The Rosie Project Page 49

\Talk to me,\ she said. \We\ve had no time to talk about anything except DNA. Now we\ve got a week, and I want to know who you are. And if you\ e going to be the guy who tells me who my father is, you should know who I am.\

In less than fifteen minutes, my entire schedule had been torn apart, shattered, rendered redundant. Rosie had taken over.

An escort from the lounge took us to the plane for the fourteen-and-a-half-hour flight to Los Angeles. As a result of my special status, Rosie and I had two seats in a row of three. I am only placed next to other passengers when flights are full.

\Start with your childhood,\ said Rosie.

All it needed was for her to turn on the overhead light for the scenario of interrogation to be complete. I was a prisoner, so I negotiated - and made escape plans.

\We have to get some sleep. It\s evening in New York.\

\It\s seven o\clock. Who goes to bed at seven? Anyway, I won\ be able to sleep.\

\I\ve brought sleeping pills.\

Rosie was amazed that I would use sleeping pills. She thought I would have some objection to chemicals. She was right about not knowing much about me. We agreed that I would summarise my childhood experiences, which, given her background in psychology, she would doubtless consider hugely significant, eat dinner, take the sleeping pills and sleep. On the pretext of visiting the bathroom, I asked the cabin manager to bring our dinner as quickly as possible.

22

Telling Rosie my life story was not difficult. Every psychologist and psychiatrist I have seen has asked for a summary, so I have the essential facts clear in my mind.

My father owns a hardware store in a regional city. He lives there with my mother and my younger brother, who will probably take over when my father retires or dies. My older sister died at the age of forty as a result of medical incompetence. When it happened, my mother did not get out of bed for two weeks, except to attend the funeral. I was very sad about my sister\s death. Yes, I was angry too.

My father and I have an effective but not emotional relationship. This is satisfactory to both of us. My mother is very caring but I find her stifling. My brother does not like me. I believe this is because he saw me as a threat to his dream of inheriting the hardware store and now does not respect my alternative choice. The hardware store may well have been a metaphor for the affection of our father. If so, my brother won, but I am not unhappy about losing. I do not see my family very often. My mother calls me on Sundays.

I had an uneventful time at school. I enjoyed the science subjects. I did not have many friends and was briefly the object of bullying. I was the top student in the school in all subjects except English, where I was the top boy. At the end of my schooling I left home to attend university. I originally enrolled in computer science, but on my twenty-first birthday made a decision to change to genetics. This may have been the result of a subconscious desire to remain a student, but it was a logical choice. Genetics was a burgeoning field. There is no family history of mental illness.

I turned towards Rosie and smiled. I had already told her about my sister and the bullying. The statement about mental illness was correct, unless I included myself in the definition of \family\. Somewhere in a medical archive is a twenty-year-old file with my name and the words \depression, bipolar disorder? OCD?\ and \schizophrenia?\ The question marks are important - beyond the obvious observation that I was depressed, no definitive diagnosis was ever made, despite attempts by the psychiatric profession to fit me into a simplistic category. I now believe that virtually all my problems could be attributed to my brain being configured differently from those of the majority of humans. All the psychiatric symptoms were a result of this, not of any underlying disease. Of course I was depressed: I lacked friends, se* and a social life, due to being incompatible with other people. My intensity and focus were misinterpreted as mania. And my concern with organisation was labelled as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Julie\s Asperger\s kids might well face similar problems in their lives. However, they had been labelled with an underlying syndrome, and perhaps the psychiatric profession would be intelligent enough to apply Occam\s razor and see that the problems they might face would be largely due to their Asperger\s brain configuration.

\What happened on your twenty-first birthday?\ asked Rosie.

Had Rosie read my thoughts? What happened on my twenty-first birthday was that I decided that I needed to take a new direction in my life, because any change was better than staying in the pit of depression. I actually visualised it as a pit.

I told Rosie part of the truth. I don\ generally celebrate birthdays, but my family had insisted in this case and had invited numerous friends and relatives to compensate for my own lack of friends.

My uncle made a speech. I understood that it was traditional to make fun of the guest of honour, but my uncle became so encouraged by his ability to provoke laughter that he kept going, telling story after story. I was shocked to discover that he knew some extremely personal facts, and realised that my mother must have shared them with him. She was pulling at his arm, trying to get him to stop, but he ignored her, and did not stop until he noticed that she was crying by which time he had completed a detailed exposition of my faults and of the embarrassment and pain that they had caused. The core of the problem, it seemed, was that I was a stereotypical computer geek. So I decided to change.

\To a genetics geek,\ said Rosie.


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