This is a very bittersweet time for me to be celebrating Easter, as we have all just lost a prominent nonverbal autistic activist yesterday, April 11th, 2020. Thank you Mel, for all you have done to challenge everything I once thought I knew about classical autism. Thank you for showing me that not being able to speak does not mean not having anything to say. May your legacy continue to stay alive and better the future of all autistic people around the world.
To all who have followed #TheShortBus Flashblog, you may have wondered if you will ever see any more posts there. I hope the answer can be “yes.” I have been making changes to the blog so that people can now email me their blog posts at any time and I will post for them.
After a few other name trials, I have decided on We Took the Short Bus. The site has been navigated to this new address and I will be deleting the old one soon. Please follow the new address: wetooktheshortbus.wordpress.com.
To all who knew me for my “number thing” in my teenage years, I have a confession to make (long post, tw bullying):
Not sure why I did it, but honestly glad I have phased it out, on my own terms. Not because it was “strange,” but because it wasn’t who I really was. I never intended my number thing to be for people in real life. It was only supposed to exist in a fictional art universe where two-digit numbers existed as cartoon animals. This was before realizing I have OLP synesthesia, or even my autism Dx.
One day in sixth grade, I called a bully “63.” Other kids started asking me “what’s my number?” I went along with it, and it became a thing. It gave me a false sense of popularity, even though I was faced with further bullying. At least I now became famous!
It carried on in high school, as a few middle school friends/acquaintances came to OCHSA with me. Everyone asked me for numbers, and even when they didn’t, I assigned them anyway. I numbered crushes I never talked to, and the people they hung out with. It helped me cope with the intense anxiety of seeing them around.
Then I started college. The first few weeks, I scrambled to meet as many people as I could. I told them I give numbers to everyone, so I numbered all of my “new friends.” As time went by, though, I found myself sitting alone at lunch nearly every day. All these “friends” I thought I made, have formed their own cliques, and trying to join was painfully awkward, so I gave up. Numbering people no longer made me special. It just made me “the weird kid”, like my family members warned me (they never fully supportive).
The whole time I did the number thing, there was always a tiresome amount of explaining to do. Questions ranged from “how do you remember all that” to “what does my number mean?” Never could really answer the latter. The best I could do was draw out a blob of colors that I associated with that number. I’m sure it wasn’t that flattering, just confusing. I tried to be thoughtful with the synesthesia connections, but the “demand” was too high. I got lazy, so I just assigned random numbers to make sure everyone felt “included.”
Over the last 5 years, I have been trying to rediscover my original “number universe” I have long abandoned ever since trying to recover from the trauma of bullying and family dysfunction. It has not been easy. Watching cartoons to remind me what inspired my characters. Reading Calvin and Hobbes. Listening to sixties music that inspired 64 and her best friend 66. Now listening to 90s music and developing 91, 92, 95, and 96.
And the new products available on Zazzle and Redbubble:
Since I have numbered people for such a long time, I am wondering if this whole preoccupation caused me to lose my appreciation for two-digit numbers and my tabis characters. I started to focus more on three-digit numbers, to suit the 3-dimensional nature of humans, and it got more ambiguous. It became harder to decipher the personalities of each number. Even if I could decipher these personalities, it would then be difficult to match them exactly with a person’s character. And, many people feel uncomfortable with their personalities being described or compared with others. So I left it all open for interpretation, as I drew out the colors and patterns I saw in each number. For the most part, it worked out alright.
Yet because there were so many people to number, I became lazy and stopped even using my synesthesia. I just assigned a random number, or let people choose their own numbers. The creativity was lost, and in turn, my numbers did become as meaningless as they would to people without synesthesia. But in the end of the day, most of these people were just my acquaintances. I felt a bit peer-pressured into giving everyone numbers, when I should have only used them around my best friends.
In addition, numbering people and creating fictional characters were very different experiences. For people, I just tried to find a number that best suited their personalities. For fictional characters, I looked at the numbers alone, and developed them into something more tangible, like this tabis number 66 below. And I gave them real names to complement the numbers; number 66 is Saffron Siamie.
All the questions people used to ask me! I guess this is the price you pay when you have a complicated quirk. I can see how this could have been alienating and confusing to others. But I did my best to answer these questions. And in spite of misunderstandings, people still found my number thing fascinating
What does my number mean?
I have never been able to answer this one very well, because my synesthesia is very ambiguous. My numbers do not stand for any particular words or symbols, but there are consistent things that come to mind.
The closest way I have answered this was by drawing in a sketchbook, showing people what their numbers looked like. If people hated what they saw, I would happily re-number them.
Can I be number ___ ?
Usually this would be 69 or 666, because kids wanted a taboo number to be cool.
On lazy days, I would let someone pick a number as long as it followed my gender-binarist guidelines, which I would no longer use today.
Isn’t it dehumanizing? Doesn’t it remind you of what the Nazis did to people in concentration camps?
The Nazis did not put any creative thought into their numbers. They just used them as replacements for human names, so that they can treat their prisoners as objects.
For me, numbers mean much more than just numbers! Even your name does not have that much meaning if you take it too literally. Besides, my numbers are not replacements for names; they are just tags, like your nickname.
If you do not feel comfortable getting a number, I am not imposing it on you by any means.
Are you good at math?
I’m not the best-of-the-best. I have struggled a lot just to keep my advanced placing in high school.
Now that I am reflecting on the root cause of my number obsession, I am looking into why I later assigned numbers to my friends and acquaintances. This unusual mannerism raised lots of reactions from my peers, both positive and negative. I found this attention rewarding, because I had very few other things to talk about during my teens.
The whole idea of numbering people started by accident in the sixth grade. I called a classmate “63” because he would always try to pester me with that number (he knew I considered it a “bad” number). Then, I recall a few classmates overhearing. They asked me to give them a number, so I complied, thinking that they were finally being nice to me. Then the whole thing started to spread like wildfire. People started asking me for numbers left and right, and I continued to give into it. Partially because I was desperate to put myself in the spotlight. It was also because I did not have the judgment to know what their intentions were. But I had nothing to lose, because these kids already gave me enough grief before I had this new quirk. So I decided I might as well make sense of my peers by matching them up with the numbers of closest synesthetic resemblance.
The quirk continued in high school, but by then the environment was much more accepting of such a quirk, so I even received positive attention. In college, the quirk faded as I no longer gained anything from it in such a loose-knit environment. This isn’t to say I have stopped completely, I just no longer see the point in giving out numbers to everyone I meet, especially if they are just acquaintances.