(One profanity, a theme of Autism, bullying)
"Asparagus got Aspergers!" Bronson lowered his face to my eye level and beamed with menace.
His two front teeth had fallen out last week, so a spray of spittle came through the gaps and landed on my glasses. I wished glasses came with windscreen wipers. Due to the missing teeth, what Bronson actually said was "Athparagath got Athbergeth", but I got what he meant.
Bronson was possibly the meanest of the mean boys in Year 3. He was born mean, I think, so not much can be done about it. On the other hand, I wished my parents had given me a name other than "Gus." "Gus" sounded like the name of a circus clown. It had given rise to such schoolboy witticisms as ""Gus the goose", "Gus get on a bus", and "Gus the wuss" which didn't even rhyme. I myself would have chosen a more masculine name, such as Bruce, or even Bronson, although that one did remind me of dinosaurs, for some reason.
The mean boys had decided I was Autistic, thanks to our "Learning About Our Friends Who are Different, Focus on Autism and Asperger's" presentation at school. I had a somewhat precocious and overdeveloped ability with language, not commensurate with my tender age, with a propensity to recall, at whim, lines of poetry and quotations from the great and famous, hence the sobriquets from my fellow students. My attention span also changed tracks rather frequently, like a speeding freight train taking the wrong turn at a siding.
The mean boys' gaze was diverted by a vision in a pink cashmere bolero with a white and blue polka-dotted skirt, gliding past. The words spoken by an Australian Prime Minister when he caught his first glimpse of a young Queen Elizabeth came to mind:-
"I did but see her passing by, yet I will love her till I die."
This was Anneliese Wilkinson, newly arrived student. Her hair was like spun silk, her skin the colour of fresh milk and honey, and I dared not look at her rosebud lips lest my heart, which had already skipped a beat, ceased beating altogether.
As she disappeared into my classroom, the spell which she had cast upon my fellow students was broken. They woke from their momentarily somnolent state, gave me a quick shove with a sharp pull to one ear for good measure, and went on their way.
The next day, on my walk to school, I opened my lunch box, threw out my cheese salad sandwich, apple and juice box, and took from my pocket my most revered possession, Aoguero, my green tree frog, Ranoidea Caerula. I laid out a bed of lettuce from the sandwich, tucked Aoguero into the box, then ventured forth to greet my loved one in the school playground.
"Use your fear, it can take you to places where you store your courage." Amelia Earhart. Despite girding my loins, all that squeaked out of my mouth as I approached my beloved was "Hey Anneliese, I've got something for you. Close your eyes and hold out your hands." She did so, and, tremulously, I placed the lunchbox in her hands and opened the lid.
Freed from his lunchbox prison, Aoguero made a mighty leap onto the top of Anneliese's head, whereupon she began running in circles, screaming.
"Gross, gross, get it off me." Aggie, mercifully, was flung by her gesticulating arms into the nearby bushes, where he landed safely. Anneliese ran off crying.
Thereafter, my attempts to attract the attention of my love interest proved futile. I was in a leper colony of one. In the culture of school aged girls, I was Tabu.
One morning, our teacher, Miss Humboldt, was losing patience with her class's apparent inability to answer the simplest of questions in oral arithmetic. I was not allowed to put up my hand, as it was a given fact that I would know all the answers and everyone else would be denied a learning opportunity. Miss Humboldt zeroed in on Anneliese.
"Twelve multiplied by six, Anneliese. It's a very simple question." Miss Humboldt drummed her ruler on her desk and repeated her question at least five times, each time a little louder. Every time, Anneliese's head hung a little lower, until I could take it no more. Torture me, but do not hurt my beloved.
"Seventy-two!" I yelled.
After class, Anneliese approached me in the playground.
"Thanks Gus," she said, before skipping away to meet her friends. My heart soared. "All days of glory, joy and happiness." William Shakespeare. My feet became lighter. I was weightless. I was a feather floating on a cloud of joy.
School years passed, yet my love for Anneliese never faltered. It was endless, without beginning, without end. I remained invisible as a phantom to her, yet she inhabited my dreams and my every waking thought. I even had a book in which I doodled her name, in Cyrillic script, with illuminations worthy of an eleventh-century monk.
One propitious, glorious day in the summer of my fifteenth year, as I was rearranging my collection of ancient arrowheads in chronological order, there came a knock on the door. My mother answered. There, stood Anneliese.
"Hi, I go to school with Gus. Is he home?"
Am I home? Is the earth round? Is the rain wet? Is death a certainty? Does a one-legged duck swim in circles? Yes, I am home, I am home, I am home.
"Hi Anneliese," my voice creaked.
Up close, Anneliese was breathtaking. Her skin was incandescent. Her eyes were the pale blue, bottomless, shade of sapphire jewels.
Her skin smelt like a bed of roses. Oh, to bury my face in its perfumed glory. Her legs had grown shapely curves. I could just see the tips of her toenails in her sandals, painted a luscious shade of cotton candy pink. I had to shut my eyes to stop staring.
I wanted to ask her if she'd like some lemonade, but my tongue was tied.
"Would you like drink down and have something to sit? Like lemonade?"
She smiled. The pearly gates of.....oh, I musn't think of kissing her, or I won't be able to string even two words together.
"I wanted to ask if you could help me with something."
Yes, I will walk through fire for you. I will move mountains, I will part the sea.
"Ok," I said.
"Well, my parents are really upset with me and are talking about sending me away to a private school, for extra tutoring, because I'm not doing real good."
Oh no, that cannot be, you cannot leave me alone on this mortal coil.
"So I thought of you."
Yes, she had thought of me. As did I of you, my darling. Incessantly.
"I wondered if you could help me with my assignments. You know, sort of, well, do them for me."
A dilemma. No, not the cheating. I would risk the hangman's noose for Anneliese. I would do that without hesitation. It was the fear that Anneliese would be caught.
"Yes, but I could only help you a bit, otherwise it would be obvious that I'd written them for you. We'd have to redact them, in your own words."
"Don't worry, I know what to do."
"Oh, thank heavens." She flung herself against me and gave me a quick hug. The floor opened up, and a choir of angels rose singing. I could die now and be happy.
Anneliese jumped up to make her way out.
"It's really good of you to do this. My boyfriend, Bronson, will be so happy. He was really worried about the idea of me going away. We're really close, you know." She flushed pink.
No, I didn't know. If I had known, I would not have had the will to rise from my bed each morn. Even "sleep, Nature's Nurse" (William Shakespeare), would not heal my pain.
Yet, hope springs eternal. Fate had brought us together in the guise of assignment-writing. A two thousand word essay, normally churned out in a couple of hours, will become Homer's Odyssey. Hot chocolate in hand, we will sit together in a meeting of the minds, perhaps sharing a knitted rug across our laps to keep warm. The computer's light will be a soft glow on our faces as I work the magic of my words on the page for you, complete with suitable grammatical and spelling faux pas to avoid detection. I must remember to add in sufficient elementary errors of both fact and logic to ensure no possibility of a dubious "A" being awarded.
I helped, and Anneliese passed her final exams. Yet, even throughout our midnight study vigils, my coy mistress gave me no hope which might have flamed the ember of my love, the glowing coal, which was always present in my heart. I began to fear that, one day, it would be rendered ash.
School days over, I garnered the strength to ring her with congratulations. Bronson answered the phone.
"May I speak to Anneliese? It's Gus."
"Yeah, I recognise your nerdy voice. No, you may not. Exams are finished now buddy, so thanks for your help, but no, she doesn't need to speak to you."
Two months after we graduated high school, I read in the society pages in our local newspaper:-
Anneliese Wilkinson, only child of Mr. and Mrs P Wilkinson, today married Bronson Ogdon, son of Mr. and Mrs G. Ogdon, in a beautiful ceremony held at St. Barnabas' church. Congratulations to the bride and groom.
Five months after that, another announcement in the Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches column. Anneliese had given birth to a baby girl.
Once I had grown out of adolescence, it had become easier to sort the jumbled mass of words and thoughts which inhabited my head into neat, ordered compartments. I now had a least a veneer of normality. Like the cliched jilted lover, I threw myself into my studies, having won a scholarship to study linguistics at a city university. On weekends and holidays I returned to my parental home, where I took long, rambling rides on my bike along forest trails. Nature and exercise brought me a tranquillity of mind which I had not experienced in my childhood.
I was riding my bike on a forest road when I came across a car which had left the roadway and collided with several small trees and rocks before coming to rest. When I stopped, I found Bronson. He had been thrown from the driver's side, and lay unconscious. I ran to the passenger's side, and found Anneliese lying, also out of the vehicle but with her leg pinned under it. She must have been thrown or perhaps jumped out, before the vehicle continued to move before stopping. One front wheel had come off, the other was loosely hanging, and the wreck creaked and groaned as though its crumpled undercarriage intended to give way. Anneliese's leg would then be completely crushed.
I had no phone. There was no passing traffic on the road. Think, Gus, that brain must be good for something.
We were in a forest. There was dead wood everywhere. A fulcrum.
I pulled Bronson out of the way. Ethanol. He reeked of the stale smell of alcohol. Anneliese was stirring, and I gently patted her face and spoke to her.
"I'm going to lift the car up, Anneliese, and when I do, even if it hurts, you're going to have to move your leg out from under the car really quickly." She nodded, and moaned a little.
I laid a small log beside Anneliese, with a longer, strong branch across it, partly under the car. With all my strength, I pushed down on the branch. Nothing happened.
I will move mountains for you, Anneliese. Amor vincit omnia.
I begged every muscle, every neuron and every fibre in my being to give me the strength to push down hard enough to lift the car. With a mighty heave, I pushed down, the car lifted, and Anneliese rolled herself out from underneath.
Once Anneliese had been released from hospital, I wanted to see her, one last time, I told myself. She lived with Bronson in a tiny, one bedroom house on the outskirts of town. The letter box was full of mail, the grass overgrown, and the blinds in the front windows were wonky, so the house had a lop-eyed leer to it.
Bronson answered the door and motioned me inside. There was a smell of beer, cigarettes, stale milk, and soiled nappies.
"Thanks for your help, mate," Bronson said. "Anneliese had her mobile in her pocket but she's fucking stupid and it had run out of charge.
"Hey Annie, your old boyfriend's here. The hero." He winked and swigged from a bottle. "Like a beer?"
"I'm fine, thanks. Just a quick visit, I've brought Anneliese a get-well present."
When Annie emerged from the bedroom, it was as though life had been siphoned out of her. Her eyes were dull, underlined by black circles. Her skin was pale and grey under the fluorescent lights of the living room. She had lost the vibrancy of her youth.
Yet, as soon as she saw me, she smiled, and for a fleeting second I saw the Anneliese who I had worshipped. For the first time since I had met her, all those years ago, she looked right into my eyes, and it seemed as though she was looking at me now with the same longing I had once had for her.
I gave her the presents I had brought, a green pottery frog, and a bunch of pink roses. A way of saying goodbye.
She had never been one for words. "Thanks", she mumbled, and I said my goodbyes and walked outside.
"Gus wait!" she called, hobbling to the gate after me on her crutches.
She smiled again. Anneliese's smile, which could instantly turn me into a puddle of simpering, adoring, young boy mush.
"Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet," she said. "It was in one of the essays you did for me."
"You read them?"
""Every one. And I've been reading the books, too. Even Romeo and Juliet." She looked down at her feet, uncomfortable, then looked up at me.
"They were star-crossed lovers, too, just like us. I'm afraid your feelings for me are dying, just when mine for you are coming to life. I can't do anything about it now, anyway." She looked towards the house.
I nodded. Anneliese was crying as I walked away.