'Madam, your deadline was the 5th of this month...'
A pause so that I can insert the stupendously important reason why I didn't send my forms back in time. The call centre person is waiting, his tone has been efficient and officious since I was put through and he obviously expects a really good answer for my complete lack of organisation. What can I say?
I flash through the options in that super-quick way you develop after so very many years of having to think of on-the-spot excuses. Oh well, none of them will sound good.
I reply with a simple, 'Yes,' agreeing with him. I know the deadline was the 5th.
There is another pause. Call centre people aren't used to this. They can deal with lateness but only if you offer reasons and they are trained to filter the excuses from the reasons too. It's something like quality control but without much quality by the end.
There is a slight sigh, then I'm told, 'The deadline has passed so you will need to re-submit the form and the date will be from when we receive it.'
I sigh too, but I hide it as sighing from the end of the customer implies sorrowful acceptance of my fate or, worse, criticism of the call centre. When you miss as many deadlines as I do, you learn to make the call centre person your ally, if possible.
'I know, I realise that,' I say sadly, falling back on my stalwart approach of sounding sad and as if I have a very good but hidden reason for being foolish, one I am unable to share with them. This sad air of mystery has dragged me out of many troublesome holes.
There is another pause and I hear clicking from his end as he types something onto my file.
'Madam, if you can return the form within four days, we should be able to keep the break to a week at most. Can you return it within that time?'
'Yes, thank you!' I sigh audibly this time, with glad relief. 'I will definitely get it back to you in four days!'
I now sound absurdly grateful, as if I am on the verge of being offered his daughter's kidney. I let my voice waver a little, to show I am moved by the kindness and his voice changes to one of concern as well as helpfulness. He is my ally now.
The rest of the call is spent in the usual organising noises, slotted in to make sure your telephonic visit is as turgid as possible. I ring off, finally, eventually, totally free of the call and make myself find the stupid form and fill in the stupid boxes and replace the stupid envelope I lost, which was the reason I dilly-dallied and never sent it back on time.There, it goes in my bag so he can receive it in four days and mitigate my latest disaster.
Sometimes, though, I think how easy it would be if, in the pause they leave for my reason, I could slot in, 'I am an Aspie, I do these things.' Life is never that simple though, and if I was to use my Aspergers as a reason for missing a deadline, then it would become awkward, one of those moments when you have to explain yourself and you hear the other person's tone of voice change as they decide how to handle this strange and rather alarming piece of information.
I always end up leaving it just so, letting them think I am a flake instead, a woman with problems, a sad-voiced individual who somehow manages to stretch the deadline and enact that little-used policy they have in their power.
Readers, if only people in my real life were as easily handled, then things would be much simpler. How ironic that I can use this people-reading skill so adeptly in moments of call centre crisis but not when my nearest and dearest are bearing down on me with my latest sin.
That's how it goes, I suppose. If my super power must be Deadline Stretching, then I guess I can still make the world a better place, one missed form at a time.
Imagine a toy box full of bricks. They're the building bricks kind with those little house shapes so you can make your very own town. All brightly coloured and smart, brand new from the shop. How lovely they look, inviting and begging small hands to take them out and play!
Then the box is tipped over, sending bricks, houses, tiny wooden cars and all the shapes you love are sent tumbling across the floor. They scatter, some landing in heaps, others rolling off next to the door. They are everywhere, and this is how toddlers like them: all over the place, ready to be picked up one-by-one as needed.
These bricks don't belong in the box, you see, where they look neat and gleaming in the light from the nursery window; they belong on the floor so little hands can choose them without having to rummage through a massive pile to find what they need.
You have a happy, unconcerned toddler on the floor, choosing bricks and building their own little world. And then the aspie toddler arrives.
Mess everywhere! Colours streaming in the air as if the bricks were in constant motion, their tumble from the box continuing in the aspie mind as the colours and shapes jumble together and become a mass of confusion.
It doesn't matter that each brick is now separate and easier to choose: all at once, there are too many. They are only easier to choose for the non-aspie toddler who can look at them and, see only fun, knowing which to choose first.
To the aspie toddler they are now too many, their pieces noisy and crowded, the room full of disturbance, like the air when it is full and heavy before a storm. The bricks, shining in the sunlight, seem to sneer and crackle at the aspie, daring a touch, raging at the quiet air, too loud and bright for a safe encounter.
If the bricks are in their box, the aspie toddler knows where to find them. He knows if he digs deep, he will be able to push past the bricks he doesn't need to find the one he does. The minor inconvenience of having to search is nothing compared to the shock of having them all laid out at once, challenging him to put aside the distraction of so many pieces. Far better to dig and know what you are looking for than to be presented with the whole of choice and forget what you needed to find.
The aspie toddler sets to and starts to gather the bricks. At first the non-aspie ignores him, thinking his friend is joining in the game. Once he sees that aspie means to put away all the bricks there is sorrow and anger. They're supposed to be out there like that! It's part of the game!
Aspie ignores the noises from his friend, barely registers anything except the need to replace the bricks. Once the bricks are away and all in their right place, then it will be good again. The sunlight will be just bright enough and the nursery floor will look how it is meant to, without the clutter of too many extra distractions.
There is a tussle as non-aspie tries to stop the aspie replacing the bricks. Finally aspie realises that non-aspie doesn't want them away and, worse still, will most likely tip them out again as soon as they are tidy. A quick, sharp flash of fear fills the aspie toddler as he sees his work is in vain: the bricks will come back out and be disassembled, all his work undone and confusion permanent.
He steps away, face creasing in sadness and the beginnings of panic. He wails as he steps on one of the loose bricks and looks at non-aspie's uncomprehending face. It will never be safe in the nursery, he will never be able to keep all the bricks in their rightful place. He will always be at the door, unable to work out where to step safely or which brick to pick up first.
Tears streaming, he runs for the door, stumbling on his way over the bricks and reaching for the safety of the hall outside. Falling through, the light of the nursery is left behind, dwindled to a glimmer through the crack in the door. Through the gap he can hear non-aspie taking out the bricks he put away and playing happily. His heart dreads returning and yet it longs to be in there, understanding why the mess is safe and not wondering what comes next.
He turns his face to the door, plucking up the courage to go through and try again. This time, he will succeed.
It's not always a bad thing to be an obsessive person who hyper-focuses: I may not get around to doing my tax return and the sink is (quite literally) going to collapse before I buy a new one, but I have used my tenaciously obsessive side to tame the beast of the call centre.
I was due some money and it didn't come. I've dealt with this before and knew the likely reasons so I buckled up my courage and rang the call centre. I was quickly tossed from a reasonable person to someone who acted as if it was my fault I hadn't been paid and insisted on explaining my own situation to me, as if I didn't understand.
Readers, I am usually good at call centre beasts. I find if you visualise them as a human being with a job to do then your voice doesn't degenerate so quickly into a tongue-biting growl. But no, I was to be told things I already knew in a scolding voice, then told to wait every few seconds while she read my file and caught up on the fact it was their fault.
I was fending off the cat at the time, my head was fuzzy with unspent sleep and I was trying to sell dressed bears on my computer game; I was too busy and preoccupied to be treated like a willfully stubborn three year old.
I told her the situation and then each time she broke off to read my file, I dressed bears and waited for her to speak so I could tell her again. She came back, explained the next thing I already knew and I told her my situation again. I was careful to rephrase it each time so it didn't sound like I was just repeating myself.
After quite a few breaks and many bears, she started to sound a little worked up and had the tone of voice which implied I was just being difficult. So I told her the situation again, spelling it out carefully with my own tone (and not the one I use on three year olds). Now that she was fully up to speed with why it was their fault, she was more defensive and wanted to end the call. I twiddled her round and back into the loop of the conversation, then told her the situation again (again, again) and she finally listened.
It shouldn't take this many explanations of the same thing for someone to listen, but being an aspie and having experience of others trying to avoid listening to me telling them the same thing many times, I was adept at keeping her in place until I had finished. If people who know me can't escape the monotone of my sharing, then a complete stranger doesn't stand a chance.
Instead of being brushed off, we ended with her promising to help and also promising to call me back today. And she did! It seems to have been sorted out too. Also, by today her attitude was a little better (she had discovered it was totally their fault, surprisingly) so we were able to end our short but interesting relationship on an amicable note.
Back to dressing bears and fending off cats, both of which are more fun than taming call centre beasts. But still, it was great to use that obsessive glint for good and know that without it, I would still have been waiting for answers and my money.
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