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Life On The Spectrum: Chapter 6

The Slow Re-adjustment

By Sean CallaghanPublished 5 months ago 14 min read
Me in 2004 on the day I got my dog Berkely.

Even more than the pivotal summer of 2001, Summer 2003 was probably the busiest summer of my life. It started with a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox, which was notable for being the first complete career game win for then-rookie pitcher Brett Myers. I really got into the game, interestingly enough. Since my first game back in 1993 I had probably attended about one Phillies game a year and wasn’t horribly affected by the outcome of the game (which might have been a good thing, considering how bad the late 90s Phillies were) but this was the Phillies’ final season at Veterans Stadium where they had played my whole life. That summer we went to at least 4 games, including one on the final weekend of the stadium.

Another summer highlight was a trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of the legendary Civil War Battle and the famous Lincoln Address. I had been interested in Social Studies and history since Second Grade and was completely immersed in the history of the place. But what puzzled me was the presence of Confederate Flags and “The South Will Rise Again” souvenirs in the numerous tourist stores. To me, that flag symbolized the Confederacy that supported slavery and thus selling its image was akin to selling merchandise emblazoned with the Nazi Swastika, only slightly less evil in my opinion. To me it was a symbol of evil and I was very outspoken about it and even sarcastically told a souvenir store worker that a giant swastika would look nice on the wall next to the Confederate flag, which probably really endeared me to her. (That’s sarcasm, but to be truthful I really didn’t know what her feelings were.)

My strong opinions about Social Justice and right and wrong had been with me for a long time but seeing that flag, which to me was an evil symbol probably started my outspokenness on political and social issues which would become more and more prominent throughout my teens and to this day. I was appalled to see this in my own home state and would rant about it frequently, mostly to my dad. After surviving the Gettysburg Ghost Tour (the most dangerous part of which was crossing the street, according to the Cast Member), we left town. It was a good trip but I couldn’t deal with the thought that some of those in the South evidently felt that their cause was in the right. I couldn’t handle the confusion very well, and never did accept the argument that the Civil War was not about slavery but state rights. State rights to have slavery perhaps.

In August 2003 we went to Massachusetts. The car ride was long and I spent most of the time listening to Train, my then-favorite rock group, and arguing with my brother about what we should name our dog if we got one—something we both desperately wanted despite our father’s opposition. I wanted a Star Wars name (as with all my pets I had had, especially my late Guinea Pig “Sabe” named after Queen Amidala’s chief handmaiden and decoy in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace played by Keira Knightly, an actress who would later become famous as Elizabeth Swann in the film series based on the Pirates of the Caribbean Attraction at the Disney Magic Kingdom Parks. I wanted to name this as-yet unrealized dog to be named Anakin. Kevin wanted the name Link, after the Protagonist of the “Legend of Zelda” video game series. After we had been in Boston for a while with the argument still going my father noticed the street sign showing that we were currently on Berkeley Street. Mostly to shut us up, my father decreed that if we were to get a dog his name would be Berkeley. I don’t know if we loved the name at the time, but because dad was the main obstacle to getting a dog, his announcement stopped the fight. It was the first sign he showed of giving in.

Later that day, we went on the famous “Duck Tours,” which is a tour on an aquatic bus-like vehicle that can be used on both land and sea. I actually got to drive it briefly in the sea. Boston was one of the first cities to have “Ducks” and the tour guide on our trip was hilarious. In fact that tour might have been as good a time as I’ve ever had, outside of a Disney Park at least.

The next day, we went to Plymouth where we saw the famous Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrim wax museum (which I now suspect was full of revisionist history). In the gift shop an old lady inquired about my string “Twirler.” By now I hated hearing people inquire me about it and asked why? She said because she had never seen anyone else with anything like it before, which embarrassed and infuriated me. I vowed to stop using it, a vow that lasted 2 minutes. It was not something I could let go, and it still is not.

After returning from Boston, I nervously prepared for my new school. I read my class list and noticed there were 2 female students in my class. My classes had been all male since I left my original Elementary School and by this time I was mature enough to be looking for potential girlfriends. When at last my first day of Vanguard came, I was terrified that this was going to go as wrong as the last school had—maybe worse. I went on the van, and there was a girl who sat next to me on the van but nothing really drew me to her. There were also two guys who would randomly spew movie quotes for some reason which eventually annoyed me. After being dropped off we waited in a basketball court, which after a while got me interested in shooting hoops. I developed a decent jump shot eventually.

There were indeed two girls in my class, one of whom was sort of pretty but I hated her personality. In fact I seemed to hate the personality of everybody in the class. About a week in, I was arguing with one of the girls in gym class about something and I lost my temper and practically yelled at her. Another student pulled me aside and asked me “Do you want to have kids someday?” Yes, I replied. “Well you won’t be getting them if you treat women like that.” he said, as though how I treated one girl reflected all my perceptions of women and hurt my sexual prospects.

Later that week, I had an emotional collapse; it was obvious that the class did not suit me so I was moved to a different homeroom the next week, I liked my original teacher better but got along much better with my new classmates.

In late September, I attended the second to last Phillies game at Philadelphia Veterans Stadium. They won that game but would go no further that year. For the first time in my life I cared about that. But most of that fall was all about the change in schools.

My time at Vanguard that fall was certainly not without further growing pains. Some of my earlier misbehaviors continued to manifest themselves during my early Vanguard years; I guess I was still angry and judgmental due to my situation of the prior two years. I frequently would get lunch detentions though I secretly enjoyed them more than lunch in our actual cafeteria, which was a cramped, dirty room that had been retrofitted from an old garage.

Even worse than the detentions were the dreaded “point sheets,” which was the school’s discipline system in which you did not make enough points on 2 days out of a week (determined by the teacher) you would not have a free period on 8th period Friday and if you did not make 2 weeks in a month you could not go on the monthly reward trip. I didn’t like the system at all. I felt that they were treating us like kindergartners, especially when they also used terms like time-out rooms.

In addition to other anxieties about the Vanguard way, I was always afraid of not getting on the School Bus on time, because I was paranoid that the bus driver would be angry with me. So at the end of most days I was a fixture hanging by the door waiting for the bell to strike 2:45 so I could leave in a hurry.

In November 2003, I finally lost my composure and seriously contemplated suicide, after which my parents took me to the emergency room of the hospital where I was born. But after discussions with a counselor, I decided to keep moving forward so I was discharged within a few hours.

Still, virtually every day I would see under the Lunch Detention list on the schools daily announcements “Callaghan-30 Minutes” because every day I would interrupt somebody or misbehave in some way. This was honestly not intentional, but I had just come out of a class structure in which I could do practically anything. I also hated the restrictions against me using my string twirler, which by that point had practically become a body part. I truly feel that a lot of the problematic aggressive behaviors I showed would have been far less problematic had I had it in hand.

As the year went on, my bus driver was explaining to me on a daily basis about how my perceptions of then-President George W. Bush were completely wrong and after a while I realized that the war in Iraq was immoral and that President Bush had completely fooled the Nation into war through fear and manipulation. In fairness, he also told me to be open minded and said that he would vote for a Republican if he had constructive ideas and that party lines were subjective.

The only problem with handling these new revelations was that I am not very quiet with my opinions. Once I had heard the truth about Bush’s oil agenda I got in a lot of arguments with my Republican family members. My father, who is also a big liberal, was very much on my side after I had my political conversion but has always asked me to be more prudent and open-minded about my beliefs. I’ve had limited luck trying to do that.

The first year at Vanguard was a roller-coaster ride. I was happier than I had been in my previous school but not at a point where I was truly happy with my life. In February 2004 we adopted a male Cocker Spaniel, and as was his dictate in Boston the previous summer we named him Berkeley. Dad had reservations about getting a dog and Berkeley’s early days weren’t always smooth; but dad stuck it out and eventually loved Berkeley as much as any of us.

The summer of 2004 was largely spent going to Phillies baseball games in their new Citizens Bank Park, for which we had Sunday season tickets. Remarkably and totally unplanned, our next-door neighbors got Sunday tickets in the row right behind us, so it was a very good year at the park. And for the first time in a while, my dad said he was pleased about the Phillies’ prospects for the next several seasons, telling me that this new second baseman Chase Utley would be a star one day.

In August my brother and I went to take part in an autism study at the University of Pittsburgh. Knowing what I know now about autism “research,” I regret partaking in the study and in later years, I refused their requests for follow-up. But the trip was good and also on that trip, we briefly went to Morgantown, West Virginia, to see my cousin Anne’s newborn baby, Elliot, the first child of the next generation.

When I returned to Vanguard for my second year, it at first seemed that not much had changed. There was one substantial change, however, one that would eventually have a great effect on me (though I did not know it at the time). Among the few new students at Vanguard was a lively short blonde girl. I did not think much of it at the time, but more on that later.

During the fall of 2004, most of my thoughts were spent hoping that Democratic Senator John Kerry would defeat George W Bush, and it was time for me to learn some tough lessons about US politics. In September 2004, my father and I took my grandfather to a special Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of the church where my Grandfather had been choir director before I was born. Of course it was also my dad’s church growing up and it was amusing to see his reaction since he hardly ever returned to his old neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia. Grandpop, a conservatory-trained musician, was thrilled that they played his “Hymn for Saint Timothy” at the event, a choir piece he had written specifically for the church many years before.

All in all it was, or should have been, a very good event. But what bothered me was the presence of pamphlets in the back of the Church labeled “The Voters’ Guide for serious Catholics”. It basically said do not vote for a candidate if they support:

*Abortion Rights

*Gay Marriage

*Stem Cell Research

*Human Cloning

Abortion I did and still object to on moral grounds though now I feel that in extreme situations it should be legal. Although I knew little about the issue at the time, gay marriage has never seemed a problem to me because I am a strong believer in Civil Rights, and why should people’s sincere activities be questioned by a Church that claims to follow the teachings of a man who said, “Judge lest ye be judged.” Human cloning I am opposed to on moral grounds as well. But my father fed my unhappiness somewhat as he was a bit annoyed by the fliers, questioning why every issue in this “guide” seemed to revolve around sex and procreation, and that other issues were not addressed at all–including the Iraq War.

About a month later my hometown church handed out slightly less heavy-handed but even more direct fliers stating that George Bush opposed abortion in all cases and John Kerry was Pro-Choice, and other information aimed at prompting its members to vote in a certain way. While I am not in favor of abortion, in my mind the issue did not outweigh the atrocities of the Bush Administration and its oil war. Was it really more important in the eyes of the church to vote for someone because he wants to deny marriage rights to homosexuals than not voting for someone who intentionally lied to coax civil support for a war? Who went after a country based on made-up intelligence? Were these issues more important than the fact that American Troops were dying so that the administration and its corporate allies could profit from the well known oil deposits in the area. Pope John Paul II personally condemned Bush’s War in Iraq, yet the American Church would overlook that because he opposed abortion? I felt betrayed. I felt that the Church had sold its soul because of one issue and willingness to support something which I felt contrasted with the teachings of Christ that I had been taught for years.

I was sure Kerry would win. On the day George W, Bush won his second term I was furious, in fact so angry that I almost attacked someone. It was an awful day. I had difficulty celebrating Christmas that year since I felt the Institution of Christianity had betrayed me. Luckily, my uncle gave my father a book for Christmas called “How the Republicans Stole Christmas” written by a former seminarian, which detailed the hypocrisy of the Christian Right openly preaching hate yet claiming to be doing the work of a man who said “Love thy Neighbor.” His support was important because I felt surrounded by members of my extended family being big-time Republicans. Outside of this gift, it felt like only my immediate family had any beliefs I could agree with, and my confusion over political inconsistencies evolved to a point where I know longer knew who I could trust.

With my political awakening, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and later the Colbert Report became my top sources for news, since they were not afraid to point out hypocrisy with stunning examples of political craziness. The raging popularity of these shows provided some comfort that others felt like I did, but the fact that the world was so full of anger—even in these hilarious shows—tore at my young soul.

There were some nice moments as well, though. November 2004 brought another trip to WDW, which was wonderful enough to let me put aside my political anguish for a while. We spent Thanksgiving in the Magic Kingdom, having a fine Thanksgiving burger dinner at Pecos Bills Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Frontierland.

I also continued on at karate classes, on my way to an eventual black belt. But there was a new hobby in the house as I took on drumming as a lifelong pursuit.

I had become a major Elton John fan in 2004 and got a 4 DVD set of his concerts for Christmas. I had started briefly as a drummer back in 2002 but gave up on it. Now, I started playing along with Nigel Olsson, Elton’s drummer and my personal idol; one of my most cherished Christmas gifts ever was an autographed picture of Nigel secured for me by my aunt and uncle. . I initially wanted everything he had gear-wise but that was not realistic. I have remained a passionate drummer to this day, and still hope it figures in my professional life at some point.

In June 2005 a few weeks before the end of the long school year, I performed on the drums in the school Talent Show, the short blond girl congratulated me afterward and then something interesting happened, I was looking at her and slowly realized how beautiful she was. Around that time, I was beginning to seriously listen to the Beach Boys music for the first time in a while and studying their history. One weekend I listened to the album Pet Sounds, which seemed to sum up how I was feeling at the time. I was too afraid to tell her what I felt so I had my counselor do it. I had dropped my obsession with Emma Watson because of her, quite a thing to do. . It was the short blond girl whom I loved and wanted. We hung out and talked quite a bit that week; the only problem was that she already had a boyfriend but she told me she was not happy with him and that she would break up with him and we would start dating soon after. In my school yearbook she wrote, “Sean, I love you.” I felt I had finally gotten a girlfriend and nothing would stop that now. Except what actually did happen almost immediately.


About the Creator

Sean Callaghan

Neurodivergent, Writer, Drummer, Singer, Percussionist, Star Wars and Disney Devotee.

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