Asperger's Diary

Life through the lens of Asperger's Syndrome.

The Cheese Incident

How the little things can trip you up.

Backyard patio get-togetherOne pleasant afternoon, my husband and were invited to a casual get-together at a colleague's house. Because these types of things are generally not easy for me, I was nervous and a bit on edge, but hopeful… until our hosts led us outside.

The wind immediately assaulted me, creating a near-constant whoosh in my ears. As I settled into the seat next to my husband, my eyes fell upon the plate in the middle of the patio table. Uh, oh...

On that plate rested a block of cheese, crackers, and fish, as a garnish. But that wasn't what had me so concerned.

Now, perhaps I am one of the un-initiated (or I've been living under a rock), but in my circles, the implement of choice for cheese and crackers was always a knife. What lay neatly across the block of cheese bore no resemblance to any knife I had ever seen.

It looked like a pie server, with one edge dull, the other slightly serrated, and a hole in the middle, which reminded me of a bottle opener. I pondered the etiquette for using such a tool... It didn't look like a very efficient knife. As such, it would be clumsy and unwieldy...so, how would one use it?

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The others launched into conversation, but the combination of my hearing loss and the wind in my ears ensured that I only heard 75% of what was being said. The noise didn't seem to bother the others, but that's nothing new. Background noise and I have never gotten along.

With nothing to do other than attempt to nod and smile at the right times, I watched my hosts like a hawk, hoping for a clue as to how to proceed in serving myself. "Try it with the fish..." the husband said, gesturing to the plate, "It's a local delicacy..."

He handed me a cracker with fish...and I watched him as he served up the next one. He pressed the flat side of the server into the top of the cheese, drawing it backward. A curl of cheese appeared through the hole.

"Oh, it's like a carpenter's plane!" I thought (fittingly, as it turned out, I later learned that this tool was called a cheese plane).

Did I dare try it?

Now, tasks requiring fine motor control have always been difficult for me. Much as I have always longed for "girly" handwriting, it has always eluded me. Writing legibly, for me, is a very laborious process. I love the look of embroidery, but could never manage it. I knit, but have been working on the same afghan for 10 years…I spend almost as much time ripping out my mistakes as I do actually adding to the length of the blanket.

Knowing all this, I was concerned about my ability to learn this new task on the fly… could I manage it? Partaking in the hors d'oeuvres seemed an important part of participating in the social discourse and "having a good time."  On top of that, I was quite hungry.   So, what to do?

Should I take the risk and give it a shot? Or should I refrain, and risk offending our hosts?

The break came when my husband decided to cut himself a piece…giving me the opportunity to say, "Honey, while you're cutting yourself a piece, could you cut one for me, too?" I figured that this would not be seen as strange, simply a courtesy between spouses…but I realized I couldn't spend the whole evening doing this. Being an adult it would be generally assumed that I was capable of self-service. If not, what would that mean?

While the others were deeply engaged in their own conversation, I decided to take the plunge. I reached for the "plane" and commenced cutting. Immediately, I found myself in the midst of a struggle.

When I pulled back, the plate came with. When I steadied the plate, the cheese began to come off the plate. Having seen some of the others softly steady the cheese with the tips of their fingers, I attempted to do the same, knowing, of course, that this should be kept to a minimum since it's rude to touch others' food.

The tool was so deeply embedded in the cheese that "softly steadying" the cheese wasn't working. Before I realized it, I had almost my whole hand on the cheese trying to keep it in place while I cut. I was struggling, but committed now…having made a hack job of the cheese, I couldn't just leave the piece half-cut.

Then I had an appalling thought…Was the hand that was holding the cheese the same hand that I'd pet their cat with?

The husband was looking at me now, and I wondered what he was thinking… Had he made the cat connection? Was he wondering what was wrong with me? Thinking I was rude? Or was I just over-reacting?

I didn't want to be rude. These people's opinion was important to me…and I desperately hoped that this incident would not color their feelings toward me.

I finally finished cutting the slice, placed it on the cracker and ate it. Then, deciding I had had enough, I sat back, knowing that soon we would retire to the dining room to have dinner.

The remainder of the evening was pleasant and enjoyable. Though we all seemed to have a nice time, when I think of that night, I can't help but focus on the "Cheese Incident," because within it lies a microcosm of my life with Asperger's.

I will not let Asperger's get the better of me. If I'm hungry, I'm going to go for the cheese. If I want a new professional challenge, I'll apply for a new job. If I want a relationship, I'll go after the relationship.

It may be stressful and difficult, but, in the end, all I can do is my best. If my best effort doesn't come out quite right, at least I tried. It's better than not trying at all.

Trying is the difference between having some cheese, and no cheese.

Lynne Soraya is the nom de plume for a writer with Asperger's Syndrome.

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