A bit of writing about being neurodivergent, disabled, ethnic and a woman in Wales.
As a child I lived in Wales during the summer. My mum and dad would deliver our old beat-up caravan to the Llŷn Peninsula, and I would wait out the hot weather there. Others would come and go but I would draw and read surrounded by cows and sheep.
I didn’t really have friends, well, that is kind of hard if you are an autistic Anglo-Indian living in the middle of the Midlands surrounded by the National Front. Or what was then referred to as the National Front.
Strangely I preferred the company of the livestock and the soft lilting voices of the Welsh over the harsh Midland accent to being yelled at.
Back in those days I had a pup called Tab; Tabitha, a cat’s name but I thought it suited her. We went everywhere together. She was a large and rather grumpy creature descended from a border collie and show golden retriever.
I remember her last walk in the Midlands, she was thirteen by then and creaking in the joints. I would match her pace and she would try valiantly to walk at her old speed.
That day though, we were both tired, her from age and me from white privilege. I wanted out.
We were planning on moving, first to a large house to do it up and then flip it. The result that we wanted was a smallholding, and when I say we I mean my family, my parents and siblings. To get there we needed to flip one more house.
So, this was the last time I would walk my dog, not because we were ready to sell, but because Tab was sick. I knew she was slow, but I didn’t realise that within forty-eight hours she would be gone.
That day, it was warm and there were leaves underfoot, they crunched as we walked. That was one of the few things I loved and miss about that area – there were trees everywhere. A short walk could be done without an umbrella because of those trees.
We’d gone a little further that day, past the railway bridge and over the cut that crossed the railway. Through a cow field and past four curious horses with velvet soft noses who snorted at Tab, who simply rolled her eyes, the silliness of horses was none of her concern.
We went up the steps, down the steps, across the tracks, up the steps and down onto the road, not a pavement you understand but directly onto the road. Then we turned right to head to the bridge.
We got to that corner, past the houses I used to deliver papers to, and there was this old guy: classic miner with flat cap, gummy eyes and a red nose. I knew the type. I found that the redder the nose the more aggressive the man.
He looked at me and his watery pale blue eyes tighten, and his face pulled into a sneer. I saw the monster; they lived all around me. I looked down. Tab knew but she simply shuffled along, we could not bring ourselves to fight, we were beaten.
He hawked back a glob of mucus and saliva and spat it at me. It landed on the boots that I would never touch again and slid to the pavement. I ignored it. Tab ignored it.
But I spent the summer in Wales, and I did not miss the place I lived, I can’t call it a home. The house my mum and dad were in, that was my home but that place I walked for the first twenty years of my life – that was just a place.
I lived with bullying. I walked to school with it, it was at extra classes, it was in my life, and it was awful.
I moved to Wales.
And it stopped.
It was like hearing a noise all your life and suddenly it was gone and there was silence. A cure. The type of bully I had dealt with was no more.
Sure, there were a lot of little things, doors closing that could have been held open, but the awful stuff was gone. No more yells and no more spitting. I lived a quiet life.
Started a degree.
Started to heal.
Looking back, I guess that is what I did. I was healing, I lived a quiet life of studying and gardening. I was back in that caravan on the Llŷn Peninsula, except now I lived in Wales. I was home. Over time I have become more settled.
I moved into a house, one that I could call my own. Renovation and decoration became things I did, and I became a step-mum.
Did you know that on all the step-mums in the stories, the evil ones, were originally just mum’s but they were changed when the story was originally written down, because they vilified mothers? So, we have the evil step-mum, green skin and warts optional.
Up till then I had considered bullying from my perspective, but children meant I looked at it from theirs.
All my kids are grown, some have houses, but all have careers and partners and are settled. They have grown up problems.
Imagine my surprise that I come across a Midland-type bully but in Wales and now centred not on me, but on one of my sons. It was honestly strange to look at it all from adult eyes.
In this street the houses all have a drive but because these strips were put in place in the 1960s most people have removed the wall between them because they are remarkably narrow. When exiting your car your door will open onto your neighbour’s land. Not that is an issue with most.
In this case though it is not about the drive, but more about inheritance.
The man in question – the bully – has suddenly started to appear to see his homeowner brother, who is in the last stages of life. The bully has decided that in order to inherit well he needs a bigger drive.
This is where my son’s house comes in. They live next door, and the drives are separated by a seam in the tarmac. He started to block the drive.
He pulled at the strings that he found, and he caused my son to become unhappy. Not for a short time, but a year. At first, I wasn’t aware, but recently I noticed. My husband, R, noticed.
We sat up and watched and then we stepped in. Enough is enough. There is no blurring of that tarmac seam, it simply exists and is there on the deeds.
R talked and the man bullied. He wanted to elicit a reaction. He didn’t get it. We saw him blow kisses behind R’s back, but we did not react. We only watched.
The man was upset, not for the argument but for the reaction. For him it was nothing more than a game and we had stopped playing.
We showed our son the game and he smiled. He saw and in the seeing decided he wouldn’t play anymore.
So, that is what we do, we ignore them. If there is an accidental racist comment or – and this is the worst – the comment is given and then I am told that it doesn’t apply because I am a friend or family or not really like that, then I ignore it, but then I ignore them.
There is no need to give them space in my life. If I see it on social media, I report it and block it. I do not jump on the wagon and berate them in front of everyone. I am not there for their or anyone else’s amusement.
But it does still happen.
Before Covid I was picking up some artwork from MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in Machynlleth and having a good day.
The artwork had won a special consideration and people had come to see it for the couple of months it had been up. I was smiling and had a bounce in my step. It isn’t a small piece and, framed, it only just tucked under my arm. But I wasn’t worried.
I was heading back to the car and humming when a bespectacled white man stopped me.
“Have you been shopping for jewellery?”
He pushed his specs up and stared. It was not worrying, he was tall but very thin and I didn’t really feel threatened, but he was white, so I took a step back.
“No,” I said.
“No, really and where is your friend?”
By now I was concerned that he might be a little confused. I felt as if I have walked into a conversation that I had lost the beginning of.
“I’m just picking up my art from MOMA,” I said. I didn’t owe him an explanation, but I felt that this guy was not going to move.
My step back had elicited a step forward from him. He wasn’t in my personal space, but he was close.
“You were just in that shop there,” he said pointing at a bric-a-brac place.
Now, randomly it might be somewhere I would go, but not today and not alone. The autism can make shops and people too much to handle. Something I was aware of in this situation. I could quite easily go into an overwhelmed state, and I was there on my own.
“No,” I said. “I was collecting my art.”
“You are Indian,” he said.
I took another step back. He didn’t follow me, possibly because he could see people watching.
“Two Indian girls robbed that shop of jewellery, and my friend is out of pocket.”
A small piece of spital flew from his mouth and landed between us. I watched it.
I shook my arm to show the large, covered frame. I moved it in front of my body like a shield.
He blinked and looked around.
“Did you see them?” he suddenly asked.
“No,” I said.
“I had to ask,” he said, “Because, well…” He waved an arm to encompass my body.
“I am brown,” I finished for him. He looked away and I crossed the road.
I never went back to MOMA, I never entered another open art competition, I never returned to Machynlleth.
I ignored it, but I wonder in this case if I played the game too well. That I damaged my own life and experiences in order to not place myself in that situation again.
I don’t go shopping alone anymore either. I don’t have to, but I find it frightening to even consider it.
In that game I failed.
The white man in glasses won, but I’m not even sure he knew he was playing.
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