresses at Macy’s.
I leave the store
I still have no dress
In the right color,
In the right cut,
For the right occasion.
yet just the same
as the other three bridesmaid dresses.
Moving to the next shop
I begin the ordeal again.