Born On A Blue Day: Inside The Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant is the story Daniel Tammet.
The Raleigh News & Observer calls it ”Remarkable, revealing, and nearly flawless.”
“Honest, eloquent” raves The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“Yawn.” – Me
Turns out his autism is plain old Asperger’s syndrome.
Try growing up with four siblings, four of whom have Asperger’s. Only no one’s heard of Asperger’s yet, so you think that you’re the freak.
With my steady job, ability to make eye contact, and lack of criminal record, I’ve been the object of ridicule in my family for years.
My sister Janet was the Acid Queen of Yorkville in the ’60s. She and her husband made LSD in their bathtub, and kept $100 bills stacked in the freezer.
At least it wasn’t body parts.
She got busted eventually, of course. When the RCMP arrested her, she demanded to go to the washroom – alone – and calmly flushed the evidence down the toilet.
(I, on the other hand, couldn’t bring home stickers I found at school without tearfully confessing to my parents.)
Twenty years later she was busted again, this time for bilking the Old Age Pension.
Apparently she took the names of dead people from gravestones and used their I.D. I say “apparently” because we’ve never discussed it; I found out from co-workers who saw it on the news.
Janet’s disdain for the law is balanced by a bizarre reverence for etiquette. Talking too loud, saying “can” instead of “may,” and chewing gum are all serious offenses. So it’s only natural that next in line would be our loud, slang-talking, gum-chewing sister, Marion.
For as long as I can remember, Marion’s been a magnet for chaos. From losing her wallet on Christmas Eve, to contracting Legionnaire’s Disease, to getting evicted when her roommate turned their home into a crack den, if something can go wrong, it will, usually in spectacular fashion.
Like most people with Asperger’s, Marion chose a solitary career in writing. Compared to Janet she seems pretty normal, until you look at her circle of friends: astrologers, compulsive gamblers, schizophrenics, professional lab rats, and nuttiest of all, other writers. But where Marion is into the occult (she was married to a palm reader), our brother Lloyd is a card-carrying atheist.
Like many people with Asperger’s, he has a limited range of interests. Or should I say, interest. He’s spent the last 40 years in his basement, building and communing with computers.
Whether from the isolation, the Asperger’s, or both, his social skills are pretty sketchy. Dinners at his place involve me smiling awkwardly at his wife while Lloyd sits, eyes closed, and complains about the “terrible food.”
What he lacks in diplomacy, he makes up for with deadpan humour. I’ve cried more than once for taking his jokes seriously.
SFX: (phone ringing)
“Hey, I’ve got a great idea for making a lot of money. It’s simple. I just hack in to the banks’ computers and take a penny from every account electronically. They’ll never know.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No.” (long pause) “You’re an accomplice now, by the way.”
“Because you listened.”
I might’ve laughed if our sister wasn’t Janet.
Then there’s Sitara, a.k.a. Astrid, a.k.a. Batul, Samantha, Lynn, Judith, Barbara and Derede. The last time I saw her, she was standing on the corner in a Muslim robe, clutching a Fendi handbag.
“Hey Sitara, how’re things?”
She smiled. “I’d be fine if I could just assassinate George Bush!”
“Great. Well, see you around.”
Sitara is closest to me in age, but we couldn’t be further apart otherwise. When I was obsessed with Snoopy and Woodstock, she was reading Chaucer and writing in iambic pentameter. She also talked to fences.
Before Sitara was diagnosed with Asperger’s, I blamed her eccentricity in part on her birth name. I mean, who wouldn’t be fucked up with a name like Derede?
“It’s Greek for Dorothy,” our Mom would explain when people asked.
Why she didn’t just name her Dorothy is a mystery best explained by the fact that our mother also has Asperger’s.
* * * * * *
Smart but not a genius, creative but unfocused, I spent years trying to win my family’s approval. Then one night as I was channel surfing, I saw John Bradshaw.
He looked and sounded like a TV evangelist. I’d always been fascinated with Jim and Tammy Bakker, so I stopped to listen.
“Watch out for the black sheep of the family,” he said. “Chances are they said, ‘I’m getting out of here, these people are crazy!’”
The words hit me like a lightning bolt. You mean it’s OK to not be like the rest of my family?
From that moment on, everything changed. Now I accept myself and my family as individuals who just happen to be related. And have ungodly-wide feet.
As for Tammet, no question, he has an amazing mind. Thanks to a condition called synesthesia, he sees numbers as physical landscapes, and in 2004 he memorised Pi to 22,500 decimal places. He also speaks ten languages, including Esperanto.
All in all, Born On A Blue Day is an interesting read if you want to know more about Asperger’s.
Or you can just visit my family.