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, how would one use it?

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.

About the Author

Lynne Soraya

Lynne Soraya is a writer with Asperger's Syndrome. She is the author of Living Independently on the Autism Spectrum.

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