I met my best friend Dom when we were in second grade. I’ve always been a misfit and an oddball. At that time, I was also yet to be diagnosed with autism and ADHD. However, I survived with a sense of humour, which remains part of my armour. Dom (who is also autistic) got up to read a piece of creative writing.
It was so brilliantly, absurdly original. And funny. I can still remember being thrown about by the uncontrollable force of my own laughter. Dom’s wildly wacky, unconventional inner world that shone through in his words was something that I felt paralleled my own curvilinear mind. It spoke to me and danced in me on a different level. Hearing him recite that day was one of the first times I’d felt seen. We were instant friends.
When I think about everything Dom and I have been through over the past 20 years, it makes me emotional. We’re a jigsaw in a way but we also overlap. Together we’re our own three- dimensional symbiotic puzzle. He knows who I am and I know who he is. We don’t have to speak when we are together, we have our own unspoken language. Dom isn’t influenced by other people’s opinions of what is and isn’t fashionable. He doesn’t need to be on the scene and that makes him the coolest person I know. When the news broke about what happened to me, Dom wasn’t worried about what others were saying about me. He didn’t question me, he just stood by me.
I find that I am a magnet for other autistic people. Many of my other friends besides Dom are also autistic. I think we are drawn to each other because of the common autistic trait of being able to see through bullshit and hollow myths and traditions.
We don’t tend to be small talkers, so there’s a lot of instantaneous but sincere, unfiltered richness and depth to our conversations. Equally, there’s an implicit, effortless understanding that permeates the nonverbal moments too.
There’s a line in Bobcat Goldthwait’s [2009 film] World’s Greatest Dad, spoken by Robin Williams’ character: “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”
That was the experience that I had. Being exposed to a psychopath is profoundly isolating. Friendship and human connection, on the other hand, are wholly regenerative. These are the driving forces of life that give it purpose. It’s in shared moments of joy and understood emotion where you find meaning. We make impressions on people and they make impressions in return. We teach each other. That’s true freedom.
Friendship has taught me that it’s about quality over quantity. I’ve been burnt in the past by being too open and trusting. That’s an autistic symptom, I suppose. I’ve also witnessed a lot of people discard others or not allow themselves to give certain people a chance because they assume they know them after only a couple of interactions, or based on rumours, gossip or what they fear their friends might say. Perceived and reflected unpopularity are powerful drugs. People might think, “Oh, that person’s not cool” or “That person is messed up; they’re too much to handle” [but] I’ve always kept my door open to misfits. Friendship has taught me to not judge a book by its cover, and that belongings are no substitute for belonging. You can’t put a price on the love you gain from kinships and connections that allow you to truly be yourself.
The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner: A Memoir By Grace Tame (Macmillan Australia, $49.99) is out now. Buy it here.