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Chapter no 22

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

Telling Rosie my life story was not dicult. Every psychologist and psychiatrist I have seen has asked for a summary, so I have the essential facts clear in my mind.

My father owns a hardware store in a regional city. He lives there with my mother and my younger brother, who will probably take over when my father retires or dies. My older sister died at the age of forty as a result of medical incompetence. When it happened, my mother did not get out of bed for two weeks, except to attend the funeral. I was very sad about my sister’s death. Yes, I was angry too.

My father and I have an eective but not emotional relationship. is is satisfactory to both of us. My mother is very caring but I find her stifling. My brother does not like me. I believe this is because he saw me as a threat to his dream of inheriting the hardware store and now does not respect my alternative choice. e hardware store may well have been a metaphor for the aection of our father. If so, my brother won, but I am not unhappy about losing. I do not see my family very often. My mother calls me on Sundays.

I had an uneventful time at school. I enjoyed the science subjects. I did not have many friends and was briefly the object of bullying. I was the top student in the school in all subjects except English, where I was the top boy. At the end of my schooling I left home to attend university. I originally enrolled in computer science but on my twenty-first birthday made a decision to change to genetics. is may have been the result of a subconscious desire to remain a student, but it was a logical choice. Genetics was a burgeoning field. ere is no family history of mental illness.

I turned toward Rosie and smiled. I had already told her about my sister and the bullying. e statement about mental illness was correct, unless I included myself in the definition of family. Somewhere in a medical archive is a twenty-year-old file with my name and the words “depression, bipolar disorder? OCD?” and “schizophrenia?” e question marks are important: beyond the obvious observation that I was depressed, no definitive diagnosis was ever made, despite attempts by the psychiatric profession to fit me into a simplistic category. I now believe that virtually all my problems could be attributed to my brain’s being configured dierently from those of the majority of humans. All the psychiatric symptoms were a result of this dierence, not of any underlying disease. Of course I was depressed: I lacked friends, sex, and a social life, because I was incompatible with other people. My intensity and focus were misinterpreted as mania. And my concern with organization was labeled as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Julie’s Asperger’s kids might well face similar problems in their lives. However, they had been labeled with an underlying syndrome, and perhaps the psychiatric profession would be intelligent enough to apply Occam’s razor and see that the problems they might face would be largely due to their Asperger’s brain configuration.

“What happened on your twenty-first birthday?” asked Rosie.

Had Rosie read my thoughts? What happened on my twenty-first birthday was that I decided that I needed to take a new direction in my life, because any change was better than staying in the pit of depression. I actually visualized it as a pit.

I told Rosie part of the truth. I don’t generally celebrate birthdays, but my family had insisted in this case and had invited numerous friends and relatives to compensate for my own lack of friends.

My uncle made a speech. I understood that it was traditional to make fun of the guest of honor, but my uncle became so encouraged by his ability to provoke laughter that he kept going, telling story after story. I was shocked to discover that he knew some extremely personal facts, and I realized that my mother must have shared them with him. She was pulling at his arm, trying to get him to stop, but he ignored her and did not stop until he noticed that she was crying, by which time he had completed a detailed exposition of my faults and of the embarrassment and pain that they had caused. e core of the problem, it seemed, was that I was a stereotypical computer geek. So I decided to change.

“To a genetics geek,” said Rosie.

at wasn’t exactly my goal.” But it was obviously the outcome. And I got out of the pit to work hard in a new discipline. Where was dinner?

“Tell me more about your father.”

“Why?” I wasn’t actually interested in why. I was doing the social equivalent of saying “over” to put the responsibility back on Rosie. It was a trick suggested by Claudia for dealing with dicult personal questions. I recalled her advice not to overuse it. But this was the first occasion.

“I guess because I want to see if your dad is the reason you’re fucked-up.” “I’m not fucked-up.”

“Okay, not fucked-up. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be judgmental. But you’re not exactly average,” said Rosie, psychology PhD candidate.

“Agreed. Does ‘fucked-up’ mean ‘not exactly average’?”

“Bad choice of words. Start again. I guess I’m asking because my father is the reason that I’m fucked-up.”

An extraordinary statement. With the exception of her careless attitude

to health, Rosie had never exhibited any sign of brain malfunction. “What are the symptoms of being fucked-up?”

“I’ve got crap in my life that I wish I hadn’t. And I’m not good at dealing with it. Am I making sense?”

“Of course,” I said. “Unwanted events occur and you lack certain skills for minimizing the personal impact. I thought when you said ‘fucked-up’ that there was some problem with your personality that you wanted to rectify.”

“No, I’m okay with being me.”

“So what is the nature of the damage caused by Phil?”

Rosie did not have an instant reply to this critical question. Perhaps this was a symptom of being fucked-up. Finally she spoke. “Jesus, what’s taking them so long with dinner?”

Rosie went to the bathroom, and I took the opportunity to unwrap the presents that Gene and Claudia had given me. ey had driven me to the airport, so it was impossible not to accept the packages. It was fortunate that Rosie was not watching when I opened them. Gene’s present was a new book of sexual positions and he had inscribed it: “In case you run out of ideas.” He had drawn the gene symbol that he uses as his signature underneath. Claudia’s present was not embarrassing but was irrelevant to the trip—a pair of jeans and a shirt. Clothes are always useful, but I had

already packed a spare shirt and did not see a need for additional pants in only eight days.

Gene had again misconstrued the current nature of my relationship with Rosie, but this was understandable. I could not explain the real purpose for taking Rosie to New York, and Gene had made an assumption consistent with his worldview. On the way to the airport, I had asked Claudia for advice on dealing with so much time in the company of one person.

“Remember to listen,” said Claudia. “If she asks you an awkward question, ask her why she’s asking. Turn it back to her. If she’s a psychology student, she’ll love talking about herself. Take notice of your emotions as well as logic. Emotions have their own logic. And try to go with the flow.”

In fact, Rosie spent most of the remainder of the flight to Los Angeles either sleeping or watching films, but confirmed—twice—that I had not oended her and she just needed time out.

I did not complain.

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