Topic: "No True Scotsman"
Keywords: Asperger Syndrome, autism, short story, teen
I have decided I'm going to ask a girl to the sophomore semiformal prom. I'm a sophomore, so going to the sophomore prom would be a logical thing to do, and it is semiformal, not really formal, so I can probably find something I can wear that won't itch or hurt too much. I have decided to invite Lauren Cartwright, because she has pretty hair and nice skin and because she's on the debate team with me. She's logical and I like people who are logical. And she's never mean to me. And I know she isn't going to the sophomore prom with anybody else because I heard Della Crane saying that Lauren just broke up with Andy Hicks, who was Lauren's boyfriend. So it makes sense to ask her, and I'm going to.
I have to wait until third period is over because on Tuesdays the first time I see her in the halls is between third and fourth periods. I feel nervous like I do sometimes when too many people are talking at once, so I keep my Little Book of Logical Fallacies between my knee and my desk and I read it when the teachers aren't looking. Usually I raise my hand a lot but not today. I don't think the teachers mind. Some of them hardly ever call on me even when I have my hand raised anyway.
The bell rings for the end of third period and I don't like it because it’s a loud sound but I take a deep breath and let it go, because the bell happens exactly twenty-one times a day so I've developed a coping strategy. The hallways are crowded and loud too but I breathe slow and stay near the walls, and I reach into my pocket and touch my Little Book of Logical Fallacies because it's a very good, clear book and thinking about it makes me feel organized. I see Lauren up ahead – she's easy to see because her hair is long and curly and red with streaks of gold. She's wearing it down today. She's also wearing a mint-green shirt, which is a color I like. Her jeans are cornflower blue and she is wearing tall pink shoes with soles made out of cork that go up on a sharp diagonal. Her backpack is purple, the same one as always. I walk faster until I'm at her side.
"Can I carry your books for you?" I ask, like I always do. I don't think she'll let me because she never has before but things can change and I don't know how to do the kind of flirting most people do because it often involves making certain gestures and facial expressions – my therapist Hayley told me this – and I don't know how to do them. In books men who are interested in women sometimes treat them with courtesy and give them flowers or offer to open doors for them or carry their things or push in their chairs, but I don't have any classes with Lauren so I can't push in her chair and the doors here have doorstops so I can't open them for her. And I tried to give her flowers once but she said she was allergic. I hold out my arm in case she wants to give me her backpack this time.
"No, thanks, Peter," she says, not looking at me. I like that she doesn't look at me because eye contact is difficult. Next to her Kaylin Berry, who Lauren is walking with today, makes a snorting sound. I don't know what that means so I ignore it.
I touch the Little Book of Logical Fallacies in my pocket again and say the line I thought of. "Did you enjoy debate practice yesterday?"
"Oh –- it was fine, I guess." She's walking a little faster; I skip a step to catch up.
"I liked when Mr. Harrison was explaining about the reductio ad absurdum fallacy," I tell her. "I think logical fallacies are very interesting."
"I have a book of them." I reach into my pocket to pull out my book and show it to her. Kaylin makes a loud sighing noise. I wonder if there's something wrong with her nose or throat today. "See," I say, and I reach out to show Lauren the book. "Reductio ad absurdum is on page ninety-eight –-"
Lauren tries to dodge my arm and walks into the locker. "Ow!" she cries, rubbing her arm. This is my fault, I shouldn't have held the book out, I got in her way and misjudged distance and now she's hurt, I'm always doing things wrong –-
"I'm so sorry, I'm really really sorry," I say. "I'm sorry, it's because I'm not good at spatial relations, I didn't know you were so close to the lockers –"
"I'm fine. Don't worry about it," she says, but she's still rubbing her arm.
"I could get you some ice. There's some in the freezer in the teachers' lounge. I can go in there because they let me use their bathrooms because the ones the students use are not suitable. Do you want to come with me?" I ask.
"No, it's okay, I should just…"
"Watch it!" Kaylin cries, and stumbles a step. "Watch it" means "watch where you're going". I must be walking too close again. Suddenly the noise in the hallway is much louder. I lean against a locker and then put my hands over my ears and close my eyes and make a low humming sound. Hayley says this is a good compromise I can make in public because people don't like it when you rock back and forth and groan loudly in public, but they don't mind low humming so much.
Something touches my elbow and my eyes fly open and I flinch. It's Lauren who touched me. She's saying something. I lower my hands from my ears.
"Are you okay?" she's saying.
I consider the question. "I'm okay," I say eventually. "I'm not hurt. I put my hands over my ears and hummed because things were too noisy."
"They weren't too noisy like five seconds ago," Kaylin says.
"It changes," I say. "If I feel stressed noises can get louder. It's because I'm on the autistic spectrum," I tell her. Most people know that but maybe Kaylin doesn't.
"Oh, please. This is bullshit! Lauren, let's go."
"What's bullshit?" I ask. I know "bullshit" means something wrong or nonsensical but I didn't say anything that was wrong or nonsensical.
"Honestly." Kaylin swings around to face me. I look at her forehead just above her eyes. "I'm so sick of this shit. You go around all the time doing these crazy fucked-up things and acting like everyone should just have to go along with it because you say you're autistic. You're full of shit! Everyone acts like oh, poor you, and you’re not even autistic. You're just fucking weird. Just get out of here, okay?"
"But I am on the autistic spectrum," I say. I think about what she said for a minute. Other people have said I'm "weird" too. I've never asked Hayley if it's true, so maybe it is. Something occurs to me though. "It's a logical fallacy to say that because I'm weird I'm not on the autistic spectrum. It's possible for me to be both. That's called a false dilemma --"
"Oh, shut up!"
"Kaylin, come on," Lauren says.
Kaylin ignores her. "You are not autistic!" She's yelling now. I take a step back. "I have a cousin who's autistic, okay? He can't even talk. He has to roll himself up in a mat when people are around. You're not even at a special ed school."
"That's why I said I'm on the autistic spectrum," I say, enunciating clearly so she'll understand, like Mr. Harrison tells us to do in debate team. What she said is a fallacy called the hasty generalization but I decide not to mention it because I want to explain about the spectrum. "There are different kinds and degrees of autistic disorders. It sounds like your cousin is severely autistic. I am higher-functioning than he is, which is why I've been mainstreamed at this school. I have something called Asperger Syndrome –"
"Bullshit. You're a fucking stalker, is what you are."
Lauren says, "Kaylin!" Her voice is loud now too. "Peter, I'm sorry. Kaylin, let's go." She's pulling on Kaylin's arm but Kaylin doesn't want to go. I decide to answer what Kaylin said.
"Yes I do have Asperger Syndrome. I have had two neuropsychological exams, and I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when I was six and the diagnosis was reconfirmed when I was thirteen."
"Well, whatever you got diagnosed with, it isn't real autism."
I feel better when she says that because it's in the book. "That's another logical fallacy," I tell her, "called the No True Scotsman –"
"Shut up! Jesus Christ! Look, I don't care how weird you are on your own time –" how could I be weird on anyone else's time? – "but you stalk Lauren. You follow her around between classes, acting like a total creep –"
"Kaylin, for the last time, shut up," Lauren says. "This is none of your business. He can't help it."
"He can so! Stop making excuses for him! He makes you feel bad for him and you just eat it up, even though you know he freaks you the fuck out --"
"For God's sake, Kaylin, would you just stop being such a bitch!"
"Fine. You know what? Fuck this. Why don't you go blow Mr. Spastic in the bathroom, if you can get him to go in one. " She stomps off.
Lauren swivels to face me. "Peter, I'm so sorry –"
I don't know what "blow Mr. Spastic in the bathroom" means, but I know she was saying I'm spastic. "I'm not spastic," I tell Lauren. "When I am stressed I have certain involuntary motions that –"
"I know you're not," she says. "I'm really sorry about Kaylin. Sometimes she can be really mean."
"Most of what she said consisted of an ad hominem attack, which is sometimes classed as a logical fallacy," I tell her. "It means she was making personal attacks which did not include logical reasoning. You can remember it for debate team."
"OK," she says. "Um, thanks."
Just then the bell rings. My hands fly up to my ears before I remember to breathe.
"Shit. I have to get to geometry," she says, speeding up her steps. "See you later."
I hesitate for a second, then decide to go ahead and I run to catch up with her. "I have a question for you," I say, and she turns. I take a deep breath. "Will you go to the sophomore semiformal prom with me?"
She stops short and stares at me. I'm looking at her forehead.
"I'm… I'm sorry, Peter," she says.
"What are you sorry for?"
"I – I can't go to the semi with you."
"Yes you can," I tell her.
"You should only say 'can't' if you are physically incapable of doing something."
"Oh." She pauses for a second. "I'm – I'm sorry, but… it's not…" She takes a deep breath. "I won't go to the semi with you, Peter."
My limbs feel very heavy for a second.
"I'm sorry –" She keeps saying that. "I really have to get to Geometry," she says, and runs off.
"I'll see you at debate team after school," I call after her, but she's out of earshot.
The rest of the day is not so bad. In math class we're learning about the Fibonacci sequence. I'm not especially good at math, even though everyone assumes I must be a math savant like Rain Man, but I like it. In history class we have a sub who tells us to read Chapter 12 from the textbook but I put my Book of Logical Fallacies inside the textbook and read it instead. While I'm reading I'm trying to think about whether there were any logical fallacies in what Lauren said when she refused to go to the prom with me. I finally determine that while there were no logical fallacies per se in what she said, I'm operating from incomplete information, because she didn't tell me why she wouldn't go with me. I decide to ask her why she wouldn't, and if there is a logical fallacy in what she says then I can explain it to her and maybe she will decide to go to the prom with me.
As soon as the bell indicating the end of the school day has rung I run into the hallways. I have to get to Lauren's locker quickly because it's at the other end of the building and I want to be able to talk to her while we walk from her locker to debate team practice, but it's hard moving fast in the hallways because they're crowded. I cut through three classrooms and the teachers' lounge and when I get to the hallway where Lauren's locker is I press my shoulder against the wall so I won't get in anyone's way. Lauren's locker is open so I can't see her except for her cork-soled shoes. I start to move toward her when I hear her talking. She's talking to Emily Jasper. I recognize Emily's stiletto heels with spikes on the straps, because they are unusual and Emily sits in front of me in English class.
"Wait," Emily says. She's laughing. "He actually asked you to go to the semi with him?"
"I swear to God!" Lauren says. She's laughing too.
"What did you even say?"
"What do you think I said, yes?" They laugh some more. "No, but get this, I said to him, 'Peter, I'm sorry, I can't go to the prom with you.' And then he goes 'Yes you can. You shouldn't say you can't do something unless you physically can't do it.'"
I wouldn't have said that. When you are explaining a word, you shouldn't use that word in your explanation. They're laughing a lot.
"Holy shit, what do you even say to that?" Emily is saying.
"Oh my God, it was the awkwardest thing. I had to say, 'Peter, I won't go to the prom with you.'"
"Did you give him a reason?"
"Nope. I just ran. I mean, what kind of reason am I supposed to give him?"
"Easy. Just say, 'Peter, I won't go to the prom with you because you follow me around everywhere and ask me how I liked debate team eight times a day and you flick your hands back and forth and blink and scrunch your face up like a toad –"
"Oh, don't be so mean," Lauren says. Then she pauses for a second and bursts into laughter.
"Mean? I'm talking truth, girl."
"You know what the worst thing is?" Lauren says. "That sniffing noise he makes all the time. I always think he's about to hawk up a loogie on me." She bursts into laughter. They're both laughing really loudly.
"Kaylin was still being a total bitch, though," Lauren says. "What the hell is up with her?"
"Oh my God, you didn't hear?” Emily says. "She was at Jason's party on Friday…"
Someone slams a locker very near to me and I jump. The hallway is too crowded, everybody is too loud, and I clutch my ears but I can't make my humming noise because then Lauren will hear it. I try to back up, there are lots of people at their lockers, I bump my shoulder against one and it hurts and someone shoves me and yells something and I trip and another person bumps into me and I can't help it, I can't help it, I scream. Everyone goes quiet and I want to curl up on the floor and hug my knees to my chest but I make myself take a step, then two, then three, then I run. I run to the teachers' lounge and into the bathroom and then I can curl up and groan.
It takes a half an hour for me to become calm again. I think about the situation carefully and logically. I think it's probably okay for me to skip debate team practice for today.