Right here, right now.


In my last post I talked about my tendency to have an automatic and instinctive assumption that dead people were still around. Again, regardless of my current religious beliefs at any given time — I am not talking about heaven hell or purgatory, not talking about ghosts, and not talking about living on in my heart. I mean the literal assumption that they are still living. Except possibly in another time period that I have no personal access to. But I process other time periods as “now” instinctively too, so it all gets very confusing and not conducive to the English language.

I got to thinking about whether it was a more general thing about my conception of time, or some other thing beyond specifically about people who have died. And I realized I do it about objects that have been lost or irretrievably transformed, and places that have been destroyed or transformed.

When I was a kid, there was a VIC-20 game called Omega Race, and a book having to do with a character called Underdog. Both of these objects were obviously and completely lost. Not coming back. I had no particular attachment to them beyond other similar objects, but I insisted on scouring every conceivable location for them over and over again. This was not (as it looked) because I thought I might have missed a place, or (as my brother said of searching for lost items) because I “kept looking in my favorite locations hoping they would turn up”. It was because they had been right here. Right in front of me. And therefore they were right in front of me now. And there must be something wrong with me that I could no longer reach out and touch them. Because in my mind back then, “They are right here darn it, I have grabbed them a zillion times, and it makes no sense that I cannot grab them now.”

If that was traumatic (and it was), when it happens with places it is even worse. I know somewhere deep inside me that there is a Video King store, right near D&J Hobby. You go in and there are videos and Nintendo games for rent. Each video has a little tag you take off and bring to the register, and there are different ones for VHS and Beta. This exists. Now. But I go there later and it is replaced or empty. And that is hellish, because it should exist and there is no reason for it not to.

(It’s strange. Sometimes things work like this, and sometimes the moment something is out of direct perception, it never existed — I can turn around and not remember what was on my other side, move a hand and the thing I am touching is no longer there and totally forgotten. I wonder what the difference is, and why I seem to have both of those reactions instead of the reaction I have only intellectually memorized, where things change and the past and future stay firmly outside of “now”, and you remember things as past while knowing it is the past and not now. I seem to overshoot that mark in both directions.)

Sometimes this even goes for tiny changes, so that, for instance, I perceive myself as currently and simultaneously in every location I have ever been. And it also happens with myself growing and changing, such that for a long time I had constant silent and wordless conversations with my “past selves” (for lack of a better term) because they were all “right now” at once. And for awhile I would walk along routes that took me to places from my past (which I was sure were still there) and if I happened to find people from my past I would triumphantly interact with them and expect them to be as excited that they were still there as I was. (I had no way of explaining this to anyone though, so if anyone wonders the real reason I at one point started showing up at both of my elementary schools and giving long nonsensical reasons for it if asked? This is the real reason. I just had no way of saying it, so I made up the only responses that were available at the time (borrowed from dystopian novels, I think), with disastrous results on one such occasion. I knew you had to give responses, I didn’t know they had to pertain to what was going on inside my head, and if I had known I wouldn’t have been able to give one anyway.)

So I know this is how I have perceived things ever since I was old enough to figure out that unseen objects still existed (which I figured out late and sometimes still don’t know — it’s a skill that doesn’t permanently take for me, it comes and goes). I know it is not how most people perceive things, from the reactions I have gotten when I bring parts of it up with people. I can sometimes intellectually decide things are different than this, but my bones (or my brains) say otherwise. I don’t know if it’s due to my temporal lobe oddities or something else, but it is definitely related to how I perceive dead people. It’s one of those things I could never talk about or ask about growing up, where maybe if I had been able to I would have “corrected” myself. Or maybe not. But it’s still terrible to be confronted with the solid evidence that something that is right now right here, is… gone, or changed, or different. And yet even past that point, my mind still believes it is right here.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

21 responses »

  1. Ah, how your perception emotionally affects you. I did miss that completely before, so I am glad you explained. In case I am misunderstanding again–you perceive dead people or lost objects as potentially still available, not irretrievably removed from you? And so you keep on expecting them to appear? If that is what you are saying, I can see that it would be very stressful, like feeling always that people had been kidnapped but might be set free so that you would see them again.

    I am probably still not understanding right.

  2. I love how well you articulate your experience–and how well you are able to understand what makes it different from NTs’ experience. I love reading about your world–understanding a little bit more of your perspective and experience. Thanks!

  3. Does it make a difference if you see the body of the dead person, or if you have been with the dead person and seen their physical condition deteriorate, and then see their body?

    With objects, does it make a difference if you put it in the fire and watch it disappear: does it still feel present?

  4. cool! I suspected that was what you meant too, but a bit hard to grasp because my brain does work differently. Thanks for putting it into words.

  5. @Muser — Heh, the reason I know it’s different is usually because mentioning it gets me laughed at or told I’m weird. (Or else I ask a few people “Is this normal?” and get “Er… No” as a response.) Usually it takes me several years between noticing something and being able to articulate it, but I do get there in the end. And then I am usually curious to find anyone else who thinks like that, so I write something and usually get at least one such response.

  6. Have you read “Woman on the Edge of Time” by Marge Piercy? What you describe is similar in some ways but different in others. In the novel Connie is subjected to a psychiatric experiment which causes conflation of present and future. But it seems you sometimes conflate present and past.

    In this recession where chain stores shut down overnight, even yesterday’s memory of shopping mall layouts are unreliable. More of a problem for me is forgetting who I told what to and when.

  7. I don’t experience what you describe, but I still have trouble with the “objects that I can’t see right now still exist”. As a child this caused me no end of fear.

    It’s something I know technically, but not really, if you know what I mean. Sort of like theoretical knowledge but I doubt I’ll ever *feel* it. It’s much like the way I know left from right (but I get that one wrong sometimes even with knowing it in theory).
    It’s been a problem in maintaining relationships to people as well. “Out of sight, out of heart” seems fitting, though not entirely, because I’ll like (or dislike) them as much as before if I do see them again.

    I have more stuff like that too, where I technically know something but it never really becomes, well, instinctive. Also some stuff some people have insisted on calling that I am fuzzy on the lines between reality and fantasy, but it’s not really that (which, combined with some other stuff, is why it says I’m a ‘psychosis risk’ in my diagnosis too).

  8. Eeeeeeek. I just pulled about 10 comments out of my spam filter by searching on “autis”, “dead”, and “death”. There are so many comments in that filter it would be impossible to go through by hand but I am worried stuff is in there all the time that I can’t see. If your comment doesn’t appear could you try leaving a very short comment with no links, saying to check the spam folder for the name you used in your comment? Sometimes those comments go through when others don’t. This is quite disturbing to me.

  9. It’s interesting. I have a very similar reaction to death, but for slightly different reasons, I think. Somehow, my mental image of “time” has always been something akin to a corridor made of successive rooms with doors that lock themselves once they are passed through, so that a traveller can only go forward. I tend to think of the past, then, as more of a “place” that still exists and will always exist, having occurred, but one that I can’t return to. So, in my mind, dead people have not so much stopped existing as they have reached a point where their existence occupies only a time that my current self is unable to physically access. It’s more like their life has set in a certain way, like cement in a mold, and no longer has the potential to change.

    It’s pretty weird and confusing, I guess. I’ve never actually met anyone who admitted to having thoughts along these lines before, although I’ve read some descriptions in novels that struck a chord…

    Maybe I’m just not very good at explaining it! (Frankly, I tend to keep thoughts like that to myself for fear of sounding madder than most people already think I am.)

  10. I’m not sure whether I perceive things as you do (and I don’t know how two people could ever know that anyway), but what you’re describing strikes a chord with me. My visual, sensory, and emotional experiences of people and things are so acute that it seems impossible that anything or anyone should ever die or change. I don’t mean that it seems intellectually impossible; I’ve lost a lot of people and places, so I know in my head that it happens, but in some essential way, I do not believe it. It just isn’t so. It’s like everything is really as it was, but I just can’t find the way back.

    For instance, I have a photo of my mother in front of the house I grew up in. My brother is inside the house, barely visible through the screen door. My mother died several years ago, my brother hasn’t spoken to me in 20 years, and yet, I feel as though I could simply walk through that door in the photograph and enter in, and that the only reason I can’t is that I haven’t figured out how yet.

    It’s possible we’re simply perceiving things outside of space and time, in which everything exists at once. It’s only in linear time that things appear to change or die.

  11. I think I actually do see the future in a similar way, it just plays out differently than the past due to only limited capacity to know about the future. (Thus is a response to yet another legitimate response I found in my spam box… sigh.)

    I often think that my mastery of language as echo rather than language as communication, masks a lot of the way I actually think about the world. Because I learned what words others would use. And that covers the fact that were I to use language closer to my perception of the world, the tenses among other things would be quite different. Could be interesting to try to write that way, but then I would have to become conscious of every little way my perceptions are unusual, and that would be hard because they feel quite usual to me.

  12. woozle — check the post you made the comments on. I rescued them already, but when I pull something out of spam, it doesn’t get posted at the end of the comments necessarily, it gets posted wherever in the comments it would have been when you tried to post it.

  13. Oh! Yes, I see them. Thanks. I had been checking just in case, and searching for my name, but hadn’t done it in the last few days because I thought for sure they would show up in the RSS feed — which they haven’t… but that’s ok in this case because two of them are redundant, so just as well if they get a little buried.

  14. On the topic of the actual post: when dead friends appear in my dreams (or in those of my hypertwin), it is generally an intensely emotional experience.

    I’m not sure if this shows that I am different from you (that a dead friend coming back is a big deal — if I still thought of them as alive, then, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them, right?) or that I’m similar (the idea that a dead friend could suddenly reappear at all, because this is clearly impossible).

  15. Pingback: Mashup: Time, Death, and Ballastexistenz | Neurodiversity

  16. Several things come to mind (re. relating to a lot of this):

    1. As a young child I saw these few certain movies/TV programs (I think they were British childrens’ shows of a “spooky” nature — one was called “Children of the Stones” and one was called “The Witches and the Grinnygog”).

    I did not really know what was going on in any of them plot-wise but the imagery and music from them really stuck with me. But I never had them on video tape (this was long before DVDs) so they just sort of disappeared. And for years during my middle-to-late childhood I wondered if maybe I’d *dreamed* them or something. I went around looking everywhere for proof that what I’d seen actually existed, because for some reason it seemed like that would be some kind of weird validation that my younger self was real and had really seen what she thought she had. I think I was around 19 years old when I finally started having semi-regular Internet access, and one of the very first things I ever did with Google (if not THE first thing) was look up those shows I thought I remembered, and while I still have not been able to find them on video or DVD to this day, I did find proof that they were REAL. Which just felt all kinds of awesome, like completing a circle or equation between now and years ago.

    2. I also used to go back to my elementary school, etc., and try and find people or objects associated with earlier school years. I remember being utterly voracious about getting into the attic in my parents’ old house starting in maybe 4th or 5th grade, so I could rummage through all my old papers and school reports and such. Again, I think this was some sort of “proof of the past” thing. Same with looking at old photos…I think I do probably have similar perceptions of time as you describe, because it often feels preposterous that I cannot just walk down a corridor somewhere and visit 1987, etc., so I have to reconstruct it with pictures and objects.

    3. Even though I have (what people have told me is) an extremely good long term memory, I find it really hard to *trust* my own memory a lot of the time.

    I suspect this could be because my life probably deviates from standard cultural narratives, but I’ve been pressured in weird ways to try and frame it always in terms of those narratives. Hence when I want to write about something, or even just casually relate something, about something in my past, I feel like I place this massive burden of proof on myself.

    E.g., I was bullied a lot as a kid. I know this, I experienced it. But there’s pressure to look back on that and say “oh it wasn’t REALLY that bad”, or even “that didn’t REALLY happen”. It is as if there are two layers at work here: one on which I know what was/is real, and the other on which I know I am terrible at convincing people of things with words, so I am not inclined to even bother insisting on the realness of something unless I have the means to reconstruct the past, etc.

    Hopefully at least some of that makes sense.

  17. A bit delayed on posting because I just found your blog. Kowalski referred me actually so it was more of I was handed and proceeded to partially devour the words on my screen.

    I thought this was normal, honestly. I have many times in my life torn my entire house apart to find one small object because I had to. I also have a similar out look on death, to be honest. The people are just not in their bodies right now, that’s all.

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