I live with regret. Everybody does but I in particular live with regret. The things I regret are not the grand ones you’d expect. I regret the mistakes I’ve made that I regret the small things I did as a kid like ditching a friend at the movies. I regret not accepting my grandmother’s offer to pay for me to go to the movies, an offer that likely would’ve gone to the masterpiece Life is Beautiful no less. And I regret the story I’m about to tell.
The saga begins in 2001 in the town of Branson, MO. It was in this legendary tourist mecca that my brother, my father, and I spent the night after taking a tour of the lights. I could tell you memories of the light but I don’t remember them. I remember Not Another Teen Movie playing at the theater. I remember the Cracker Barrel we ate at. I remember how vacant the town was. I remember the CDs my brother and I blasted. He went with a Radiohead live EP while I listened to Creed’s Weathered album. It was a quiet moment.
The plan for the day ahead was simple. We were headed to Springfield, MO We would go to a few bookstores in the morning by my request so I could track down screenplays then Bass Pro Shops that afternoon for my brother. After that we’d crash in a hotel in Northwest Arkansas. A simple day and one I could not screw up.
I had my list: Vanilla Sky, A Beautiful Mind, The Royal Tenenbaums. I wanted to find one of those scripts. Barring those, no other purchase would do. That was what my Christmas money was for along with maybe a couple of other neat books if I found one. The hunt was on.
First bookstore: Barnes and Noble. No luck. I found the Jackie Brown screenplay but not one I cared about. Barnes and Nobles have bedeviled me my whole life as a hunter btw. Sometimes they’re completely generic, all the same. Sometimes one gets a wave of British imports. I had no way of knowing which this was.
Second bookstore: Waldenbooks. What was I doing even looking here? Waldenbooks didn’t sell screenplays or at least not ones that weren’t the mass sold ones like Twister or the oddly overprinted English Patient script. But I looked anyway. Didn’t find it but I grabbed the second Star Trek SCE book. I loved that series.
Third bookstore: The used bookstore. Yeah that entire quest for the scripts was over immediately. At the used bookstore I consider a couple of books before settling on a book on the Twilight Zone movie, not a happy read at all. It’s a neat store though. There’s that at least.
And all at once it’s over. I’ve got two books to show for my quest, less than $10 spent out of at least $100 in xmas money. No, I’m not happy. But I must trudge on to Bass Pro Shops.
I enter hell. Bass Pro Shops on December 26th is essentially a license to have a panic attack for an autistic person. It’s loud. It’s packed. There is nothing that interests me. I can’t move. It’s loud. I’m already moody. It’s GODDAMN LOUD!!!
35 minutes or so into the trip, I start to hyperventilate. This is the first sign of things to come. I struggle to eat and finally have to leave, breaking down crying because it’s too much. If I were 7 it would be fine. I’m 17 on the verge of 18. I’m humiliating to be near. I can’t keep it together. I stay in a less crowded part of the store for the rest of the visit. The damage is done.
Now for the drive. The long drive down to Northwest AR. My brain locks in harder as the music plays in my ear. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. Why? Because I had something that was supposed to happen and it did not. I was supposed to find those screenplays. Now I can’t spend the money I have unless I do. I have power and I can’t use it.
Let me stop now to explain what a logical reaction to this scenario would be. Give the money to my parents to pay for am Amazon order. That way I’d be assured of getting the books I wanted even if I had to wait. If I’d known I could end the grief and just enjoy the two admittedly first rate books I’d purchased, I could’ve prevented what came next.
Once we got to the hotel I essentially demanded we drive across the area to a Barnes and Noble. There it is. That’s what I did. I threw a fit and demanded out of frustration that we go make me happy. No it was not the right thing to do but it was what I needed. I was so stuck in this one place that it was eating me alive that I couldn’t fix it.
Fourth bookstore: Another Barnes and Noble. A more varied selection but no luck. I consider the Donnie Darko script and the Memento script. If I were to do it again, I’d put the Nolan script in my hand but hindsight hurts. I’m still unsuccessful.
We eat and go back. I sleep. The next day we go to a Civil War battlefield. It’s a great way to forget my darkness. It’s an amazing site to visit and the weather is perfect. Maybe I’m freed?
We get to Fort Smith. My dad has work there so we go with him to that. The blue of the day has curdled into that sickly yellow of evening. My skin crawls to be here. My demon is roaring.
Fifth bookstore: Shoppers’ Nook, a used bookstore. I buy a Batman prose anthology more or less out of desperation. A few years from now I’ll make some of the greatest finds I’ll ever make there. Maybe I could’ve on this day if I wasn’t in my head. I still wanted those 3 books.
Sixth and truly final bookstore: a Books-A-Million. I find nothing. Once and for all I find nothing. I’m not yet a comic reader so I pay no attention to their incredible comic selection which I’ll notice in three years. My tunnel vision game is strong. The light falls on the trip and I’m miserable. I’m miserable because I was stuck on an outcome I had no control over. I ride back home quiet, utterly blind to anything good that happened over the last 48 hours.
There are things that will happen. For my birthday I’ll make the call I know now I should’ve made and order the scripts online. In two years I’ll return to Springfield with friends and will have another meltdown due to being overwhelmed by college. A few moths later I’ll go back to exorcise my demons in Fort Smith. Then I’ll go back again a few weeks later and from there once a year.
But will I ever understand what happened? Maybe only half a life removed do I. Being autistic is being set in patterns. It’s seeing life as a flow chart with good and bad outcomes. It’s not being at peace with being powerless.
We hate the image of being burdens but it’s not untrue at times. We are hard to live with. Just how it is. We need to change but that’s far easier said than done. We are who we are. It takes work to be otherwise.
Had I just let go I would’ve made everyone happier on that trip. But I couldn’t. I was stuck in my pattern. And others paid the cost. They likely don’t remember any of this. Maybe the meltdown at most. But I do. I carry it with me in my ledger. It’ll never get crossed off.