Mozart and the Whale: An Asperger's Love Story

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9780743272841: Mozart and the Whale: An Asperger's Love Story

When Jerry and Mary Newport met, the connection was instant. A musical genius and a mathematical wonder, the two shared astronomic IQs, but they also shared something else -- they both were diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism that affects millions of Americans and makes social contact painfully unbearable. When Jerry and Mary married, they were catapulted into the limelight. They appeared on 60 Minutes and soon were known as "superstars in the world of autism," shining examples of two people who refused to give up in the face of their mutual challenge.

But just when it appeared that their lives would enjoy a fairy-tale ending, their marriage fell apart. The Hollywood feeding frenzy was too much to handle, and they divorced. After heartbreaking years of soul searching, Jerry and Mary remarried. Today, with their union stronger than ever, they have dedicated themselves to helping countless other people with Asperger's and autism lead lives of dignity. Mozart and the Whale is an unforgettable love story of the incredible chronicle of their journey together -- and apart.

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About the Author:

Jerry Newport is an activist and the author of two widely read books in the Asperger's community: Asperger's and Sexuality: Puberty and Beyond (with Mary Newport) and Your Life Is Not a Label: A Guide to Living Fully with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. In addition to coordinating several Asperger's support groups in Arizona, Jerry serves as a speaker on a variety of topics, from Asperger's-specific concerns to broader issues such as bullying and depression.

Mary Newport is completing her bachelor's degrees in music and psychology. She and Jerry live in northern Arizona with their birds.

Johnny Dodd has been a writer at People magazine for a decade and has reported on some of pop culture's biggest stories. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines, but stories of personal triumph -- those of others and his own -- are his favorite beat. He lives in Santa Monica, California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Venice Beach, California

March 1999

The sleeping pills should have kicked in hours ago. I swallowed somewhere close to sixty of them, praying they'd take me away from everything my life had become. I'd thought it all out, all the details. In the event my body wasn't discovered for several days, I'd written a little note, poured out a couple of pounds' worth of seed for my birds, then pulled the curtain closed around my bed, and curled up with Mrs. Willy, my giant stuffed whale. On the other side of the curtain, out by the sliding glass door caked with dirt that rumbled from the Sunday afternoon traffic, my birds sat quietly, staring out into the smog.

I had a hunch they knew.

It hadn't been a good day. In fact, as someone who had endured a lifetime of bad days, the past two years were a new, dismal low. Just when it looked like life was on the verge of being worth living, everything slipped away and turned to shit. Mary was gone and she wasn't coming back. Her birthday was yesterday. I shut my eyes and waited for something to happen. All I knew is that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life alone. Not quite sure why it was taking so long. Certainly seemed like that many pills would do the trick. For an instant, I started to obsess about the number sixty, mulling over what an interesting number it is and how I never imagined I'd die because of it. Sixty is the product of 2 times 2 times 3 times 5. Sixty is the number of degrees of arc covered by the side of a hexagon inscribed inside a circle. Each side equals the radius, and the hexagon is made of six equilateral triangles linked together. Fold them all outside and you get six more, forming a total of twelve, which makes a Star of David with one equilateral triangle for each tribe of Israel.... After a few moments, however, I realized I wasn't in the mood to do any calculations or even to think about numbers. The room began to grow quiet, the traffic a bit fainter. I wondered if I was slipping away.

Lying there, I tried not to remember. A lot of good that was doing. It took me my entire life to find Mary, and now she'd gone away. After only five years of marriage, we crashed and burned. She moved back to Tucson and I'm stuck here. A couple of months ago, it looked like maybe we'd get back together, but it didn't last. Don't know why I let myself get my hopes up like that. It just wasn't meant to be. At least not now. But once upon a time it certainly was....

***

I still remember that Halloween party I'd organized, the one where I first met Mary Meinel. The year was 1993, which happens to be the sum of the squares of 43 and 12. When you add those two numbers up, you get 55, which is the year Mary was born -- 1955. The day we met was the 289th day of the year, a perfect square of 17. The number 17 is also unique because it's a prime number and you can inscribe a seventeen-sided figure inside a circle, which is rare.

I'd spent weeks trying to construct a whale costume out of garbage bags and paper. The results were laughably pathetic. Strips of newspaper and bits of chicken wire dangled from its side. It resembled a carcass. I ended up dragging it around the party behind me like a deflated blimp. But my costume also reminded me of how magical AGUA was. Because as ridiculous as my costume looked, everybody complimented me on it. They seemed to understand what I was trying to create, and they were proud of me for even attempting such a feat. This kind of unconditional support -- whether one succeeded or not -- turned out to be one of my favorite parts of AGUA.

I got my first glimpse of Mary as I stood in a hallway, waiting to use the bathroom. My bladder felt on the verge of exploding. Mary opened the restroom door, walked out, and the first thing that hit me was her lavender lace dress. Months before, she'd taken a disposable razor to her head and shaved off her hair. Of course, I didn't know that at the time because she'd pulled this crazy-looking Mozart wig down over her scalp. A cluster of powder white locks dangled and danced around her shoulders. Mary had disappeared into the living room by the time I finally ventured out of the bathroom. She was chatting with some other members of my group. I watched her for a little while, amazed at how she lit up the room. I'd never seen anything like it. When I finally summoned up enough courage to introduce myself, the first words out of my mouth were: "When were you born?"

A smile tiptoed across her face. "March 6, 1955," she replied.

It didn't take me long to come up with the answer -- roughly the same length of time required to inhale. "March 6, 1955, was a Sunday," I shouted excitedly. "That's one hundred and nineteen years after the day they ended the siege of the Alamo, which was on March 6, 1836."

Mary clapped her hands together. "That's cool," she giggled. "I guess you're a savant, too?"

That voice of hers. I'd never heard anything quite like it. The sound of it was so undeniably feminine. Definitely the voice of a woman -- as opposed to what I was used to hearing at these support group meetings. Half of the women who attended these gatherings were autistic in name only. Desperate to fit in somewhere, they masqueraded as one of us. They stuck out like Jane Goodall sitting in the jungle, hanging out with the chimps. Yet all Mary had to do was open her mouth and you knew she was different. Her words, the way she strung them together, possessed that unmistakable ring of someone who actually enjoyed listening to what another person had to say.

***

Mary's strange habit of finding another person interesting was a rare trait for someone with Asperger's, a neurological disorder that tends to lock people in their own private, hermetically sealed universe. I've spent my entire life trying to understand this strange, often lonely dimension. And whenever some normal-brained person asks me to describe my condition, I use this analogy: Imagine "normal" as pure water. Now try to picture autism as whiskey. Asperger's falls somewhere in between the two. Compared to autism, children with Asperger's syndrome usually learn to speak at the appropriate age, though the way they say things may not necessarily sound like other kids. They also learn self-help skills, such as how to tie their shoes and brush their teeth, at the same time other kids do. Many of us with Asperger's remain undiagnosed because we discover a way to make a living by capitalizing upon our interests and are forgiven for being a little "off."

This "off-ness" is strongest in areas of social communication. Those of us with Asperger's can be smart, do well in school, and maintain a job while also being incredibly thickheaded socially. For instance, most guys wouldn't ask a girl out more than three times before getting the hint that she wasn't interested. My record was fourteen times, a feat that drove one unlucky young woman to drop the college mathematics class we shared. Men with Asperger's syndrome (and some studies estimate the male-to-female ratio is 4:1) tend either never to summon up the courage to date at all or fanatically pursue a person beyond reason. They believe that their interest and devotion will eventually win her over. It rarely does.

In addition to possessing an average to above-average intelligence, those with Asperger's are often fixated on narrow, intense interests. Conversing with an Aspie can quickly prove frustrating, as he tirelessly attempts to steer a conversation back to his specific area of interest, no matter what others want to discuss. They also tend to take things literally and are oblivious to subtle physical and verbal cues. Their social deficits are often extreme: They either speak too loudly or in a barely audible whisper. They either make too much eye contact or none at all. In other words, when it comes to dealing with people, those of us dwelling on Planet Asperger's just don't get it.

***

A few weeks after that first meeting with Mary, I was shocked, bewildered, and amazed when she telephoned to ask me a question I hadn't heard in decades: "Do you think we could go out sometime?" A few days later, we hopped a city bus to the Los Angeles County Zoo. I wanted to pinch myself during that first afternoon we spent together, walking among the caged animals. Never in my life had I felt so at ease with another human being, let alone a woman.

Long ago, I'd resigned myself to the unpleasant fact that I'd probably spend the rest of my life alone. The prospect made me so sad that just thinking about it could instantly transform me into a grouch. I'd spent a portion of just about every single day of my life since college daydreaming about how it would feel to fall in love with a woman -- the kind of love you read about in grocery store romance paperbacks or see in the movies, where two people skip through a field of clover, laughing and holding hands. But I was desperate and so tired of feeling alone, so tired of wondering why I'd always felt like I had this invisible wall encircling me, preventing me from connecting with another human being.

Mary changed all that. She turned my solar system upside down and shook it until all the planets tumbled out. By the time we embarked on our second date, it was clear that nothing in my life would ever be the same. From then on, I actually began to believe that I'd stumbled upon the one woman in existence with whom I could spend my life. That happened on the 344th day of the year, which fell on Friday, December 10, 1993. Mary was thirty-eight years old. I was forty five. We'd known each other fifty five days, which I thought was appropriate because 1955 was the year Mary was born. Even more amazing is if you take the number 55 and multiply it by how many hours are in a day, 24, you end up with 1,320. That just happens to be the number of feet in a quarter mile. My all-time favorite track event in high school was the quarter mile.

Our date started off at the monthly mee...

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