The Man Behind the Curtain
The reason for referencing “The Man Behind the Curtain” is because of that iconic scene in the 1930s classic, “The Wizard of Oz.” The wizard emerges at first using special effects that seem primitive compared to the likes of “Sonic the HedgeHog 2.” But back in the Golden Age of Hollywood this was the best any money could buy and nobody had seen anything like it in the history of humanity. Even as a small child in the 1980s, this scene probably frightened me. But it is immediately revealed when Toto pulls open the curtain that a pathetic little man is frantically operating all of the controls. The fear diminishes dramatically for the audience at that point. It is all smoke and mirrors. All hollow intimidation with no serious threat. The third example I am about to give is in relation to that metaphor of the Man Behind the Curtain.
There have only been three times in my life when I was enraged enough to fantasize about killing someone. The best-case scenario would be someone else being provoked enough to commit this crime of passion. The legal system very rarely looks at extenuating circumstances when it comes to murder and would not care about the reasons unless it were literally self-defense. But as the jury were handing out consequences, I would probably scour the beenverified site looking for an updated address to send a gourmet fruit basket. That person would have deserved a medal for eliminating this person from the human race. Who knows whether this person’s malice would have driven at least one person to suicide? “Murdering” him or her would save several innocent lives from being ruined or driven to kill themselves. It would seem completely and utterly justified. Or that is how it felt at the peak of these experiences.
The first time I wanted to kill at least one person was when finally accepting that I had been the victim of a six-month Catfishing prank perpetrated by several students in my old high school back in 1999. They had a field day with my naivete and appeared to show no genuine remorse for tricking me into having real feelings for a fictional woman created by their demented imaginations. In fact, they initially attempted to pin the blame on me for believing everything I heard and instead of an apology when she was called out for her role, the young woman explained, “You should not believe everything you hear. Especially over the computer.”
The second time was less than two weeks into the debut of my first book, “Atypical: Life with Asperger’s Syndrome in 20 1/3 Chapters.” I received a Facebook message from a woman I had not spoken to since high school. This woman struggled with mental problems and a learning disability. I had been briefly involved with her and consider her to be my first girlfriend, but the romance fizzled out and we never went beyond kissing. I vaguely remember she has a history of making up outrageous lies for attention or to make her life seem more interesting. But at the same time, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed she has matured beyond some of that over the course of a solid decade. To make a long story short, she made up a cockamamie, but very convincing, lie that a cold phone call had been made by her to a Dr. Phil producer who showed interest in putting my book on the air. Her communication became erratic at that point. When the woman finally put me out of my misery by returning contact attempts, I immediately walked out of an event revolving around my book to be seduced by her fabrications. At this late hour I realize how unprofessional that was, but there was that sense of desperation and not knowing when she would call back if I did not answer. When things started to unravel, I pleaded with her to admit that she made it all up so I could begin the process of moving on. I was not demanding an apology and merely wanted closure to force myself to accept that Dr. Phil was not banging down the door. She could not even grant this ounce of compassion and compromise. The woman just said on Facebook Messenger, “I have to go now” and then promptly unfriended me forever as though this were my fault. Anyone who believes my rage was unnecessary or over-the-top as far as fantasizing about murder, I ask that you watch the 1990 film, “What About Bob.” Dr. Marvin’s reaction was normal because writing a book takes a toll, and my first book was plagued with procrastination that was cured toward the last minute. For someone to deliberately sabotage that dream is unbearable.
The third time also started around the publication of my first book. An old high school acquaintance I had not seen in many years reached out to me appearing to congratulate me on writing a book. He told me about his own dream to create a book about zombies living under the Mid-Hudson Bridge in the City of Poughkeepsie. My honest thoughts were how this sounded moronically stupid. It was as though he had put “Night of the Living Dead,” “Billy Goats Gruff,” and “28 Days Later” into a rusty blender. But in the spirit of the advice all of our elders gave us from day one, “If you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything at all.” I also took into consideration that I am not a huge fan of this particular genre. After taking a deep breath, I wrote back how he should pursue this goal if that is his dream. This particular individual was hardly one of my worst bullies growing up and did nothing to ever cause permanent trauma. But absolutely no memories of him are positive in any way, shape, or form. I recall him saying things on the school bus about the Holocaust that upset me even though I cannot recall any literal statements or why I was specifically distressed. One time I was stupid enough to let him borrow my social studies notebook in eighth grade because he was too lazy to do much work and Mr. Andy Arenson had warned us that he was doing a notebook check to see if any of us took notes from the blackboard. I should have told him to, “Go to hell!” followed by, “I forget the part where that is my problem.” But we cannot change or embellish the past, however. What I really did was hand over the notebook and all its meticulous content. The worthless bastard conveniently broke his leg and was out of school for at least two weeks. I have never had that blessed experience of taking a mandatory two-week absence from school. But even at that age, I was compelled to have some amount of integrity with regards to paying people back promptly if they lent me lunch money. I would like to think that even at age 13 or 14 I would have said to my mother, “I have the notebook of a classmates and maybe you can drop it off at school as soon as possible.” I worried for two weeks about not having notes to study for exams and when he finally came back to school the notebook was nonchalantly handed back like it was no big deal. I recall no sense of appreciation from Captain What’s-his-Face or any apology for inadvertent inconvenience that was caused. Mr. Arenson asked me, “Did you learn something?” I must have said yes but in reality, I had not learned a single thing and probably continued making that mistake. His comment seemed extremely condescending as though I had done something wrong instead of being seen as a victim. But when we are tricked by shysters into buying some magic beans we must take some responsibility for our own foolishness or else it will keep happening forever.
For many years I have analyzed what was wrong with me and why all dignity was depleted to the point where I merrily allowed my classmates to take advantage of me as they saw fit. It must have been because these acts of brutal inconsideration at least guaranteed a short-lived grace period in which they would pretend to like me considering I was doing them a favor. When he reached out to me as a full-blown adult, I forced myself to get past some of the ancient hard feelings middle school. Back in those days he was a burnout and was pressured to drop out of school by an assistant principal due to merely taking up space. His only real talent that I recall was being an exceptionally talented artist who worked on his drawings during school. (This was the story I heard, at least.)
A few weeks or a few months later, I received a phone call from a number I did not recognize but I immediately recognized the voice after maybe two minutes. He admitted it was him and was not in a congratulatory mood this time. His words were laced with harsh criticism about my book was depressing and accused me of lying about or at least exaggerating instances of bullying in some of the chapters. I was told that others have been through far worse challenges than myself and he firmly stated, “Stop capitalizing on bullying and autism.” This statement pushed many of my buttons because it is always an awkward thing to ask for money in exchange for giving my speeches. Furthermore, I very rarely allow “money” to be the reason I do or do not give a presentation. Sometimes I will negotiate a flat fee, which means that one thousand dollars is going to cover everything including the expenses with nothing augmenting that solid fee. This fee is justifiable when there are multiple travel expenses. If the location is close to where I live such as the Guilderland YMCA, I will gingerly ask for some monetary compensation will ultimately give them the benefit of the doubt and will do it for free if they explain how strapped for cash they are at the moment. (It never hurts to ask, however.) The fact remains that during this time, I was on my way to being in $25,000 in credit card debt so I really do not know how much capitalizing was accomplished during the early days of my public speaking career. I knew that all of his words were unfair and ridiculous, but he still ruined my night and had a hauntingly-sociopathic was of making me doubt my own intentions. People will believe his lies, and I feared him coming after me with a vengeance on social media with no ability to compete with his determination to create a sequel for his treatment of me growing up. Right on cue, he graduated from phone calls to attacking me on Facebook sometimes on my public wall that was open to the public for posting whatever they wanted. One time he made a horrible remark after I posted about supporting people with Down Syndrome. “Thanks a lot! You just fucked up my high.” I wrote back, “What are you talking about? How did I fuck up your high?” I was just in shock and was trying to analyze how my innocuous post could possibly upset anybody.” Both of us were promptly reprimanded on the Facebook thread by my former high school special education teacher who actually had a child with Down Syndrome who passed away quite recently. She warned, “What you say on the Internet will last forever.” (I was not sure if she were talking to both of us, however.) The most distressing attack came when he posted an image of a beautiful, inebriated woman sprawled on a couch with what appeared to be a recipe for an alcoholic beverage that would essentially serve as a date rape cocktail. This toxic trash was on my Facebook wall with only one or two outside comments considering everybody was probably so taken aback they did not know what to say. I confronted him privately about this behavior to which he replied, “You have fucked with me for the last time.” Wow! I guess he thought this was entirely my fault for being harassed. Another offense that pieced my soul was when he called me out for mistreating people who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. The incident he is referring to is a chapter in my first book about how I politely refused to take the pamphlet of a Jehovah’s Witness who came to my door. I admitted that it would just go in the recycling bin as soon as the door closed, and it is not fair to waste their resources as well as cause more trees to die in vain. I probably confided in the two ladies about my phobia of unnecessary waste for good measure. The fact is that hell will freeze over before a I join a religion that does not believe in Halloween. While I respect their right to not celebrate it, I also have the right to believe that Halloween is Independence Day for those feel different or are cautiously coming out as transgender and have one day in which it will not be odd if they dressed up as someone from the opposite gender.
I snapped the night I could take it no longer. He made horrible comments about how individuals with Asperger’s syndrome should never have leadership position and mentioned drugs in his post. It was at that moment when it finally occurred that I had a weapon, too. In front of all of my followers, I unloaded with a long list of festering grievances that he has consistently created for absolutely no reason. I started writing and could not stop. His next comment was, “Chill! Do not make me out to be such a villain. I am sorry. I will not write on your wall anymore. Okay?!” I did not accept his apology in any way, shape, and form. As was the case in middle school, he did not care about me nor did this individual have any shame as a full-grown adult over his bitter and unprovoked attacks. I wish I could claim that was the end of it when it died down after this ugly confrontation.
It did not seem fair to have to move on right away or forget about the past. My immature actions were justified by trying to prevent him from ever doing this again to someone else. One time without any provocation from him, I cut-and-pasted all of the celebrity endorsements for my second book, “Getting a Life with Asperger’s.” I let him know these were nobel prize laureates, playwrights, and other prominent people like Dr. Temple Grandin who have accomplished more than he ever will through his wasted life. While I do not know if I said those exact words, they were certainly implied. But I specifically remember saying, “Do you have any snide comments to say about this, too?” He did not reply but promptly blocked me on Facebook, which was a slight that provoked me to continue getting revenge.
I took the radical step of looking up his information on a site that I pay money for every single month, which gives access to a mostly-accurate database of anyone’ information. I started sending him annoying text messages every so often, but not nearly enough to justify police intervention. If an authority figure did call my phone warning me to “Knock it off or else!” I would have agreed to stop cold turkey but had a speech ready about the past and how much suffering was caused by this individual as well as my go-to justification of how I was terrified he would do this to somebody else. After the phone call ended in a cordial fashion, I would obviously quite forever and force myself to let it go outside the lingering flashbacks limited to the sanctuary of my own mind. Every single time I sent a text message to that number, it marked it as having been read but there was never any response. I was going to wear him down until he cracked and could also take it no longer as was the case with my outburst that put a tourniquet on his efforts. I just wanted him to explain himself and why all of this happened. “Why me?” What did I ever do to make him spend that much energy finding ways to deplete my already-fragile self-esteem?
My former girlfriend brought his name up while we were having lunch with a close friend I have kept in touch with since high school. Dark clouds reflexively formed and partially ruined the lunch as I sneered, “He has made my life absolutely miserable.” This friend of mine who has a background in psychology and grew up with this individual explained that this particular individual has shown signs of mental illness (specifically schizophrenia and has a strong feeling that he is sending these emails from an institution or group home setting considering they have access to the Internet in such places. At least some of my hatred melted, and I stopped thinking of his behavior as a personal attack and conspiracy. In some ways I sympathize and in other ways I do not exactly cut him a break. There is no symptom of any condition that is associated with malicious behavior and unprovoked bullying. People with Asperger’s syndrome are typically characterized as socially challenged, but harmlessly-eccentric and well-meaning. But I have sadly encountered some on the autism spectrum who are mean-spirited, remorseless deviants. Perhaps their diagnosis may not help with toxic personality traits, but it is not the reason for how they treat humanity. But I was much more at peace after this conversation.
Over a long period of healing and partial forgiveness. I realize this person merely had the mental skills to become more foreboding than he actually is in real life. He had the idle time to perfect his craft and know all the right things to say that always made me feel wrong. In reality, this individual has not been employed for years and is comforted only by glory days from the past. There is no fear any longer on my part. It is actually quite tragic in some ways. He has so many talents that could be used to accomplish phenomenal things if they were only harnessed in a healthy fashion. I know this is a cliché that is hard to follow, but it really takes so much time to be angry about something especially if it is not happening in the present or very recent past. One of these days, I will stop letting the trolls ruin my day, but in the meantime perhaps writing about them is going to help and make readers of my blog feel better about their own feelings. I think of people like this classmate as someone who is recklessly driving their own metaphorical bus. Anybody could be in the way and sometimes it is us who falls into their path. The attacks appear to be deeply personal at the time when they are in actuality tossed in any direction. But they are not once analyzing the source. They truly are...not!