Maybe alarm bells, or at least a faint jangling, should have been heard by my subconscious mind on a family holiday to Devon early on in Ethan and my relationship. This was a holiday with my mum and dad, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and niece – before Ethan and I even thought about creating our own family! I should start by pointing out that he’d invited himself to our family holiday in much the same way as he’d chipped away at me until I’d caved in to embarking on the relationship in the first place.
On the way to the beach, Ethan had noticed a sign for a vast array of ice-cream flavours on sale at the beach shop. We got together a small party of eager partakers from our family group and set off to purchase our ice-cream, talking for part of the way about what ice-cream flavour we were all going to get. It was quite a walk to the beach shop and Ethan struggled to remain engaged in conversation – focused, as he was, on the end goal of (rum and raisin) ice-cream.
We reached the shop. Excitement was mounting. Ethan, unsurprisingly, was first to the counter: ‘large rum and raisin ice-cream please’. I could read, from the look on the woman’s face, the general situation. ‘I’m sorry, we only have vanilla left’. OK, I hadn’t anticipated it was going to be that bad. I’d guessed that rum and raisin was out, possibly one or two others of the 12 flavours advertised on their enticing board. But ‘you haven’t got any flavours at all?’ Ethan was incredulous – and very annoyed. ‘We’ve got vanilla,’ the poor girl was playing on the one string she had. My mum, always eager to avoid confrontation and keep everyone cheerful, piped up ‘Never mind, vanilla will be lovely. Isn’t it great that they’ve at least not run out of vanilla.’ But Ethan was too annoyed, too far gone, too steered off course to right himself again. ‘Do you not think you should take your sign down if you don’t have any of the flavours left? We’ve just walked for ten minutes to get here because of the different flavours you’re advertising. This is ridiculous.’ Mum was visibly shrinking. I don’t mean to be self-righteous and pompous but the rest of us were happy to make do with vanilla ice-cream. We’d been brought up to be grateful for what we had – and to compare ourselves with all the people who had so much less. Granted, we were disappointed that the rainbow of flavours offered weren’t available, but we could cope with that disappointment. We all cared more about having a nice day and enjoying being together than what ice-cream flavour we had. Ethan didn’t have/couldn’t have that same perspective. What he’d expected, what he’d been told he’d have, he now couldn’t have. His brain couldn’t cope with the quick switch required of him. His brain wasn’t wired to deal with this level of shock and disappointment. He couldn’t see beyond himself and what he wanted. I can see all that now. At the time I just thought he was being rude and childish.
We walked back, each with our vanilla ice-cream, mum doing her best to stay light and cheery and trying to get us all to chat about jolly things. Ethan stomped back to our base on the beach without saying a word, a look of sheer disgust, anger and disdain on his face. It didn’t matter that his black mood was affecting everyone else. He’d been expecting rum and raisin ice-cream and he’d got vanilla. He was angry with the world.
Multiple alarm bells often go off in my head these days. But it’s too late. I’ve overslept and now have to wake up to what our life is: Ethan with Aspergers and me not. The best we can both do now is to find out as much as we can and adapt as much as we can to get the best out of each other that we can and make family life as good as we can.(And make sure the freezer is always stocked with a choice of ice-cream!)