A little more than five years ago, James Ryo Kiyan was tried and found guilty of stalking a coworker, whom we shall call Miss M. Both were employed by the Sullivan County, NY, Department of Planning and Environmental Management.
“Sexual harassment” the accusers said, although there was nothing sexual about what he actually did. He admitted to having a crush on Miss M, but all he wanted was to talk.
They had had lunch together at an old inn. Afterward he said, “We should do that again sometime.” He remembered her saying, “Yes, definitely.” She remembered being struck dumb.
He thought they were really into something, and so next he suggested they have dinner and a movie together. He would provide the food and a DVD and cook the dinner at her apartment. He felt he couldn’t invite her to his place because he was staying with his mother and the old bat would have been in their way.
This was too much for Miss M. Ryo finally caught on that what he had done was a huge social gaffe. He tried to tell her he realized that now and was terribly sorry. She wanted nothing more to do with him. He wanted to talk it over and be sure she understood that he understood. She didn’t want to talk at all.
It’s obvious that she felt none of the romantic stirrings that he felt. To her, they were simply coworkers who had made friends, and that was that. He was considerably older than she, and she wanted the friendship to end.
Ryo had Asperger’s syndrome. It’s a high-functioning form of autism. He explained to his office mates that he had it. Asperger people are known for their poor social skills. They have trouble putting themselves into other people’s shoes and understanding where those others are coming from. He didn’t realize that his persistence seemed frightening to Miss M. He only knew he wanted to be friends. Her avoidance made him keep at it until she complained to the commissioner of their department
The commissioner warned him to leave Miss M alone. As I recounted those facts in earlier posts, many readers condemned Ryo for being stupid and disobedient when he refused to follow orders. His refusal, they said, was wrong, and he shouldn’t have done it.
I never said it wasn’t wrong. I fully agree that it was, but I happen to know that in his eyes, it wasn’t. He only wanted to talk to her. According to him, what was wrong with that? He thought everyone else just didn’t understand. And so he persisted and finally was suspended from his job.
They suspended him for one month without pay, then pay would resume until the formal hearing sometime in the future. But he was not to come to the office or have any further contact with anyone who worked there.
The hearing took place a few months later. There were several witnesses for Miss M, none for Ryo, who had to hire and pay for a lawyer. Ryo was permitted only to answer questions and say nothing of his own. I don’t know whether his higher-ups even knew about the Asperger’s. If they did, they failed to take it into account as any sort of explanation for his behavior. Asperger’s syndrome is not something a person chooses and it is more serious than most people suppose. You can’t imagine what it’s like unless you were born with it. And if you were, you can’t imagine what it’s like not to have it.
The hearing lasted for several days. It took the officer in charge a couple of months to make her decision. When she did, Ryo was deemed guilty of sexual harassment and lost his job.
He never expected that. In his mind, he hadn’t done anything really bad and he was good at his work. No one had any complaints about that. Until he was actually fired, he kept talking about “When I get my job back . . .”
He spent almost a year looking for a new job. He felt severely handicapped by the charge of “sexual harassment,” but with the Asperger’s, he couldn’t lie about having lost his job. That honesty, by the way, is a common trait among Asperger people. They tend to take things literally, including the truth.
For a while, before studying map-making, he worked in Washington, DC as a legal secretary. Finally he went back there to see if he could find similar work.
He was there a week. He e-mailed me that he wasn’t having much success and thought he could do just as well job-hunting on the Internet. He would be home, he said, on Friday night.
I left the porch door unlocked for him. I waited all weekend. The next week his commissioner called to say Ryo’s car had been found abandoned in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The park was looking for him.
A New York State trooper came to see if he could get more information. He wanted to check Ryo’s computer but didn’t have the know-how, so he said he would be back with someone who could help.
When two troopers came a few days later, I thought it was for that purpose. I thought nothing of it when they asked me to shut my two dogs in another room and be sure I was sitting down. Then one of them told me, “Your son is deceased.”
They gave me a phone number but it was the wrong one. I called my brother, who lived in Maryland, near DC. He got the right number and I talked to the park. They had found Ryo on Pig Nut Mountain where he had committed suicide by using a helium pump.
I’ve been told that people with Asperger’s have a higher than average rate of suicide because they feel so out of sync with the rest of the world. If his bosses had known and understood about the Asperger’s, they might have handled the whole thing differently. That was why I started this blog. I wanted to explain about Asperger’s and help people understand how different it is from what most of us are used to; how differently people with Asperger’s see and experience the world.
The blog has brought both positive and negative feedback. The negative people continue to insist that Ryo was shockingly wrong and shouldn’t have done what he did. This makes me feel that my message hasn’t gotten across. Probably in many cases it never will.
I’ve said it all several times. Most people have understood and there are those who won’t, ever. I don’t need to say it again, and so, with this post, I wind up my blog. I thought of turning it into a writer’s blog but that would muddy the whole concept. Instead I’ve opened a writer’s page on Facebook to discuss books and related topics, to answer questions, and keep in touch with those who read my novels. The name of the site is, believe it or not, Caroline Crane. (Facebook says they have over 70 members named Caroline Crane, but I hope mine is the only writer’s site with that name.)
Goodbye from this blog and my best wishes to all of you. It’s been great.