This story begins about 10 years ago when I discovered that I am Autistic, my particular version being Asperger’s.
I went emotionally numb and introspective for a few days maybe a week and then cried for a month. I remember like it was yesterday the whirlwind of emotions that was unleashed: Sorrow for all the lost years and for that little boy about to leave the safety and security of home and enter the school (daily incarceration) system. Relief that I finally understood much of the what and the why and then gradually, curiosity. What is this thing called Asperger’s? How could I have missed it, how could everyone else have missed it?
I got IQ tested in 1st grade as a ‘problem child’. That was the entirety of the evaluation and because I scored in the 98th percentile the psychologist concluded that I was just bored. He missed it too.
So, my parents got me a math tutor for Wednesday evenings and I sat at the back of my class with a pile of 6 grade books, self-studying because I was ‘just bored’ That was the entirety of my school accommodation program.
As soon as my Asperger’s curiosity kicked in I started googling and buying books on Amazon, 20 or 30 of them. Technical books, biopics and even children’s story books to help me soothe the wounds of my youth. I inhaled them all in less than a month.
It was easy to see my Father on the autism spectrum. He was blue collar, old school and had more than a handful of routines and special interests. He worked his entire life in the Industrial age, factories, mechanical repetitive work, to which he was well suited.
He’d mow the lawn, grow vegetables and lived almost entirely in the physical world, just like me. He never went ‘out with the guys’, drank only at the new year with my mother and then at home. The closest he got to a social life was when he and my mother would visit the home of another couple, or vice versa, a few times a year.
I have no memories of my paternal Grand-father so I had to rely on my father’s recollections of growing up, in a very large family. He explained that my Grandad would tolerate no talking at the table and that if anyone spoke: ‘You finished your food? Leave the table’ This man didn’t like noise! I asked about his interests outside of work. He kept pigeons (red alert!) and Dad never remembered seeing any friends call on my Grandad. This man was more solitary than my Father.
My Asperger’s narrative worked perfectly for about 7 more years until my Bipolar diagnosis began to emerge. Here was an explanation for the rage I had consistently felt and displayed which is qualitatively different to an autistic meltdown (at least the ones I had experienced) but which I had never really examined in relation to Asperger’s traits: I had audited the Asperger’s diagnostic but hadn’t conducted a full audit of my behavior.
Bipolar was now in my face, but it didn’t come from Dad.
My most vivid memories of my home life were the constant battles between my Mother and Father. The yelling and screaming would bounce off the walls like ricochet bullets over the most trivial of disagreements or even just innocent misunderstandings. My Mother’s mood could change explosively on a dime. She would also regularly become melancholic with me.
My Father, may he Rest in Peace, never laid a finger on my Mother or the children but the battles took their toll so that he would just leave the room, in silence, go upstairs and go to bed, regardless of the time; defeated again. My siblings and I were also targeted by my Mother, but I never really bought into it, incurring much wrath, with my Father acting as referee.
Bioplar: A blast from the past case-study
By the time I was diagnosed with bipolar I had completed a decade of family history research, especially my paternal grandfather’s line but never for mental health documenting. I wanted to know ‘who we were’ and where we came from. As a young man, Grandad had made an undocumented name change and severed all links with his family. I only found out about this, from my Father, when I graduated College! Minor details to my parents I guess.
I had amassed a huge archive of NYC birth, marriage and death certificates along with copies of the Federal census.
The final genetic link was the key that unlocked the secret that had been hidden amongst these papers in plain view.
I located a copy of a document stating that my Great, Great Grandfather had been admitted to Belleview at age 79, having been found ‘destitute’. This was 5 years after his wife of 52 years had passed. Perhaps he just fell apart when she died?
So, I went back and reread the story, following the timeline in my archive but through a new lens.
Several generations of my family arrived in America in 1868. My Great, Great Grandfather is recorded in 1870 NYC census with 3 children and with savings that would last, maybe 1 year or so.
Ten years later, he is recorded in San Francisco, with 7 children, running a grocery store, despite being a glazier by trade.
Then in 1890 he is recorded back in NYC and in 1900 he’s still in NYC, this time helping to support a daughter and her family and still working as a glazier.
It isn’t clear whether the family travelled by stage coach, rail road or by ship, to San Francisco but what is clear is that this would have been an arduous journey with 4 young children and not inexpensive either.
But to what end? To open a grocery store in San Francisco, a trade in which he had absolutely no experience, may very well have been a decision made on a whim in a hypomanic or manic state.
He stuck it out in San Francisco for five or maybe ten years, but then high tailed it back to NYC, now with with 7 children, burning more money for another arduous journey.
Reckless behavior indeed and on a theatrical scale.
All hidden in plain view to a genealogist who is simply looking for parents, or parents of parents.
Back in NYC, I suspect much of the money that remained was used up supporting his daughter and children.
When his wife passed he probably lost the only structure that he had known in his life and quite possibly his nurse maid.
The story does have a happy ending. My Great, Great Grandfather lived out his last years with one of his daughters and her husband. They were a wealthy couple and he would have wanted for nothing.
I tracked down his headstone in Queens, NYC, buried of course with his wife, black granite, impervious to the elements, reunited and finally at Peace. I wept for a while and then placed a stone on their grave.
When I tracked down the paper trail of the daughter who had cared for my Great, Great Grandfather, I almost fell over when I read the name of her husband.
It was the family name my grandfather had assumed and may he Rest in Peace too.