I didn’t have a lot of friends as a teenager and young adult. Contrary to what some people seem to think children with a diagnose like NLD or ASD don’t choose to be alone. It was more that everyone else made that decision for me. Science fiction, Sherlock Holmes, Charles Dickens, music and films/TV-series like Fame, Anne of Green Gables, Foxes, The Breakfast Club, The Outsiders, Star Trek and Star Wars became my favourite escape. I didn’t reflect on it at the time, but I seem to have been attracted to outsiders. That’s what many of these characters had in common.
I also liked writing letters. In fact, that was my English teacher. Grades have been a constant topic of debate in Norway because we don’t have them in elementary school, so politicians debate whether or not it would be a good idea to introduce more competition sooner. I spent the first six years in school not getting grades, and seventh grade was a huge shock. I hadn’t done any homework for six years, and not surpringly I failed a subject and was close to failing the rest. I worked hard the next two years, but continued to struggle in high school and college. I suspect I have some learning difficulties that have never been diagnosed, because learning has always been hard work. I probably spent more time studying than anyone else, but that was not reflected in my exam results.
I learned English by writing letters. I guess it felt like there was a purpose to it when I could use it for something. The end result wasn’t perfect, but still pretty good. I don’t speak the language as well as I write it, which I suppose is to be expected. I had pen pals from about the age of 14 and these pre-internet friends came from all over Europe, as well as Ghana, South-Africa, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, Palestine, the USA and Canada. The last one I had was also the most interesting, which could be because we were both in our late 20’s then. Many of the early pen pals were characterless, and I got tired of working hard to make my letters interesting, while the responses were frequently scribbled down in a hurry. What I thought was friendship of some sort clearly meant less to them than it did to me. I occasionally found someone that actually had something to offer. I learned something from them, which I think is a rather nice side effect of friendship. A guy from Ghana sent me a cassette with pop music from his country, which was very interesting. I am not being diplomatic. I received some fascinating impulses early, before most kids listened to African music. Sally from Fredericton in New Brunswick, Canada was the most interesting, and the only one I occasionally think about.
I believe she fascinated me because, like many of my fictional means of escape, she was an outsider. I am sorry to say that I have lost all the letters and the very nice tourist brochure she sent me. I read it over and over again, and probably knew more about her home town than anyone that had never even visited Canada. I believe I have lived in 14 apartments since 1996, and things tend to disappear each time I move.
I haven’t thought about Sally in quite some time now, but the memories came back because I wrote about another Canadian, Abby Bell, on my Norwegian blog yesterday. She talked about NLD in a video on understood.org. Watch it on You tube. I might write a post about what I think about that video. I think Sally was a continuation of a long fascination I have had with Canada, and outsiders. I grew up with Canadian music and TV-series, as well as authors like Margaret Atwood and Lucy Maud Montgomery. I always paid special attention when Canada was mentioned on TV.
America has a special ring to Norwegians, and America is of course the USA. It couldn’t be any other country on the continent. We have a strong connection to the USA because around a million of us moved there during a hundred year period. Canada was still the one for me. She was the adventure I never had. So when I from time to time think about Sally I think mostly about The Great White North, and Lucy (and Prince Edward Island) and Margaret, and of course Leonard Cohen, Michael Bublé, Joni Mitchell. Sally interested me. She had bipolar disorder, and although this was years before I was diagnosed with NLD, I knew what it was like to be different, to be seen as different.
I suppose everyone has encountered people they later wondered what happened to. I would be lying if I said that I thought about Sally a lot, but she comes back to me from time to time. I also had a friend in my hometown. Siw was a neighbour that had been abandoned as a baby in Korea, and adopted to Norway. I met her from time to time later in life, and we exchanged greetings. Years later I heard that she had killed herself. I wonder what happened, what had made her life unbearable. I wonder what happens after we die. I hope, more than I know, that there is something better. I think many deserve better than they get.
I sometimes think that some of the people in my life, either I have met them or just communicated through letters, live on while I am alive. Everyone they have ever encountered hold a little memory, and a small part of their experiences are stored in my brain. It’s like the pensieve from Harry Potter. My wife is from Little Rock, Arkansas and definitely qualifies as an outsider, in an above the average and interesting kind of way. I don’t think I could have been married for 16 years to some conventional, inside a small box kind of person. She naturally takes up most of my pensieve, but a tiny part of it belongs to a friend from Canada I never met. She is a good memory from a time when I didn’t have a lot of them.