Matchstick girl

Amy Gravino


It all starts with a doorknob.

The palm of my hand wraps around cool metal. Smooth and solid against my skin, gaining me entrance to my place of peace. I can hear the other children’s voices somewhere distant, far away on the Big Toy. They play outside, running over hot blacktop, skin freckling in the sun. But I am in here, in the dark. I move into the closet slowly, acutely aware of my Velcroed sneakers touching the tiled floor, one step at a time. The shoes are too tight, and my feet are throbbing and cramped. They’re trapped, along with the rest of me. My muscles are tense and twisted in preparation for the onslaught of adolescence soon to come. I’m in the middle of the closet now, standing right below the light bulb. Without hesitation, I sink to the floor and arrange myself in a cross-legged position. I have no concept or inkling that any of what I am doing is not normal. I don’t even think that anyone notices me retreating in here day after day. I’m a matchstick girl—legs spindly and awkward, all too sensitive, waiting to be set alight by the outside world.

I try to breathe, for what seems like the first time all day. Tiny hisses of air pass through my clenched teeth, which are aching behind omnipresent metal braces. I can feel the blood rushing through my gums to the enamel, and back again. So much awareness, and yet it is this same awareness that fails me when I try to interact with my peers. Thoughts of past and present social failings dart through my mind as bees, each delivering a momentary but painful sting. The emotions that poured out of me in each of these situations come back to me now, as powerful as they were when I first felt them.

I become so lost in my anything-but-pleasant reverie that I do not notice the closet door slowly shutting behind me. The sudden click of the lock jolts me upright.

“Haha, you’re locked in the closet!” one voice jeers.

“You’re not allowed to come out!” another joins in.

Two girls. Ella Ringway and Kelly Rockpoint. I recognize them immediately. Why are they doing this? What did I do wrong? I grab the doorknob and it turns, but the door won’t open. A swell of panic rises in my chest.

“Please, let me out! Please!” I cry. But the taunting continues. With all the might my miniscule form can muster, I push against the door, but their backs are up against it on the other side, and I feel the weight of their bodies countering my efforts.

“Come on, you guys! Let me out of here!” I again implore. But they ignore me, and I can hear them laughing at my expense. My safe haven is now a prison, and I cannot escape.

Eventually, Mrs. Plotz, the math teacher whose closet I am trapped in, arrives and sets me free, shooing Ella and Kelly to their desks so that class can begin. I emerge from the closet as slowly as I went into it, nerves destroyed and heart scarred from my ordeal. My sadness and anger are barely concealed as I find myself forced to complete long-division problems with my former captors. You call this justice? Does the Geneva Convention mean nothing to you people? I wonder while fuming silently.

But this was middle school, and there was no justice to be found. Not for anyone, but especially not for me. This continued all through high school, unrelenting, unending. I was, I thought, trapped in an invisible closet, one of my own making, unable to connect to anyone or anything. It is only years later that I now see how they were the ones truly in the dark.

This precise memory – of the closet, of being locked in by my peers – has not passed through the fore of my mind in a long time. It had no reason to until last year, when I received a message on Myspace from Ella herself. I was surprised more than anything else, and did not know what to expect when I started to read it. What could she possibly have to say to me? We had neither seen nor spoken to each other since high school graduation, and I couldn’t imagine why she would have a need to write to me. It was only after I’d read the entire message that I realized she had apologized for how she’d treated me. She said she wished she’d known more about Asperger Syndrome at the time, and that maybe if she had, she would have acted differently. But the would-haves and could-haves meant nothing to me. What did mean something, however, was that, out of all the people who’d tormented me back then, Ella was the only one who had the courage to come out and apologize for it.

Sometimes I can still feel the closet around me. The odor of mildew and old math books collecting dust is as strong in my mind now as it was then, but other smells now provoke other memories. They are locked up tight, while I sit in front of the door to keep them from getting out.

Amy Gravino is an adult woman with Asperger Syndrome; she is currently writing her first book, The Naughty Autie.

Courtesy of APPC


Related Articles


Dad shares his love of music

My dad is the greatest! We do a lot of cool stuff together. He helps me with my homework and teaches me all ab ..

read more

Hanging out with my dad

Dads have a huge role to play in every child's life. Every dad is unique. For me, my dad is a role model. On S ..

read more

Educational bullying

There are many types of bullying. Some can be using cruel words, physically harming someone, shunning, and edu ..

read more

Our Support Community


Join our free support community and connect with thousands of other families and individuals touched by ASD. Find out what’s working for others, coping strategies, and life guides from others living what you’re going through now. Click here to join for free!

Resources in Your Area

Looking for autism resources nearby? Check our listings for professionals and services that might help.

Post your services | Help out in general

Events


9th World Rett Syndrome Congress
Surfers Paradise, QLD - Australia
Sep-30-2020 - 09:00 am
The Rett Syndrome Association of Australia (RSAA)email rettaust@bigpond.comwishes to draw attention to the fact that it is staging the 9th World Rett Syndrome Congress i ..
Go to Event site

view all events