Keeping Up Appearances


I do not understand respect.
As a vague concept, sure, it’s fine, but this dance people do, this strange back and forth of anticipated response and intuitive reaction baffles me. I suppose I’m classically autistic in that way. All of my attempts to learn timing and social cues comes from trial and error. I learn my scripts from films and books, mimicking behaviour, slipping words around my tongue that seem appropriate even though I don’t understand their use.

“Oh but I must leave him!” The actress cries, dramatically turning toward the sunset, hands clasped to her breast. “I love another!”
I watch romance movies with frustration. I don’t see why they can’t just talk to each other.
Their petty secrets don’t make sense.

Sometimes I miss the cues, but most of the time I don’t. I do the expected thing, even though it makes no sense to me. Smile when they smile. Laugh when they joke, even if it’s not funny, even if it hurts. Simply stating you find a thing amusing is not enough; your emotions must be painted on your outsides, flashing signs to prove that A Social Interaction Has Been Had. Never say you’re not actually interested. That is rude, even if it’s true, even if they know it.
The conversations about my lack of reaction are more awkward than applying the correct face and saying my lines. A pantomime wouldn’t be a pantomime if the villain were caught with the first cry of “He’s behind you!”

You absolutely must allow them to tell the story, even if you know the ending.

I say my lines. I rehearsed them when I was young.
I corrected them when scolded, and bolded them when praised.
I remember once confusing a genuine plea for secrecy (over a broken lampshade) with a joke, thinking then that a husband would not fear his wife because the world was simple and I was naïve. I thought it funny. I told the wife the funny, funny joke.
It turned out not to be so funny after all, and they thought me a troublemaker.

I have learned never to state the obvious.

If you can see the truth in someone, why not speak directly to it? Why must the things we know be hidden? We aren’t playing poker. Feelings are not cards, trauma is not a lucky bet.
Your mother hurt you but I’m not her, I am your friend.
You will leave me, and that’s okay.
I know I’m not the ideal mother for your grandchildren. You don’t have to tell me otherwise, I do understand.
Our family member is wasting away because of her abusive husband.
Mental illness runs in the blood. It’s that simple.

For the sake of appearances, say nothing. Say nothing.

Say nothing.

All this posturing and lying and maintaining awkward stories to save face, to show respect.
To continue the dance, even though saying what you mean saves you pain, saves us the complications.
Is this what people do? Is this what comes naturally? Why?

Yet we autistics are the ones with the masks.


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