I recently received a copy of All the Weight of Our Dreams , an anthology of pieces by autistic people of colour that I intend to review soon. Naturally, the first piece I read was my own, a short essay I’d written in 2015. And in it was an anecdote about my childhood.
Back in the ’90s, an Irish journalist (who coincidentally is in trouble today for having written a misogynistic and anti-Semitic piece in The Sunday Times) interviewed my mother. It was published on the back page of The Irish Times Weekend Supplement, as far as I remember. I was quite young at the time, maybe eight or nine, though possibly younger. But I remember it well. Huge photo of the family, sitting on the sofa in the living room, surrounded by the Turkish carpet cushions my mom liked to sew.
The interview itself was nothing special, I think. Discussed her life and her poetry and that sort of thing. But, he did add a comment about me and my siblings. We had sat in on the interview, as we always did. Sitting quietly and listening, as was our style. And, there in print, he referred to us as “Midwitch cuckoos”. I had no idea what that meant. My mother explained it was a sci-fi book about alien children.
What she failed to mention was that it was a horror story. That the children were not only alien, but menacing and “evil” and the only way to save humanity was to murder these children. I have never been able to bring myself to read the actual book. But naturally, I went and read up on the book that we reminded him of. Reading summaries of it was enough. But those two words lingered on in my brain for years after, and returned today upon seeing the journalist’ name all over Twitter. Midwitch cuckoo. Midwitch cuckoo. Midwitch cuckoo.
What was it about us that put those words into his mind? Was it our shockingly blond hair? Our incredibly pale skin (thanks EDS!)? The way we just sat there silently and stared at him? I don’t know. All I know is that he picked up on something, (our autistic way of being?) and it reminded him of the alien children from that book.
And, what must have been two throwaway words to him, two words in the few hundred words of his article, that he’d no doubt forgotten about soon after writing, have remained to haunt me to this day. Is it any wonder that autistic children and adults are treated so badly, when just sitting in our sitting room, minding our own business, gets us compared to evil, murderous aliens?
[image of cover of the book The Midwitch Cuckoos]