What I learned from Spock as a lonely kid with autism/Asperger’s

The world is all the poorer as today Leonard Nimoy died here in Los Angeles. I am going to try to write a sensible thing, but it is very hard because Nimoy was so important to me, and I am emotional right now.

You see, back in the late 1970s and 1980s, nobody had heard of Asperger’s, and very few had heard of autism. My parents had no idea, and I’m not sure they would have been really capable of dealing with it even if the idea was on anybody’s radar. I went to a small school; special education classes were unknown. There were the ‘slow’ kids and the ‘normal’ kids, and they were all the same classes. I was the former, for quite some time.

And I was absolutely reviled among the other kids and, frankly, among the adults as well, because I simply didn’t have normal reactions to anything. I cried over weird shit. I failed to cry over normal shit. Things that I thought were funny weren’t funny to anybody else. The other kids–all but one or two others–hated my guts and teased me mercilessly. Teachers did little to intervene. After all, peer learning is good for kids; I’d learn, of course, to fit in when I got tired of being a punching bag and treated so badly. If I retaliated, as I often did out of hurt and frustration, THEN a teacher would be worried. My place was at the bottom of the social hierarchy, period. Temper in a girl? How unseemly. “All you have to do” I remember one genius instructor telling me, “Is to be more like the other kids.”

Well, gee, wish I’d thought of that.

Only I couldn’t. When confronted with other kids and their boring games, I tried to pretend to be interested, and I wasn’t, and I wasn’t a good enough actor to pretend otherwise. I tried conversing with them. Jesus what a mess that turned out to be. I missed their subtle clues about how they felt about me, or misinterpreted them, so they went to more vicious lengths to tell me they wanted rid of me. “Why can’t you fit in?”my poor, confused, Homecoming-Queen-nominee mother would ask.

Staying in from recess was *awesome.*

I was clumsy, uncoordinated, and unworldly, a terrible disappointment to my father as well, who valued athleticism and what he considered real-world smarts, not the sort of dreamy, preoccupied mind I seem to have.

Nor was I a pretty girl, in addition to the rest of this mess. That’s always a problem, isn’t it?

I sincerely tried to be other people. I tried on personas like pairs of pants. I acted, and failed. I lied to people, made up stories, to create a person I thought they might like. After all, people hated the real version. My imagination was good; and what I have found is that people aren’t really all that interested in reality.

And I sincerely couldn’t help it. I needed to wear the same clothes day after day. When Zuckerberg does it, it’s now considered genius. When I did it 30 years ago and in 3rd grade, it was deviant. I couldn’t control the repetitive hand flapping and finger twisting that plagued my elementary school years. I didn’t understand why people wanted to talk to me only to get angry when I talked, or why, when I stopped communicating in order to avoid making people angry, they got angry, then, too.

So when Star Trek went into reruns on network television, I encountered the only character I had ever seen who was a lot like me. Here was Spock, constantly reviled for his reasoning and his inability to feel things the proper way, in a way that reassured people around him that he was emoting in a manner that other people approved of. There he simply was: he knew what his brain was for and what it could do if you used it for analyzing and for solving problems instead of constantly worrying about “being appropriate.”

Not only did I see in Spock somebody, like me, who couldn’t help not fitting in, but he was a profoundly good soul despite his inability to fit in. It was possible, entirely possible, that my decency and compassion, which I felt so acutely but that others never seemed to see, was misunderstood, like Spock’s, because I expressed it so differently. People didn’t get it. And they often rejected Spock’s decency and goodness, like mine, because they could not see what he saw. But that didn’t make his desire to be a friend and to live a good life any less sincere or valuable. In Spock, I had a model, both intellectual and moral, that allowed me to envision myself as something other than a colossal failure as a human being.

As Nimoy and Spock aged, they never disappointed me. Spock became, of course, part of Trek’s pantheon of superheroes, always wise, always thinking, always loyal.

Nimoy, sentenced to typecasting, inspired me in a different way: by continuing to live a creative life in various pursuits despite the fact that the rest of the world only wanted to see him in one character. He continued to write and express himself artistically regardless of how every single one of those endeavors would be received only as a footnote to a character played early in his career.

Farewell, Mr. Nimoy.