(This post is for Autistics Speaking Day 2017. Content warning: Ableism by religious authorities, suicidal ideation, self-harm. In memory of Irap, 2017 winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.)
“Now with the help of God I shall become myself.”
Since my end of my wilderness years, I felt that I have been reconciled to God and found acceptance as an useful contributing member of society. And I have the horse racing industry to thank.
When I was a hostess at the off track betting facility, I would welcome patrons to their seats and offered them water. After their meals, I bussed the tables. My Lutheran faith tradition informed me that the work I did is honorable and a service to God and neighbor. For a while, I was painfully aware that I was underemployed.
Then I looked at Facebook and read what my neurotypical Sem classmates went through since they got ordained. Some left the ministry after the abuse of their congregations and the indifference of their respective districts. Reduced wages and benefits. And to think I wanted to be a deaconess. One “Sister Of Blue” told me that she rather be back at her old secular job, but she felt compelled to remain. “Kid, you got a better path,” she said. I rather deal with dirty dishes whilst watching Santa Anita than to go what my classmates went through.
I feel at ease when I sit down at the bar, ordering Diet Coke and reading the Daily Racing Forms. I can speak and explain to patrons and friends better with the Racing Form in hand. Teaching people how to play the ponies became second nature over the months, and my bosses noticed that.
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(Photo description: a display sign at a bar. The sign promoted “Carol’s Contest”, with a caricature of Carol with a cartoon horse.)
My bosses saw something in me that says I am an asset, not a liability. During the 2016 Kentucky Derby, I did many assignments and duties, making sure patrons were happy and served at the busiest time of the year. They were impressed and I knew from that point on, I actually have a future— a real career, independent living for a very long time, and people taking me seriously as part of their team. It was two days after Nyquist won the 2016 Kentucky Derby and 11 years to the day of exile that I came to that point where I knew I found acceptance. That I can be proudly Autistic. There is only one place I must visit on 9 May.
In front of Barbaro’s statue, I looked at my wrists. Intact, no scars. Never had the guts to do that. No welts on my body from whipping myself with a plastic hanger. Above me was the cloudy sky. No ceiling fans inviting me to hang myself. It was there that the need to harm or to kill myself disappeared. I was no longer angry with God.
I returned from Kentucky that night, eager to live and with a bright future burning in my heart.
Another moment in which I found acceptance, that my life was valid was during Preakness week. I credit these four horses for securing my job promotion: Exaggerator, Cherry Wine, Nyquist, and Stradivari. The bosses hung on every word I said about these horses. Especially Cherry Wine and his muddy victories. It was no longer my talents in spite of autism, but because of autism. The grad school viewed “in spite”, Hoosier Park viewed “because.”
It was because of this acceptance that going to church was no longer a burden but a place of joy. I took the Sacrament knowing I am restored.
One day, I saw a beloved professor, and he saw that my face and soul have changed. That he sensed that I am truly myself and very happy. “Since you worked at the OTB, I noticed that you have so much more joy. I’m proud of you.”
Visiting the horse farms and meeting the champion horses have a healing aspect. One February morning I met Silver Charm. He won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in 1997. I was in awe that I got to meet an actual champion racehorse.
He kissed my forehead.
So that was what unconditional acceptance felt like.
He saw my soul and he did not see a theology reject. In his equine nature, his affection declared “All is well and all manner of things shall be well.”
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(Photo description: Kentucky Derby winning horse Silver Charm with Carol Rutz. Silver Charm is behind a fence, his head outside the fence, about to kiss Carol. Carol is smiling with her eyes closed.)
Emboldened by such radical acceptance, I decided to move to Kentucky and start anew, away from the shadow of the Seminary. I found a Confessional Lutheran Church that wanted me to do Bible Studies in the future, subject to work schedule. I wrote and revised the Weep No More self help guide for those who were affected by spiritual trauma. It is acceptance that lead me to the blooming of my soul. The weird[?] thing I noticed since settling in Kentucky is that I no longer have the energy to “pass” (i.e. adopting a neurotypical persona). My theory is that my entire being knew I am no longer under any obligation to attain acceptance via passing. Preggie’s death and adjusting to my new life adds to the stress, therefore I must conserve mind-energy. So I am accepting myself, Carol is Carol, and gave up the resistance.
The guys at Churchill Downs knew that I am Autistic, and I would explain what and why I would do a certain action. I passed along links to the “splines” and “spoon” theory. They want to see me succeed. They know that I want to conserve my energy so I can use it at my work. The bosses knew that I will never fit within a neurotypical persona. The Seminary expected me to pass, to act like their image of a woman assisting in church work, but they barred me from church work despite my academic prowess and high character. Just because I am Autistic. In contrast, my bosses past and present knew that I get the job done and they praised me for the qualities that are part of my nature.
Since then I would visit the Lexington area once in a while and see Silver Charm and Exaggerator, the guy who won the 2016 Preakness Stakes. I would give them a blessing and kiss them, as I felt that their presence had helped me in my life journey. In the case of Exaggerator, I received a huge promotion due to his effort on the muddy track. The least I could do for him is to visit him. After my husband’s death, I told him that I am now a widow and felt lonesome. He offered me his nose to kiss. (If you must confide to someone about your grief, you can’t go wrong with a Preakness winner.) I felt better when I visit the best of God’s creatures.
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(Photo description: Carol kissing Preakness Stakes winning horse Exaggerator. Exaggerator is in a stall with a metal gate. His nose sticks out through the bars. Carol, with her back toward the camera, kisses his nose.)
Belonging in the horse racing culture helped restore my expression of spirituality. At the OTB, I do a variety of tasks, I felt very useful. It is about making patrons feel at ease. It is about meeting their needs. Horseplayers seek not just the thrill of the race, they also seek social interaction. How often on my off days I would visit my workplace! Patrons and the occasional coworker would ask for an ear to listen or even a prayer.
When the horse Weep No More raced in the Kentucky Oaks, I saw her name as a sign of divine comfort and promise. People will only remember her for winning the Central Bank Ashland Stakes in 2016. For me, she performed a much more noble deed: She heralded the end of exile. I got a tattoo with her name in honor. One night, I dreamt that I was back at the Seminary and the director of Deaconess studies told me I was unsuitable. I touched my arm where my tattoo is at, looked him in the eye, and told him, “F*** off, Professor. I have a future.” I woke up, victorious.
I am planning to visit Barbaro’s statue on the Day of the Dead tomorrow with my prayer beads and remember my husband and those who passed on. I sense the hand of God in my life, and although I am puzzled why it took me so damned long to be where I am, I am very thankful for the blessings during exile and today in Kentucky.
I made a promise to myself to never hide who I am. After all, Silver Charm would still detect my inner being and remind me of the acceptance I received.