Illustration of an anxious-looking girl in a blue dress standing against a wall.

Illustration of an anxious-looking girl in a blue dress standing against a wall.

As many of you know, Book Club Maven died earlier this year. Her service and celebration of life reception were held a week after her death. I spent the reception standing against the back wall with another introverted friend, sipping wine and watching the slideshow of BCM pictures. I even heard the term wallflower used to describe us. It wasn’t that I didn’t know anyone or didn’t want to interact; this is just what I do when I’m overwhelmed. By crowds. By noise. By emotion.

As the evening wore on and the crowds thinned, several friends made their way over to talk to us. We got to hear the story of how they got together from BCM’s husband. He tells it much better than BCM did (sorry, babe!), though that may have to do with the wine and fewer interruptions from small children. It’s a funny story and, if you know Mr. BCM, I recommend asking him about it.

I didn’t see much of Marathon Girl or Cookie or Hostess, who flew in from California to say goodbye. I think that was a little bit protective, on my part at least. I love them dearly, but I wasn’t quite ready for the four of us to be together without BCM. It was too soon for me. I’m not really in denial, as I’ve been claiming lately. I know she’s gone. I just prefer not to remind myself of her absence at the moment and I can’t do that when there’s an obvious gaping BCM-shaped hole in a group.

When the evening was almost over, some of the members of the book club BCM started (hence her alias of Book Club Maven) six years ago came over to talk to me. I stopped going to book club around the time the boys were diagnosed. There was just too much going on for me. They have decided to keep the club going and asked me to return.  I told them I would like to, which is true, but that I couldn’t on the date they were suggesting because I have jury duty, which is also true.

“Jury duty will be over by then.” This is also true and I totally understand why it was said. For a non-autistic extrovert, that fact must seem pretty straight forward. For an introverted autistic, it’s anything but.

Now, I want to preface what I’m about to write with the fact that I am beyond excited about being called for jury duty. I’ve always wanted to serve on one and this is the first time I’ve ever been called.

But I’m also dreading it. That’s true of most new activities that take place outside of my house, whether they are things I’m excited about or not.

Illustration of a city block jam-packed with buildings and cars and signs and people.  This is what my brain does when I try to plan a trip to somewhere new.

Illustration of a city block jam-packed with buildings and cars and signs and people.
This is what my brain does when I try to plan a trip to somewhere new.

First off, I need to plan things, especially new things, so I can be prepared. The more prepared I am, the less energy I have to devote to switching gears in my head to deal with unexpected situations. Most people who know me have no idea that unexpected situations drain my energy because I’ve spent 46 years perfecting a neutral facade. The problem with that is the facade costs energy, as well. So, before I’ve even begun to expend energy on the unexpected thing that’s come up, I’ve already spent some of my limited-to-begin-with energy on switching gears in my head and on upholding my neutral facade. Planning helps me save that energy for other things.

With jury duty, you have to call the court after 5pm on the day before you’re supposed to report to see if they even need you to show up. So, ability to plan for that day is out the window.

If I do go that day, there’s no way for me to know how long I’ll be there or whether I’ll need to come back the next day. Or the day after. So, there goes the planning for the whole week. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. The one thing I have a little control over is transportation. They sent a bus pass with the jury summons, so all I have to do is choose between driving myself or taking the bus, right? Yeah, not so much.

Driving myself means parking downtown, where parking is scarce on a good day. Even when you can find a space, it’s tiny and impossible to get into. Or it’s street parking, which generally means parallel and I suck at parallel parking. Then there’s traffic, which is unpredictable by definition, but right now my city has decided to block every exit from our neighborhood with construction – the kind that brings the street down to one lane, so the flaggers get to decide when it’s your side’s turn to use the lane.

The bus, on the other hand, means I don’t have to park. And it’s better for the environment and for my health (lots of walking to the bus stop). Unfortunately, it also means less predictable timing. I could miss the bus or it could be running late.

And it means exercising my poor sense of direction. Which side of the street do I stand on to catch the bus, for instance? I used to take the bus to the job that brought us to Washington in 2001. I took two buses, transferring to the second in the University District. On the first day, the only information I could get out of people was to stand on the north side of the street. That doesn’t help much when you’re standing there trying to figure out which way is north. “You can’t miss it,” is like throwing down a gauntlet for me. “Watch me,” I say. I miss turns and big pink buildings and landmarks all the time because it’s hard for me to concentrate on driving while looking for signs. Most people don’t know this about me because I plan and practice and leave early to make sure I have time to correct whatever I mess up.

I have a friend who lives on a cul de sac off a street with thee culs de sac that look identical to me. I once asked her at a party to remind me which street she lived on. I thought I had been really nonchalant about it, but she gave me an incredulous look and said, “It’s on the route you walk.” Which is true. I walked by it every time I exercised, about three times a week at that point. Then she said, “And you’ve been to my house.”  Which is also true. And I ended up at the same wrong house before eventually finding hers every damn time. I tried to laugh it off, as if I had been joking, but I think she was still having weird thoughts about me.

So, while riding a bus, I worry about missing my stop. I’m constantly trying to see street signs that are impossible to see from inside the bus. The bus driver calls them out, but…audio processing disorder! I can’t hear them with all the noise of the bus and the road.

And then there are the people. Buses can be crowded. I abhor crowds. Individual people are fine, but crowds are noisy, touchy, smelly, grumpy fiends, myself included.

I’ve spent weeks deliberating: drive or bus, bus or drive. Still no decision and it’s coming down to the wire.

Once I get to the jury room, I imagine it to be a big room of noisy, touchy, smelly, grumpy fiends, much like the bus. Only these people are extra annoyed because they have been compelled to leave their regular lives to be there. And, in the jury room, they’re not going anywhere; they’re just waiting. What level of Hell is that, Dante?

I’m hoping that waiting will result in me getting to actually serve on a jury, but there’s not even a guarantee of that.

So, after a day of ups; downs; crowds; noise; anticipation; and disappointment, I’m guessing I’ll need a lot of time to recharge. I believe that extroverts do that by going to a party or hanging out with friends, blowing off steam. If I did that, it would not be restorative in the least. Rather, it would further deplete my energy stores. I would likely snap at a friend for saying hello too loudly. She, and likely our friendship, would be hurt and  I would be embarassed and ashamed.

No. After jury duty, I’ll need to go sit in a corner by myself for awhile. Probably a very long while.