We passed straight-backed, green-clad hunters shooting into the sky…(‘Don’t look,’ he said as I looked…) … saw signs to little hamlets with quaint and peculiar, unheard of names, linked to the past. Did the people here know that past? I wondered.
On wet, winding roads, losing all sense of North and South, East and West, with no clear view of where we were going, every other rare passing car was a giant 4-wheel drive, caked in mud. Mud was everywhere.
The grim January day never lifted and all was brown, black and grey. Weeks of heavy rain had made the field surfaces weak and tracks had torn out the green across the land.
A road closure on the only route I’d figured out threw us and we doubled our journey time. Lost in a deserted hamlet with no phone signal, I bravely rang a doorbell to ask for help, only to discover it was an empty holiday home.
We drove on again until I could use my phone and ask for directions. I hate phones and doorbells and plans gone wrong, I hate losing time and unexpected rethinking. All these things push and pull me beyond my natural instincts and my safe zone.
But somehow I am good in a crisis. I was out, so far from familiar and usual that I was wearing my cloak of capability, my smile, my chat. I was on a cortisol trip, an adrenalin buzz.
A migraine pricked at my left temple and grew; at intervals pulsing violently without warning, making me queasy.
The man with the puppies was like a round, fat version of our father before he became ill. His little blue eyes shone with colour in a pale face enlarged by a bald head. He looked over his reading glasses as he told us more than we needed to know – more than we cared to know – about his dogs but somehow I enjoyed it; I enjoyed watching and listening and studying a face so familiar in a world so different from my father’s. I enjoy people. And wouldn’t anyone enjoy secretly pretending they were sitting opposite a missed loved one?
I knew we would disagree about many many things. I could see his world but he couldn’t see mine so I kept it hidden. We know different things.
He didn’t house his dogs or interact with his dogs in the way we would.
‘We’re country folk here,’ he said.
We are country folk too but there I felt like a foreigner. But I feel like a foreigner everywhere anyway.
I partook in safe, jovial, surface communication. I think I do it well and I enjoy it but it tires me and I began to long for home, and tea in a familiar cup.
I stood in a barn: soft, healthy, happy puppies swarming at my feet, watching them tug at Richard’s laces and bite down hard on the toes of my boots. The puppies’ parents clamoured for attention behind bars a few feet away. We met them and they leapt and bounded, and pushed themselves into our body space so we could be greeted and ruffle their soft thick hair – just the same as our own dog at a very different home only 40 minutes away.
Despite the bars the barn felt safe and healthy, natural and well-used. It wasn’t what we were used to but there was nothing wrong with what I was seeing. The dogs were shiny, healthy and clearly well-exercised.
A horse necked his way into our conversation and peered down at me. Tall, calm and nosy. He smelt good. I thrust my hand onto his neck and felt his warmth. Calm, confident animal. I knew I would love horses in a slightly different way too.
The man’s young son entered the pen, lay under a heat lamp, and puppies clambered over his head and face, chewing his hood with constant wriggling joy. Coarse sawdust soon caked the boy’s clothing.
We were choosing a puppy and trying to fit a collar so we would recognise it when we returned. They were all the same really: a good, healthy, lively litter but one had found its way into Richard’s arms at the moment of choice and so that was that.
The man politely said we could keep our boots on in the house but I saw him take his off and I took off mine too. Just like at our house. Straight into a warm, functional, cluttered, clean but not too clean kitchen dominated by two central non-matching tables pushed together. This was the heart. Just like our house.
He repeated his country folk line, humbly made no apology for his modest home. He thinks we’re so very different I thought.
Paperwork done, directions around the road closure given, we made our way back to familiar territory. The same Devon hedges, the same grey sky, the same winding roads but each twist and turn and road sign now more and more familiar.
The left side of my head now angrily pulsating, I thought about how humans hate each other for their differences, their differences of opinion; how we judge based on what we know and not what they know. I thought about how we’re not so different from each other as we think but somewhere within in us all there is a fear of the unfamiliar and an instinct to pick out differences.
I thought about Theory of Mind and how my recent autism diagnosis automatically means I apparently don’t know that other people see things differently from me and can’t see why they would. I’m supposed to struggle with predicting what and why people would say and do things the way they do. But I’m sure I’m not like that. I’m sure I understand people better than that. I feel I’ve suddenly had to fit a criteria and be seen as something I’m not sure I am.
I think I do know people’s motives.
People are who they are and do what they do because of what they know.
Back in my safe zone with painkillers and tea my head slowly eased to a heavy nag. Our son returned safely in his car from his first ever grownup road trip and night away from us.
I tried to empty my thoughts and visual memories – my mind on replay as it always is when I try to process experiences: Horses heads, writhing puppies, mud, high-hedged lanes, a tall, thin, green man on a shoot, a song I’d heard on the radio all jutted up against thoughts of bringing home a puppy, preparing the home, toilet-training. My head all replay and review, plan and predict.
Tomorrow we bring home a new puppy. I didn’t think I’d get another puppy – it is hard work in the first few weeks and months, and adolescent dogs can be challenging. There will be stress, destruction, tiredness and mess and I’m spending today getting stressed just think about it! “Adopt don’t shop” plays over and over in my head. But we tried adopting, we rescued dogs and things didn’t work out so we’re sticking to what we know.
People are who they are and do what they do because of what they know