The Playing Field

The girl stood on the edge of the playing field, alone. Always on the edge. Always alone. Always watching, even when it looked as if she wasn’t. Someone might come up behind her, might speak to her, expecting a reply, and she would feel compelled to utter some kind of sound, to express herself, to put thought into words.

If only she could find a thought.

Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Rigidly passed. Through gates. From outside, to inside, to outsider.

Into the building. A dull, hard place. Overhead, flat, damp, light. Scratched. Dirty. Walls. Tunnels filled with people. Surging, hard shiny surfaces. Voices like guided missiles. Judged. Unfair. Unjust. Barren. Unlicensed scrutiny and observation. Unsafe. Nowhere to hide. Forced activities. Games. Monotonous. Boring. Regimented and unpredictable.

Carried inside her, like the detritus of war.

NOT QUIET. She was not quiet. Could they not hear? The sound of war, the deafening sound of war. Her ears rang with it. Surfaces crashed against each other inside her. Noise. Spilled over the sides of her. Colouring her in.

Assemblies. Regiments flying their flags of allegiance. People.

Shaking with fear. Holding her breath. Concentrating on still. Neck, head, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, stomach, legs, feet…Still. Eyes down. Down. Onto grey pleats. Down. Onto the varnished floor. Hands, clamped under thighs. Still, but not invisible. Still, too much of her sound. Tic. Still. Tic. Her body gave her away. Tic. Not still. Keeping watch. From her outpost.

Still on watch. Too much of her thinking about how to be still. Survive being still. Become unseen, un-noticed, not heard.

NOT QUIET. She was not quiet.

A list of names on the wall in the sixth form. Next to hers someone had written ‘Space Oddity’. Named. An outsider. Integration project failed. Exposed. The fragile belief structure she had built around herself melted away. She wanted to melt away too.

To become transparent.

Words she salvaged for protection: ‘redemption’, ‘transformation’, ‘hope’, and ‘a cloak of invisibility’.

Expression? Set on NORMAL. Any other, might draw words to her like a magnet with iron filings. She saw this in physics once, and was fascinated by the way a material as alien to her as iron could produce beauty and pattern through an invisible force. Those magnetised words were what she was not. She was not.

NOT QUIET. She was not quiet.

She had empathy. For anyone who might have the misfortune to have contact with her, sit next to her, speak to her, pass in a corridor. Accidentally. Touch. It was a double, triple, quadruple bind, to appear as if she was just like everyone else.

A teacher once said that she had, “a pleasant face.” Was this a complement or a reprimand? She didn’t know.

She didn’t know what she didn’t know. It would have been confusing, if she had known she was confused.

She did know how to draw, but this did not go with the playing field. She did know this. And writing plays in green biro, and reading fairy tales and folk tales, did not go with the playing field. There was nothing she could do that went with the playing field.

People did things on the playing field. They ran about after a ball. They tried to kick it, or catch it, or hit it. They had races. They talked to each other, they shouted and laughed, together.

She liked to run, but not here, not on the playing field. Not with everyone watching. She liked to run in places where she wasn’t watched.

Usually she was not on her own on the playing field. Usually, during netball, someone would bump or crash into her, because she was in the wrong place. Or she would bump into someone else.

When she raised her hands to “Catch!”, the ball would hit, somewhere. The side of her hand, her face, an arm, a shoulder, then the tarmac. On the rare occasion she managed to “Catch!”, she was so surprised, it was so unexpected, she didn’t know what to do next. People shouted instructions. The PE teacher shouted at her.

She wished she knew what to do next.

She did know that she wished she could catch the ball, but she didn’t know how. She did know that. She did know their hearts sank, when she was in their team.


The playing field was empty. She was alone.

She looked down, put one foot slightly forward, almost losing her balance.

Looking ahead, she started to walk. At first, very slowly. Then faster, then running.

Feeling the air on her face.

Across the empty playing field.

To the other side, through the opening in the fence, through the streets, onto the field beyond, and on, and on, she ran, and she didn’t stop. She would never stop. Ever.


IMAGE Picture of sky heavy with dark clouds, brighter towards the horizon which is just out of sight beyond the lower edge of the picture. The tops of some trees are just visible above the lower edge. There is a bird, a tiny speck in the sky, in the bottom third of the picture.

#selectivemutism #autism #autistic #ActuallyAutistic

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