A recent article in Cure magazine (Spring 2011) discusses the phenomenon of “chemo brain,” that fuzzy and forgetful state that sometimes follows a course of chemotherapy. According to the article, most medical personnel have rejected the notion that chemo brain actually exists. Only those who suffer from it are convinced of its reality.
Ryo Kiyan couldn’t tell whether it was real or not. All he knew was that, after six months of chemotherapy, he felt different. Not forgetful. His brain worked all right. But things weren’t quite the same. It all felt indefinably—well, different. He had been through surgery, and went right back to work afterward, not wanting to jeopardize his job. Then followed the half year of chemo.
Every three weeks, for a week at a time, he reported to Catskill Regional Medical Center for the infusions. People warned him that he should arrange for transportation while being treated, that he would be so ill and groggy he shouldn’t drive himself. Rather than be dependent, he asked the oncologist to go easy on whatever sedative they added to lessen the discomfort. He wanted to stay awake both for driving and for work. His fellow staff members knew he was being treated, but only one, who had been through it himself, really understood the physical and emotional toll. Ryo had a double trauma when his mother, with whom he was living, developed cancer at the same time.
And so he “walked through the valley of the shadow of death” and, though weakened and changed, came out on the other side. He felt it was those changes, the emotional wreckage and possibly chemo brain, that contributed to what happened later. He described it as having “lost his way.” Added to that was the inherent nature of Asperger’s syndrome.
At the time he finished his chemotherapy, in September of 2008, a new employee was added to the staff of the Sullivan County Division of Planning. She was Miss M—young, attractive, and single. Nearly all the other women in the office were married. She was also sophisticated, intelligent, and, he felt, on the same wavelength as he in many respects. Since her work station was next to his, they frequently engaged in small talk.
By January he felt recovered enough from the cancer, and had a solid job with a decent income, so that he wanted a place of his own. He knew Miss M had her own apartment and asked if she knew of any others in the area. She offered to introduce him to her landlord. Following that meeting, the two had lunch at a historic old inn, then afterward went to Miss M’s apartment. While she was engaged in another room, he passed the time looking at the books in her living room. To him, it seemed a normal and usual thing to do. He didn’t feel that he was prying, but later Miss M testified that it made her “uncomfortable.”
It’s quite possible that he was what made her uncomfortable. Many people have that reaction to Aspies and they couldn’t possibly tell you why. It’s just “something” that makes them “uncomfortable.” They would prefer that everybody be exactly like themselves. That attitude, in turn, makes the Aspie uncomfortable (yes, Aspies have feelings, too), and from there it can only go downhill. In Ryo’s case it went very much downhill.
He enjoyed that day with Miss M. He liked the old inn and suggested they explore other such places. He remembered her saying “Yes, definitely.” She remembered not wanting to agree but, since they worked together, felt it would be rude to refuse and so she gave a reluctant “yeah.” In his Aspie way he failed to pick up on her reluctance and thought she shared his enthusiasm.
An Aspie can be a lonely person and may assume that a friendship exists where there really isn’t one. He, thinking they had gotten along so well, suggested that he visit her apartment, cook dinner for her, and they could watch a movie together.
Miss M was stunned and could barely stammer. At the hearing later that year, much was made of the fact that when he approached her, she was alone in the copy room. The truth is that in choosing this venue he had no sinister intentions, but only felt it was a private conversation and he didn’t want to shout it out to the office. We do understand that the implication of sinister intentions was deliberate, intended to bolster the case against him.
Ryo walked away from that encounter but soon came back and apologized, saying he realized his suggestion had been “inappropriate.” He was, however, still interested in visiting old inns with her. He hadn’t caught on that this was merely a casual acquaintance and not the deepening friendship that he thought and hoped it was. He was also quite attracted to her and, in a straightforward Aspie way, told her he had a “wicked and untenable crush.” When that brought no response he tried again. He handed her a letter once more apologizing for his behavior and saying he was “not usually a terrible person to work with.” That time, she answered, “I don’t think you’re an awful person to work with. I just want to keep it professional.”
Keep what professional? He really didn’t understand what was going on with her. All he knew was that someone he liked, respected, and regarded as a friend suddenly turned a cold shoulder. He wanted to know why and he wanted to fix it. She, in turn, didn’t understand that he didn’t understand. She thought she had made it plain, but to him, it wasn’t. A mediation session at this point might have cleared things up, but it wasn’t the bureaucratic way. He did point out that he had Asperger’s, but because at that stage it was only a self-diagnosis, no one took him seriously. Even if they had believed him, they probably wouldn’t have known how that could affect his thinking and behavior. Most people don’t, which is the reason for this blog.
A few days later he tried e-mailing her:
I didn’t finish my apology on Friday. I just want you to know that I really, really, REALLY have come to my senses! I see now that my very silly behavior was the result of various personal issues that I have no business troubling you with.
Again she did not respond. He still wanted to talk things over, to apologize and get her to understand that he was an honorable person with honorable intentions. Only much later, when it was all over, did he come across an article that gave him some enlightenment as to what she felt. The article explained why such relentless pursuit can be frightening to a woman. Gavin de Becker makes that point in his book The Gift of Fear. De Becker says that while a man can worry that women will make fun of him, for women the fear is of violent assault and rape. Miss M had no way of being assured that Ryo was a gentle, peace-loving Aspie who only wanted a friend. There again, a mediation session would have helped both of them. Unfortunately, the powers that be chose another route.