Many people that know me, know that I am a firm believer in the saying, whatever happens, happens.
In October 2011, I was hired to be a soprano in the choir at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Lancaster City. Unbeknownst to me, the church was a short walk from my parents house, and shared a parking lot with my childhood best-friend’s house. I walked into the choir room at 9 am and was greeted by the choir director, Michael. Michael owns a local performing arts studio, so his face was a little familiar to me. The choir was made up of a handful of members: majority of whom were members of the church and above the age of 55. The choir began to rehearse the anthem for that Sunday when mid second page, in walks this short, goofy-looking guy who is talking in a Rocky and Bullwinkle moose voice.
At the time, I was still dating a guy that I had met at Mansfield University. We had been on-and-off for about 3 years and things were very unstable at that time. When I first saw Derek, I knew that he was the reason why I joined this choir and he was the man I would marry. Promptly after the church service that day, I decided that it was best to finally end the unstable relationship I was in and make myself available for when Derek realized he was going to marry me.
People who hear me tell the story of how I first met Derek always ask me, “How did you know so quickly?”. Honestly, I didn’t even know his name, if he was seeing someone or even married already, or anything. I knew nothing about him, except that he did a funny moose impression and played piano. I always tell people the metaphor, “it’s like I was sitting in a dark room for days and someone swiftly turned a bright light on.”- I know you know that feeling. Someone turns on a light and your eyes haven’t adjusted yet, so you literally feel blinded by the light.
Well, that’s what it felt like when I first saw him.
Now, back in the day, I was a die-hard karaoke singer. I sang karaoke several times a week, my favorite spot being House of Pizza (HOPI) in Millersville. It was about a block from campus and very close to my friend’s apartment, where I often crashed on the couch. The karaoke DJ at HOPI was a former music student at Millersville University, Kevin, who had left the college a few years prior to landing the DJ job. Kevin and I were friends on Facebook, and he had been hosting the HOPI karaoke nights for the past two years. That particular Thursday night (4 days after first seeing Derek), I had been telling Kevin about this man I was going to marry and that I had finally found him. As I was describing this so-called miracle man, Kevin shows me a , Facebook page of a familiar face, saying: “you are literally describing my friend Derek.”
I am speechless.
THIS was it. I knew at that moment that fate couldn’t have made it more clear. I ask Kevin for details about my mystery man, and we end the evening talking about Derek, rather than singing Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline for another week in a row. Little did I know, after Kevin packed up his DJ equipment, he went into Lancaster to pick up his girlfriend. She was out with friends for the night, singing karaoke at VillaNova in West Lancaster. Fate stepped in again that night because Derek had been at the same VillaNova with his friends and was leaving the bar at the exact same time. Kevin called Derek over to his car and he began talking about the “red haired girl that is going to marry you (derek).”
I don’t know whether Derek was flattered or intoxicated, but he friend requested me on Facebook that evening. The next few weeks at church were awkward, as I attempted not to look so grumpy (it was morning and I was often running on 2-3 hours of sleep) and Derek was always half-asleep, dozing off at the organ. One day, I built up the courage to message Derek and ask him to accompany me for my senior recital and graduate school auditions. He agreed.
The next several weeks, we met occasionally to practice for the recital and auditions, and we developed a strong bond, built upon our love of music and karaoke. We made things official in December of 2011 and were engaged to be married by the following Summer.
So, why does this all matter?
Well, as soon as I met Derek, I knew that something was different about him. Not everyone enters a room speaking in a moose character voice. As we honed our musical talents and friendship, I realized that Derek was quirky. He did strange little tics when nervous, and often looked at the sky or over his shoulder when attempting to make a witty remark. This was all in addition to his complete lack of social skills and attention to detail.
Shortly after we were engaged, we took the plunge and moved into a one-bedroom apartment with my two cats. As soon as we moved in together, I knew that Derek was disgustingly brilliant, but had some social deficits that were making it hard for him to find full-time employment.
So, why does this all matter?
Well, aside from the fact that he’s my partner through all of our day-to-day craziness, he too has an Autism Diagnosis.
Derek was diagnosed in the fall of 2016 at the age of 30. It’s hard to believe that he made it 30 years without any services to support his symptoms of ASD, but I try to remember that the term autism wasn’t really used until the 1990’s. Resources and services have become more available since the then, but they are still not even close enough to where they need to be. Insurance companies should also be more accommodating to diagnostic testing and private services that will benefit patients. But unfortunately, until the nation-wide mental health issue is addressed, we will not see adequate amount of services needed for patients in the United States.
Especially for adults.
Derek has made the most of his diagnosis. Because he has autism, he is able to empathize with others on the spectrum, more than a non-autistic person could. He has used his diagnosis to push him into the behavioral health field, working towards a BSC license and a certification in ABA. Since leaving teaching to pursue behavioral health, Derek’s mood has completely changed: he’s less anxious, less grumpy and I can tell that he really values his work. He is currently employed by the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) as a TSS, but will hopefully transition to a BSC within the next couple of months. I am so proud of him and happy I was able to see where he began in 2011, in comparison to where he is now.
We may be a family submerged in Autism, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.