"Asperger's Syndrome. I typed it quickly into the consistently pulsing library search box. I entered it, but, as always, nothing came up. This situation occurred repeatedly for about 6 years. Then, when I was in the 5th grade, after years of pursuing the topic but miserably falling short, I tried yet again to find the answers I so desperately needed. And for once, something popped up. Mockingbird. I pondered the simplistic name for awhile before hunting down the book within the shelves so tightly packed, no light could be seen through them..." Diary of Lillian Grouws, Grade 5
Dear Mrs. Erskine,
Before reading Mockingbird, I never knew just how much fictional characters could alter a person's life. You see, I am a 13 year old girl with Asperger's Syndrome. Since I could read, I've been searching, trying to better understand myself, my condition; I've found many a symptom overview. Nothing could fully describe what I felt though, not a medical report or even those "experts" who think they can tell everything about you, just because of your "mental oddities" or whatever. No, nothing I'd found could compare to your book.
I'd never laid eyes on anything quite like it; your book captured my mind like a bird in a cage and wouldn't let it fly away, no matter how hard it struggled against it. Nobody has ever really "gotten" me, especially since almost none of my friends know exactly what makes me so.... "special." When I skimmed through your book, I felt like I had finally stopped holding the breath I had held for eons. A wave of relief washed over my racing mind. Caitlin and I both lived in "bubble worlds," so as to say...alone. We both didn't want to come out; the thought was scary. What if nobody would accept me? What If I'm left alone again? Even if it wasn't by a living human being, I truly felt understood by someone for the first time in my life. We were both lonely, but our loneliness brought us together, provided a real connection between our very separate lives.
I started kindergarten at age 5, soon to be 6. I still vividly remember that first day. I read my children's atlas multiple times through, and no one really bothered me. I was a kid who bit her nails until they bled, chewed on objects and clothing (like Caitlin), and quoted more Dora the Explorer lines than Dora herself. The first few weeks, I only wore plain clothing (no designs). I took special classes half the day with Mrs. Smith, similar to when Caitlin had her "Mrs. Brook Time." I was forced to sit and eat with other children, but I'm sure they would much rather have sat somewhere else... away from me. They didn't understand. I was too different from them, with my odd thoughts and strange actions. For the most part, the only time they talked to me was to tease me. My books opened the escape hatch from this harsh reality.
Just like Caitlin read her dictionary, I lapped up non-fiction books like they were chocolate milkshakes (with extra whipped cream and chocolate chips, of course). I would rather stay inside with my maps and logic puzzles than go to recess; at least I could understand them. Recess always did make me feel uncomfortable, like a bunny in a bear's den... I like how Caitlin referred to it as though it was an icky sort of feeling and not a place. It paralleled what I knew to be true. When I did have to go outside, I would always bring my trusty presidential facts book and keep to myself. I loved the randomly zany things I could learn from non-fiction works. In fact, it took the librarians nearly 3 years to persuade me to start reading other things: fantasy, realistic fiction, mystery, and most of all, poetry. In these times I finally found my love, my passion in life, but by and by, I constantly hungered for more answers. I didn't understand why people called me rude names and why they would chuckle to themselves when I attempted to start a conversation. Why were they so mean to me, and why did it seem like was I the only one this happened to? I felt so alone. Caitlin wasn't searching for Closure to gain friendships, but when I found out what it meant, and how I could achieve it, I realized I needed to find my own form of Closure.
And, much later, my thirst for knowledge was subsequently quenched by your book. Many of Caitlin's experiences were quite similar to mine. Caitlin and I had lived our bubble worlds for too long. We both didn't want, didn't try to make friends, but the fear of being left alone finally hit. When I watched like a fly on the wall as Caitlin struggled to make friends and yet somehow found success, I finally realized that I mustn't be the only one in the world in my position, and I finally found the courage to pop my bubble, just as she had. When I emerged I felt almost as though someone had finally come to save me from the isle of loneliness and misery I'd been stranded on so long, as though a great weight had been lifted from my chest. I understood why I had to really work to make friends now; I needed them to get by in this strange world. I had to erase my worn-down, blackened charcoal drawing of life and redesign it in bright colors that people might learn to appreciate. Maybe I could learn to appreciate it... As I look back on that time today, I realize three things: Caitlin helped me escape from my loneliness, Caitlin helped me make friends, and, most of all, Caitlin helped me truly find my own Closure.
Lillian Maren Grouws