I am the author of Under The Banana Moon (UTBM) , Communication Breakdown (an earlier version of UTBM with longer chapters) and Reborn Through Fire (which I wrote as ghostwriter). I am currently at work on my second book, a follow-up to UTBM, tentatively called Drawing Attention, about my experiences with loved ones LGBTQ, trans, bi-polar, PTSD, neurotica, mental facilities, etc.
I couldn't part with rocks, scraps, strings, tags.
People who loved me called me many things, "Kimmy," "Poopsie," "Big Eyes," "Gerta," "Kid," "Knucklehead," "Clutzy," "Ding-a-ling," "Smartypants," "Dingleberry..."
A few years after my mother died in 2007, (she never knew about my book's publication) I learned of a conversation my adoptive parents had together when I was a kid. My father wanted to adopted another child. My mother replied; that when you adopt 'it's an unknown,' and you just don't know how that child will 'be.'
She was easy to laugh; vivacious, blonde, blue eyed and even on the rainiest days, seemed cast in a sunny halo of light from behind, at least to me. I was a pro school ditcher, unathletic, clumsy. My mother was softball captain in her school days and nicknamed "Tank" because of her football skills, I was anxious, enjoyed big words that didn't feel all that big, an introvert by nature, voracious reader of travel brochures, encyclopedias, tag sale novels, magazines, errr... anything that had text. I was taller than both parents by age 11. My motor skills sucked, buttons were incredibly hard to do until I was at least 9. I spent a lot of time under the kitchen table, where shoe strings were tied, practicing over and over how to tie a bow. By the age of 8 or 9 I could finally tie my shoes. I remember my first bow. I was so excited I bumped my head on the table.
My mother (a cafeteria worker who had an artistic flair, sharp wit, and devoured soap operas and romance novels) did her best to explain me to people even though she was clueless herself as to why I was as I was. Who diagnosed Aspergers then? Or Selective Mutism? No one.
People had many names and phrases for me, whispered or spoken, not so discreetly, which further screwed with my sense of autonomy and identity: "like a stone," "unfeeling Sphynx," "special," "in her own world," "far away," "CAN SHE TALK?"
Because I drew attention, my mother was fiercely protective of me, also patient and loving. When I misunderstood the world, became overwhelmed by social or sensory experiences, I broke down. I hyperventilated often. My body balled up fetally. She'd turn down the lights, and rock me, a tall gangly plump pile of limbs in her lap, and raked her sharp fingernails across my scalp until I came back to myself. My own fingernails were bitten to nubs. I have come to think that the reason she became the hoarder she was (she once accidentally served a guest a bowlful of pistachios crawling with worms) was due in part to an unaddressed, unexpressed sadness at never being able to bear children herself.
Adept with crayons, pens and pencils, happiest writing and drawing, I blossomed where I was planted: in a ramshackle grey house with a scary dirt-floored basement where big rats ran. A house which is now torn down, but which used to stand on a hill overlooking a four-lane highway. There were a few houses next door, one with a girl my age in it. Perhaps due to proximity, it was a blessing nonetheless that we bonded. There was a billboard at the foot of the yard, and a view from the screen door: A sandbank taller than the house. Next to the sandbank was a tumble of boulders and discarded junk, a world to play in! I lived in my world where bugs, trees, rocks, and pets (nothing has changed there) really and truly mattered. I passed hours with the girl next door exploring, climbing boulders; communing in the nature such as it was, being a spiritual experience for me. How often I stand before trees, neck craned back, with wonder for the mosaic that the branches make, silhouetted against the sky. And also admiration for the tree's disposition to be immobile, to have to grow where it stands.
"Shy" was the dirtiest descriptive word of all. I hated it, because I knew that my inability to be a chameleon, to laugh easily, to understand idioms, social nuances, and small talk was MORE than that. I also subtly and quietly, docilely accepted that for lack of a better explanation, it was the only word adults could come up with. But it grated me. I was very right that I was different (clinically, physiologically) and I did receive a diagnosis; but not until adulthood. I had an encyclopedic repertoire of topics to expound on, if someone skipped the useless niceties, small talk, and just asked me about topics that mattered. Being sent by the school, to look at InkBlots at the age of 14, it was 1978 and Aspergers was not common knowledge. We existed. Always have, but no one had a name for it then.
The best experience I had in high school was when I sat for an assembly to watch mimes who visited and put on a performance. I was enthralled by these silent expressions of movement and feeling. It left me longing to be able to express myself so fluently and artfully. Eventually I would.
Early on, I had sensory issues that were either hyper or hypo. I ate the same thing, not wishing to vary routine, every day at lunch for several years before I then had something different. That "something different" I then ate for several years. Every day, whether the weather was sweltering or chilly, I wore the same sweater and tried to wear it some more when I outgrew it and got 'stuck' in it, and then tearfully let it go away. I had trouble 'being' at school. My lunch routine was calming, with no surprises, my set, predetermined never-varying lunch was dependable, and necessary. Challenging Conundrum: Loving to learn/Not tolerating the school environment. Why? When an audible connection to voice disappears, one may feel, observing me, that identity and personhood are 'not there.' Few SEE you. Selective Mutism, which in my case, is lifelong- is an unpredictable malady! The voice is affected by anxiety, stressors, illness, and environment among so many other things and very little was understood when I was a student. There are many conditions that are co-morbid alongside autism/aspergers, and SM is one of them. Autistic people can be extroverts or introverts like anyone else too. Some people only see conditions, and never see the person. See my raw and candid writing on this in the book Selective Mutism In Our Own Words (JKP, Sutton and Forrester) and of course in my own memoir Under The Banana Moon.
"Why should I write about me? What makes me so interesting?"
"Everyone's life is full of struggles and successes. Why not write about you?"
By the time I was an adult, I was learning I had peers all over the world- I found my people through ANI, as a start, and was privileged to spend time with Donna Williams. We watched a little of an Oprah show, and looked over each other's belongings. We exchanged correspondences for years, and also worked on writings together. The internet was making my world bigger and more authentic. I did not receive an Aspergers/Selective Mutism/ Dysthymia diagnoses until 1999. By then I'd learned my significant other had a terminal illness. I'd always devoured memoirs and autobiographies, having an intense need to know what made others tick, searching all the while for what made me tick. It's trite perhaps, but writing for me, was/is cathartic. I wrote and wrote to cope. Donna (Polly) wrote the brilliant forward for my book pro bono, which is reprinted following the next few paragraphs on this page. In the 90s I was just beginning to take some of my artwork into the light, and to make some money from it. The sad facts were: I was going to become a communication-challenged, non-driving widow with three children. The good news? I was earning a small income from various publications in literary journals, small magazines and the like.
I was being seen.
This sharing of a VOICE through art and writing, left me raw, vulnerable, open......
and also alive.
It was always my hope that UTBM reach fellow Aspergers Autistics and those dx'ed with Selective Mutism, who struggle with feeling that their experiences are theirs alone. Because they are not alone. I needed to know as a child, that feeling of one's own community, of belonging.
I changed some descriptions and names in the book and I handled difficult topics with tact and respect to the best of my ability, in my opinion. So much left unsaid! My intent was to say to the bigger world, always outside my grasp: I exist, as so many thinkers and non-conformists do, in this world too. Sometimes in writing UTBM, up until 2:00 a.m., the words vomited onto the page, other times they screamed, and sometimes as my fingers flew over the keyboard tapping, I was laughing aloud in the dim room with no one but the cats and dog and their tilted heads. The parakeets couldn't have cared one way or another.
for Under the Banana Moon, by Donna Williams (1963-2017)
To say I cried when I read Kimberly's book is an understatement. I cried buckets. But this is not a miserable book, far from it. It's a gritty, gutsy, moving, sometimes even funny book about the worst and best of life.
It's a book about childhood and innocence, and about entrapment, selling-out and smiling whilst you do the unbelievable, simply because your back is to the wall and you damned well have to.
Kimberly's husband, Howie, develops ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), one of the most challenging of all diseases and one which stripped him of almost every function, with the exception of his intellect and sexuality.
Kimberly, a remarkable woman with Asperger's struggling with life-long selective mutism lives in an invisible cage of her own, struggling with
being known, being dependent on others, showing her feelings openly.
Yet in their incredible journey together it is Howie's obvious imprisonment that overshadows Kimberly's own at every turn. In spite of very real anxiety disorders, anxiety disorders her own invisible cage compels her to hide from others, she is expected to 'pull herself together' and function where many non-autistic adults would crumble. The crazy thing is, she does.
There are many on the autistic spectrum who do not feel excruciating social phobia to the degree they are compulsively compelled to hide, lose their natural voice, their connection to their own expressions and actions, but as the author of Exposure Anxiety; The Invisible Cage of Involuntary Self Protection Responses, I know of these things too well and I know where Kimberly has been. Most people with severe Exposure Anxiety as part of their autism don't speak and Kimberly surely struggled and still does, with verbal communication.
We are not all desperate for attention, easily to accept praise, cope with feeling overwhelming gratitude or connection, or want to be known. Some of us are lucky if we manage that with a single friend or partner and Kimberly achieved that, only to lose that partner. What's so much more remarkable is that whilst Kimberly has an obvious natural rapport with others on the autistic spectrum, she was also able to dare to be known by her non-autistic husband who often couldn't see her.
For all his faults (and he is unashamedly portrayed here in all his gritty glory) Howie stands out in this book as a real rough diamond. What she's written here is a monument to him, but also an act of enormous daring and self honesty.
Howie was no monster but he was not politically correct either. He was a 'rough-and-ready' type of bloke from the same raw, tell it like it is, reality Kimberly grew up in. She saw him beyond his often insensitive, even flippant reactions and still saw him beyond what his disease reduced him to. She saw him even when she's stopped seeing herself. And it is this that leaves me so awestruck about Kimberly Tucker. I identify with her in so many ways. I am proud of her. Let her hide from the world if she is safest in such a 'cat corner', but her individuality and humanity will still jump out as long as she allows us that window through her ARTism, through her writing. Dare to read this book. She dared to write it. You won't forget it.
... Donna Williams
Author of the international bestseller, Nobody Nowhere.