There was a period of time when I was very focused on crayons. I was four years old, maybe five.
I remember that I liked to pull the paper covering off of each crayon. I would start at the top, gently work downward and sideways. I’d go about it slowly, try to get it all off in a single, unwinding tear.
With any new box my parents gave me, I would open it…take the crayons out one at a time…rip the paper from each one…and then flush the pile of shreds down the toilet.
The crayons, once freed, were pleasant to hold. The way they felt sort of like plastic…hard and soft at the same time…it was nice. The wrappers, on the other hand, were too raspy, had too much texture. The roughness of the paper was something I just couldn’t go for. Ripping and flushing ensued.
Crayon-smell was also very intense, at least with a few of the colors. Blue crayons I could smell all day. They had a sort of light, neutral odor that I loved. Red ones were alluring, in a sharp and magnetic way. Green crayons, on the other hand…they had to go. They smelled acrid, awful. As soon as I opened a new box, I had to take the green crayon out and hide it. Sometimes I would hide it under a couch cushion, or throw them into trash cans. On at least one occasion, I opened the front door and hurled it as far as I could. Which confused my parents.
I either had no reaction to the other colors or have forgotten what the reaction was. Blue. Red. Green. Those were the stand-outs.
I soon learned that mom and dad hated the paper shredding. They would look on, perplexed. They’d ask, “Why are you tearing up your new crayons?”
I found this to be a strange question. I was obviously improving the crayons…yet they found my efforts to be destructive. I did my best to educate them. I responded with words. Then lectures. Then dissertations. They responded with reprimands. Then polite nods. Then silence.
My explanations were falling flat, which was deeply confusing. Words had always seemed so completely sufficient. I trusted words. I was an early reader, precocious. And yet something was happening…words were failing to bring me and my parents together over an issue that, to my way of thinking, couldn’t have been more obvious.
A confusion began to settle over my heart. What I couldn’t have known at the time: other people were not having the same perceptual experiences. The scents and wrappers didn’t bother my parents. They weren’t bothering my teachers or other students. It didn’t matter that I could explain (without hesitation) what I was doing. I could not explain why. Phrases like “autism spectrum“, “Asperger’s Syndrome”…these would come later. Much, much later.
Whatever age this was…where the crayons are an issue…this is my first memory of language and reality clashing. This is when a subtle tension began to whisper in my ear, “Something is different here. Something is happening.”
None of which stopped me from tearing the wrappers from crayons…from smelling the blue ones, from hiding the green. These rich impressions…I steeped in them. They filled my mind with colors, scents, texture.