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Excerpt from "Dummy: A Memoir"

by David Patten

Turning Around

Overnight something inside me broke. I remembered the real person I was deep inside, who never wanted to kill anyone. Now, I chose to be that person. Whatever Donna or Steve had or hadn’t done ultimately didn’t matter. What mattered was who I was, what I was willing to do, and what I did, and it had nothing to do with anyone else. I wasn’t willing to live anymore as the person I’d become. I wasn’t willing to live a life anymore in which murder and suicide were options. I was going to change my whole approach to life. I would have to give up the personality I’d created when I was seven. I knew this would leave me vulnerable and weak in ways I’d previously used anger and violence to avoid.

Donna and I would have to leave Chicago. I couldn’t become a new person here, learn to live on a new basis and also keep us safe. Yet deep down, I didn’t believe I could survive as I was. I’d seen myself as stupid, broken, and dysfunctional for too long. I’d seen myself through the world’s narrow, judgmental eyes. I could never meet its minimum requirements for basic functioning, belonging, and fitting in. Others saw me as lazy, but I wasn’t lazy. I worked harder than anyone I knew but never got the results I needed. Society’s messages—never give up; be a fighter; where there’s a will, there’s a way—hadn’t served me. I’d look at people and think, Everyone else seems to know a secret, the secret of who they are and how to live. But I don’t know who I am or how to live.

Now I realized it wasn’t about becoming more than I was but about accepting who I am.

I wondered to what degree the life I was living and the world I was living in were of my own making. Were they a result of what I believed the nature of the world to be? My mind seemed to be an illusionist, appearing to be the source of truth but then leading me in circles. From my mind’s point of view, I’d be a fool not to be afraid. I had to decide if the world was simply a bad place or not. If it was just a machine of death, then it didn’t matter what I did. I’d made friends with death anyway. But if the world was a place of meaning and my life had a greater purpose than mere survival, then my choices and actions had profound significance. They shaped and defined who I was. If I hurt someone, killed someone, I’d suffer the consequences of those actions.

I used to scare myself with my own thoughts, spinning worst-case scenarios in my mind. My mind would tell me it could figure it all out, but most of my thoughts were born of fear and generated more fear. My mind was a liar. I couldn’t stop the thoughts, but I could stop believing them, the way Jacqui taught the schizophrenics to do. When I believed fearful thoughts, I only felt fear, and it crippled me in life. When I thought I had to learn how to read or things wouldn’t turn out well for me, that was a thought that seemed true on the surface, but there was no way of knowing if it was true or not. When I believed it, it only undermined me. Even believing everything would be okay in the future was an illusion. When I stopped and looked deeply into any thought, any hope or fear, I could find no substance, no absolute truth, no certain future I could rely on. There was only myself, alive in the moment, with no ultimate knowledge or certainty. It wasn’t about believing in one thing more than another; it was about my relationship to myself and to my life. If I was at peace with myself and my life, I was okay in that moment, not regretting the past or clinging to hopes for the future; otherwise, I suffered.

Trying to think and struggle my way through life hadn’t worked out for me. I couldn’t find any security or truth in my mind or in the future. I had to trust life in a new way and live the best I could now.

I came up with a motto for myself: I’ll do my very best in this moment, no more and no less, and let the future take care of itself. That was the most I could do. How things turned out after that was none of my business and beyond my control. The future was a mystery to me and everyone else.

Releasing the illusion of control was a profound relief. I remembered being in one of the worst situations I’d ever been in, locked up in the mental hospital after attempting suicide at fifteen, with no vision for my future. It’s what I’d been afraid of all my life. Yet in that experience, I felt relieved of the burden of my hopeless life, with all its hopes and fears. I felt an ecstatic sense of oneness, of freedom, of peace. I felt profound gratitude for being alive and aware. I felt connected to everything, not threatened by life and death. Perhaps for the first time, I felt present in my own life. I wondered if it was possible to live on this basis. Then life would be tolerable. And that’s how I wanted to live now.

From now on, how I lived now was everything. I’ll do my very best in this moment, no more and no less, and let the future take care of itself. I could no longer afford the luxury of taking things personally, of wasting time feeling bad about what I did or didn’t do. My life was an adventure, and I was not in charge. My only responsibility was to do my best in the present moment; let the future take care of itself. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.

David Patten, author of Dummy: A Memoir, can not read or write. Born to well-educated parents in Chicago as an autism-spectrum child, David Patten was repetitively misdiagnosed in the 1950’s, a time when autism was little understood. After a youth of a severe disorientation and isolation, the seriously dyslexic Patten made a living dealing drugs and engaging in other street-level enterprises. In his twenties he discovered his native genius in abstract conceptual mathematics, which led him to a successful career as a businessman who worked debugging computer systems for major corporations and American military installations.

David’s deep sensitivity and insight gave him the capacity not only
to maintain meaningful and affectionate human relationships, but enabled him to observe that his desperation and limitations need not define who he was. It was this understanding that eventually allowed him to accept his life and move beyond his identification with his personality. Today he is the father of two grown, productive and happy children. He lives with his wife of 30 years, a physician, in Hawaii. To purchase Dummy: A Memoir please visit www.dummyamemoir.com

Copyright © 2012 by David Patten.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author, David Patten, except for brief passages in connection with a review.

NOTE: This work is a memoir. It reflects the author’s present recollection of his experiences over a period of years. Certain names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed, and certain persons described are composites. Dialogue and events have been recreated from memory, and, in some cases, have been compressed to convey the substance of what was said or what occurred.

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