My First Letter at Sweet Sixteen

I am living on the autism spectrum. I didn’t know I was on it until quite recently. The diagnosis has since taken me down memory lane. I have been going through a review in my mind of my current and past routines, obsessions, passions, strengths, weaknesses, and odd behaviors.

The research tells me that many living on the spectrum have a passion. My most strongest passion is writing. I didn’t strongly pursue it until my early 30’s when I left my home state and moved to Washington, D.C. to work for Uncle Sam. I was the “lone wolf” on the East Coast since all my family lived halfway across the country. I started letter writing to my Mom, in particular, on a routine basis. I had reason to write letters because I had people to write to. Writing became like a dear friend during a time when I was the new kid in the nation’s capital and every aspect of my life had changed. For a time, the only peole I knew were those I had moved from. Making friends has never been natural, but I found writing letters to be as natural as writing with my right hand.

I fondly remember the first letter I can remember writing. It would be a long time before I’d write another but it started with this one at “sweet 16”.

I don’t recall what was so sweet about 16. I was in my high school sophomore year. On that day, I was sitting in class waiting for the bell to ring to go on to the next class. I had finished my assignment and was twiddling my thumbs. I opened my notebook and started writing a letter to my Grandma. This was on a whim since I had not been one to write letters to anybody. The urge just came on me during a boring space of time in a school classroom.

I wrote my innermost thoughts to my Grandma. I thanked her for coming to our house and taking care of us when my brothers and I all came down with the measles followed by chicken pox. I was proud to be her oldest grandchild. Thus, I have more memories of her than my siblings and cousins, some of whom never met her. She would sometimes tell the story of her being the one who carried me out of the hospital and out into the outside world. She was proud of that and it gave me a smile too.

I wrote about my own feelings of being a “sweet 16” and that sweet wasn’t a word I’d give for it. I asked in the letter what 16 was like for her and if she remembered if it being sweet or not to her.

I have no memory of showing the letter to anybody. That wasn’t my intent. It was something to do to pass the time. My Mom has no memory of my showing her the letter or of her finding it.

Approximately 7 years later, my Grandma was lying in a hospital bed seriously ill. My Mom was at her bedside and reached for my Grandma’s purse to retrieve something. My Mom finds this letter. It had some wear and tear on it but it was still readable. My Mom shows it to my Grandma who told her, “I wouldn’t give anything for that letter.”

I wasn’t there when my Grandma died. Saying goodbye is terribly hard for me. I don’t recall my ever telling her I loved her. Those words do not come easy for me. I can remember dreading whenever we would visit my grandparents knowing she’d want a hug and I didn’t want to reciprocate. Now with hindsight and my diagnosis, I have an explanation of why hugs, even from a sweet Grandma, did not come easy for me.

Although I didn’t express it in words to her in person, it was all in the letter that I didn’t plan to write, didn’t intend to send, and to this day, is an utter mystery as to how she got it. My Grandma never mentioned this letter to me. I never recall getting her reply as to how “sweet 16” was for her.  If she did mention the letter, I have no memory of it. My Mom doesn’t recall seeing it herself until that day in the hospital room. We simply don’t know how it landed in the hands of the one it was addressed to.

The important thing isn’t the mystery. It is that the letter got to the rightful owner. Through my words written down on paper, my Grandma got the word that I loved her. The letter meant so much that she kept that letter in her purse until the day she passed away. My Mom has the letter now. She hasn’t thrown it away either.

Living on the spectrum has its rewards. For me, one of those rewards is a passion for writing. Through my talent, I can voice my thoughts in words and let those who read them know me a little better.


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