Amber Lambda, or 'Know-It-All Amber' as she'd been aptly nicknamed ever since the first grade, when she marched right up to Miss Lewis and promptly scolded her on the order of the classroom books, telling her, "they're all wrong". Hands on hips, head tilted to one side, "because everybody knows that books go in 'alphabetal order!" And Miss Lewis, with the patience of all the saints combined replied, "Amber, not everybody can read in the first grade, so I put the books in topical order, making them easier to identify for little ones by the pictures." As logical as this answer was to most of the kids, Amber was just not having it. Her way was always the right way. After all, didn’t her mommy always say she had septacular ideas.
Later, these criticisms moved on to include her fellow pupils, her family, and even strangers on the street. Everyone except her best friend Savannah. Savannah Baker was a sweet little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl whose family had moved from East Texas the summer before. She was a shy little thing. Amber met her in the 1st grade, and they remained inseparable until the 5th grade. Savannah didn't seem to mind Amber's brusque ways; as a matter of fact, she envied Amber her ability to stand up and say what was on her mind. She didn't mind, that is, until one day, Amber turned the tables on her best friend.
It was a lazy fall afternoon after school when the world first turned on its axis. A jealousy had started between the girls because they both liked the same boy, Justin Hershel. When they first spotted him in 2nd grade, they imagined the day they would both marry him. How fun that would be! One day, though, it suddenly dawned on Amber that this was an unrealistic scenario. After all, didn’t everyone they know have only one wife, not two? When she told this to Savannah, she couldn’t have been more surprised and asked, “I wonder why we never thought of that before?” and then asked Amber what that meant for them. Amber commenced with the only logical explanation there was. Justin would have to marry her because he would want someone “reliable, knowledgeable, organized, and well, really pretty”, to be his wife, and “you, Savannah, are just none of those things.” She said this very matter-of-factly, without menace, but none of that matters to the heart. Savannah was so vexed at her friend, she had no words, only tears. Everyone knows that a situation that ending in tears can never be repaired without a heartfelt apology, and Amber had never willingly apologized in her life.
Everyone in Amber's life was not only stumped by her, but also gun-shy. Most people just steered clear of her as best they could, yet this did not seem to faze her whatsoever. Amber seemed perfectly content, as long as everything went her way. As a matter of fact, the day of the "great falling out" as everyone called it, Amber had come home and acted as if nothing had happened. Her parents had no clue that she and Savannah were not on speaking terms until the next Sunday when they asked Amber if she wanted to invite Savannah over for a playdate, upon which Amber simply answered, “no thank you, me and Savannah are no longer friends. " And that was that.
Amber was now 12 years old, starting 7th grade, and not much had changed, except she had grown a few inches. She excelled in every subject in school, but especially in math. Everything, from the top of Amber's raven-colored head to the bottom of her size 6.5 feet was perfect, at least from the outside. She would have a breakdown if anything was out of place. One would think these traits would make for a very popular young lady, but due to this perfectionism, and willingness to say whatever came to her mind, she tended to come off as hyper-critical. The things she had said to her best friend in the third grade were only the tip of the iceberg.
What came out of Amber's mouth in later years were quite off-putting to most people. Mainly, for this reason, Amber was walking alone to school, as she did every day. Although today had started just like every other day: alarm ringing precisely at 6:45 am, Amber readying herself to perfection in the bathroom, then returning to her room where the outfit she had assembled the night before hung neatly, waiting to be donned. Yes, all these activities were routine for Amber, up until the moment she had stopped to pick up a strange, shiny object she had almost tripped over. Amber stooped to see what had caused this hiccup in her so far perfect day.
It was mesmerizing, oblong, about 3 inches across, and exceptionally shiny. So much so, that when the sun bounced off, it almost blinded Amber. The colors were almost indescribable, as each red seemed redder than red, and each green section so much greener. The same applied to all the other colors. She was so fascinated by it, she lost all track of time and when she finally looked up and check her watch, it was already 7:55 am, leaving her only five minutes to get to class and she was still an eight-minute walk from Lakeshore High. Panic squeezed in Amber's chest as she quickly pocketed the stone, or whatever it was. She had never been late to school. How could she bear an imperfect attendance record? It was unthinkable! Amber started running as fast as her legs would carry her, passing Redding Court, then Sequoia Lane, until she finally turned the corner of Raintree Place where she could spot the flagpole that marked the entrance to the high school.
Amber skidded around the corner of the hallway and stopped abruptly at Room 122, slowed her pace, and walked lithely into Mr. Rocket's classroom. Exactly 2 minutes and 34 seconds late!!! Yes, Amber Lambda was late. An unthinkable scenario in her mind. As she walked in, the other students, all seated, turned to stare in her direction as they saw a very disheveled looking Amber walk in. Her bun, having sat perfectly atop her head just a few minutes ago was tilted to one side, mascara sweating down her face and her breaths were also coming in short, shallow spurts.
Amber tried to ignore the stares and the sarcastic jibes from the boys and just smile it all away, but inside, she was seething. How could she have ruined her perfect attendance record, and for a stupid little stone? But she couldn't think of that right now, she had to get her head back on straight and focus on the school day ahead. Of course, that was easier said than done. If people thought Amber hyper-critical of others, they should just hear the inner monologue in her head. Try as she might, she could not shut off the berating voices. They followed her to Mrs. Coleman's second period Pre-Algebra class, then on to third period World History with Mr. Jenkins. By the time the bell rang for lunch, Amber was in an internal battle that left her so discombobulated she wasn't paying attention to where she was going and instead of heading toward the cafeteria, she wound up at the entrance to the gym, where she quite literally ran into Savannah. "Ouch!" Savannah cried when Amber accidentally stepped on her toes. "Savannah!"
Amber gasped, the surprise evident on her face. Ever since the "great falling out", Amber and Savannah rarely saw each other. They still existed within each other's worlds, but they had different schedules which led to separate lunch periods and their interests were also polar opposite. Savannah also made a special effort to steer clear of Amber's world to avoid encounters such as this one.
Both girls just looked at one another, unsure what to say. Amber just stood there, dumbfounded, wondering what had just happened, when finally, Savannah cleared her throat and said, “excuse me”. At the same time, Amber felt a strange vibration coming from her left pocket. It made no sense, since kids were not allowed cell phones in the school and Amber had hers turned off and in her backpack. She touched her hand to her pocket, feeling the strange, oblong shape sitting there. She had forgotten all about it, up until this moment. She put her hand in her pocket and when she did, the atmosphere seemed to shift. Colors appeared brighter, sounds much louder, and the floor seemed to wave underneath her feet, but even stranger, she could sense a feeling of annoyance mixed with deep pain. "What was that all about?" she thought. Savannah saw Amber's face go pale and asked her what was wrong. Amber asked, "don't you feel that?" but Savannah just stared at her like she had two heads. Amber thought maybe she did at this point. Amber took her hand out of her pocket and the world suddenly straightened out. "Whoa, that was crazy", she thought.
Amber managed to forget the world-tilting event for the rest of the school day and instead, focused on her schoolwork. In Civics, the last period of the day, the teacher, Miss Grafton, gave the students a group assignment. Amber groaned inwardly, hating every aspect of group projects, since no one she was ever paired with did things her way. "Oh well", she thought, “I'll just have to take over as I always do." Needless to say, no one volunteered to be her partner, so Miss Grafton had to pair her with up with Susie Dalton, a short, cute, little red head, who was always full of energy and a people-pleaser. "Good", Amber thought, "this will make it easy to take over. Both girls walked to the library together to discuss the project, Susie chatting along the way, Amber sighing deep inside. They sat down to talk about parsing out assignments, Susie rattling on about research, when Amber decided to cut to the chase. She told Susie, "Look, we all know I get straight A's and my projects are always exceptional, so how about you just take a step back and let me take over? You won’t have to lift a finger" As she said this, she leaned back in her chair, put her hand in her pockets, and the next thing she knew her world was being rocked again. Same as before, except this time, what she felt deep inside was frustration and resentment. Where had that come from? Amber didn't think she harbored any of those feelings. Suddenly, she looked at Susie and saw that her face was glowing a deep crimson and she had smoke coming out of her ears. Amber put her chair aright, did a double take, but when she looked again, sure enough, Susie was steaming, wearing a look of pure irritation. Amber jerked her hands out of her pockets and the world calmed down again. She couldn't figure out what had upset Susie to this point, so she simply asked. Susie pounced at this chance and said, "Look Amber, I know you like to be in charge of, well…EVERYTHING, and you think your way is the only way, but that's just not the way the world works. You can't go around pretending other people are just obstacles you need to get around. We all have feelings too, and we all have different talents to contribute. My dad is Mayor of this small town after all, so don't you think I would have some knowledge about how our government works? I’m also in Art II and have been told I have an eye for design. That being said, my talents could help us to design a brilliant, eye-catching project."
No one had ever spoken up to Amber before, they usually just sighed and moved aside, knowing that arguing would get them nowhere. She wondered where Susie had gotten the nerve. Amber remembered that feeling of frustration she had felt when she touched the stone. Could it be that she was feeling what Susie felt? After all, when the earth had shifted when she was with Savannah, she had felt some emotions that did not feel like her own either. How strange this day was and only getting stranger by the minute. Amber was feeling completely off-kilter. She really didn't have the energy to argue, even though every nerve fiber in her body was screaming that this needed to be addressed. She finally sighed, threw up her hands, and told Susie, “Whatever, I can't deal with this right now. Let's talk about it tomorrow,” and then she strode off.
After school, Amber was still pondering all the strange goings-on that day, when her mom came home early from work. Walking in the door, she told Amber to hurry up and grab her stuff, they were going to be late to the orthodontist. Amber was so completely caught off-guard that she froze. She didn’t’ have an appointment today, did she? Suddenly, it hit her like a ton of bricks. Yes, she did have an appointment and hadn't even remembered. Apparently, Amber must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights because her mom tilted her head and asked Amber what was wrong. It must have been this weird day throwing her off her game. She was normally on top of this stuff. Amber quickly grabbed her bag and headed for the door pretending she had known all along.
At the orthodontist's office, Amber's mom started asking about her day, which just irritated her as she didn't want to think about this crazy day anymore, so she responded with a biting answer. Her mom’s face dropped, which Amber would normally just ignore with a shrug, only this time she was reminded of the previous situations, those moments when she had possibly felt someone else’s emotions. Just like that, she put her hand back in her pocket. It was still there. “Good”, she thought, “let’s try this again.” Sure enough, as soon as her hand brushed the srange object, the world swayed and got brighter around her. Then, as if she were pulled into her mom’s head, she felt a deep worry niggling at her brain and one simple thought crossed her mind, “What if she keeps pushing everyone away and ends up with no one to love?” Amber let go of the object, sat back in her chair, feeling a heavy weight descend upon her chest. Did her mother really worry her like this? Was she possibly right? Would Amber wind up all alone? The answers were too scary to ponder, because deep down she knew her mother was probably right. She asked her mom that night if they could talk, and the did so, well into the night.
Amber didn’t sleep much that night and was feeling very sluggish the next morning. Dragging through school that day, she never even raised her hand once in class. As she sat alone in the school cafeteria at lunchtime, watching all the groups of kids chattering away about things that Amber never even thought about, like parties and the upcoming Homecoming dance, she caught sight of Savannah, sitting all alone too, and looking downcast. That didn’t seem right. As far as Amber knew, Savannah had made other friends after their friendship had broken up. Amber suddenly felt a strange feeling come over her and she just wanted to hug her old friend. “Ok”, she thought “it’s time to mend fences.” Picking up her lunch tray, she walked over to Savannah’s table and asked if she could sit down. Savannah simply gestured to the other seat and Amber took it. Amber mustered up all her strength and finally spluttered out, “I’m so sorry that I ever hurt you, Savannah. I’ve hurt a lot of people in my life, but you were always my one true friend. I can’t believe I let that go over a dumb boy. A boy neither of us even dated! So, for what it’s worth, I wish I could take it all back because none of it was even true. Every time I’ve judged the way someone did something, or what they wore, or how they talked, it wasn’t because I was better. It was because I feared I’d never be good enough. It does make me feel better to do everything in a specific way, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “the right” way. I know you probably already know that, but I’ve just never admitted it out loud. Last night my mom and I had a long talk about my perfectionism and my bluntness. She’s thinking that maybe I’m on the autism spectrum. I plan on finding out more about this, but no matter why I do what I do, it doesn’t excuse any of it and I hope one day you can forgive me.” Savannah suddenly jumped up out of her chair and hurtled herself at Amber, hugging her so tight she could barely breathe. Apparently, Savannah had a bunch of acquaintances, but no real friends; thus no one to talk to when her life had fallen apart over the summer. Her parents were separating, and she really needed to talk to someone. Amber’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
Healing would take time and the two girls would need to learn to trust each other again, but once Amber started learning the how’s and why’s of Autism and what made her tick, she was able to address her critical mind. With proper therapy, nutrition, and Savannah’s little nudges under the table, she started to adapt to the world around her. Life would never be easy for Amber, but it could be slightly smoother. Plus, life is always better when you don’t have to live it alone.