Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Autism, siblingship, and being the non autistic sibling


donna aged 4 with cup I have two brothers and my younger brother had a completely different relationship to my autism, seeing it as a wonderful part of his unusual sister. We reflect what is given us and I reflected back the equality and worth he afforded me. But, whilst I’m estranged from my older brother, likely always will be, at least I have been honored by the words he dared to share of who he once was. I have no contact with my older brother, Shane. We had different carers, different worlds, different histories, different neurologies. But in 1997 he wrote an autobiographical piece about his first 6 years and it will always remind me of the foundations of this older brother and who he could have been.

My older brother became my mother’s golden child, a tormentor, a bully, someone ashamed of and commiserating my existance within the family. And of course on the receiving end, one can never understand how or why someone becomes these or the broader picture of who else they could have been. Shane puts such a human spin on these in his autobiographical piece that I decided to honor it by publishing it here.

It is a testament, too, to siblingship with an autistic sister, the way a non autistic sibling interprets the torment or embarrassment or shame of an autistic sibling according to their modelling, their environment, their own neurology.

An autobiography started by Shane Williams in 1997

donna aged 4 with 'lemons' sml The garage became residence for my grand parents, nanna Ruby and pop or Harry as my mother would call him, his real name was Henry Roy Bonnell born in 1890. He was of strong size and character, he had been in the First World War having served in Gallopoli through to France. I am glad through the early years he was there to help hold things together until it was my turn. My grandmother Ruby Florence Keene a smallish round, little old lady that was kind with lollies and sweets but very short on talk, one of the very few things I can remember of her is she used to use the shinny wrapping paper of the lollies to wrap around the end of lengths of long grass, pulled from along the back fence where the mower wouldn’t reach. She would wrap the foil wrapping around the seed tips of the grass ends, then put them in vases everywhere as decorations I seem to have little contact of memories of her as she looked after my sister sometimes, never me.

donna aged 4 buzzing b From then on when I was lonely or unoccupied through lack of interest or lack of interesting things I would find pop out the back somewhere. My mother gave me the most attention but I found security in my grandfather. My first memory of him was in 1964 and also my first pet memory it was of my first dog Mickey pop and me Mickey was a fox terrier cross, black and white in color and would like my face, this was around the time I could first walk. I recall a large figure always looking out for me when mum wasn’t around, Christmas 64 Mickey dog met his fate. While being looked after by a salesman, who worked for us at the car yard his name was Ron and he and his wife apparently had a drinking problem (they drank all their money) so while we were away in the country visiting one Christmas Mickey dog ended up Christmas dinner due to the lack of funds. Mickey dog paid the price and from 1965 onwards the salesman was remembered as Ronnie the pig.

At 3 years old I just start to realize this other person in the house was my younger sister and what a sister was. She was like a doll with curly hair like Shirley Temple, but her face was blank and often expressionless. Only when my father would sing funny songs to her, I remember the main one he sang was Miss Polly had a dolly that was sick, sick, sick or a revised version of old MacDonald had a farm. She would light up with joy and excitement soon as she heard his voice she would stand up in her cot and hold the top rail and dance to this singing with glee. This would last up to 5 minutes, I think that was the happiest I would see my sister for the next 32 years.

donna aged 4, daunted sepia New years 65/66 this was the first party I can remember, lots of people all so tall and all so loud blasting out words and laughter as quick as each breath could be inhaled. The smoke of Craven A and Rothmans cigarettes soon filled this room the new Grundig record player was put to use and the music played. The music of Nat King Cole, Fats Domino, The Platters, were always played early and it seemed to keep people smiling and mixing sometimes in harmony. This took place as I moved around the room, just having a quiet look for myself. People would keep touching my head saying to me hello Shaynee how are you? Sometimes I would answer good or okay and sometimes I would ignore them and keep moving I soon got sick of being touched on the head and I hate getting called Shaynee and because everyone is standing up and moving holding their drinks and I am less than 3 foot tall, every spilling or dripping glass seemed to come my way so by now I smell like a brewery. I decided to get out of there. I took up safe haven with my grandfather in the kitchen he always had a hidden lollie or he would give me a sip of his beer I would always just sit and listen to what he had to say, sit up here boy you will get into trouble in there and he put me on his knee.

donna aged 4 in leotard croppedSoon after the music got louder and faster, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the house shook as half the party danced to the Rock and Roll. As midnight hit an Irish version of Old Lang Sine was played and everyone cried happy new year, swapped hand shakes, kisses, and cuddles. They went back to their conversations, music and drink it was my bedtime so I said goodnight to my mum and dad, my grandfather put me to bed it was dark but because my room was behind my sisters room with her door open and our adjoining door ajar so some light was visible in a distant vivid way through the gap, I laid there for a while thinking about the faces I had seen and trying to understand some of the words I had heard. After what seemed a long time I fell asleep.

donna aged 4 with balloon b sml I remember awakening quickly like an instant alert, the music had stopped it was silent all senses were put to use simultaneously. Within a tenth of a second I realized I could not see a thing total darkness. My sisters door to the hall had been closed killing the light passage and all sense of direction, next the sound of breaking muffled by two walls came from my right. As my nervous system switched from electrifying fear to consuming terror. I launched out of the bed and headed towards my sister’s room, I found the door edge and passed through the door it was still pitch black and about 2 seconds had passed by now since I woke up. Then the sound of my mother screaming at the top of her voice in a high pitched fear, hurt and tears cry “help me please, please stop him”, she shrieked, at the same time my sister had woken up and was screaming too, I bashed on the door, it opened, the light came on I was picked up by someone and taken down the hall way to the kitchen. My consuming terror changed to horror as I saw my mother’s face, she was bleeding from here nose and mouth she was sobbing blood, and snot, and tears, I put my arms out and yelled something to her, she was looking at me and she seemed to cry harder and then lowered here head in pain I was taken away to the garage for the rest of the night. It was a long night of experiences that wounded my heart with a monotonous linger forever. Possibly.

As I recall and write about this account 32 years later, the internal altered states of emotions returns just before falling asleep that new year 1966 the last song I heard was JOK singing She’s my baby. One breath later I tremble and shake inside around my heart today and the consuming emotion inner feeling returns, at 35 years old. I think the captain of the titanic felt like this just after he hit the iceberg, found out the ship was sinking and there weren’t enough life boats to go round. Nothing lasts forever only times and destiny left. I know now this first heavy memory encounter of physical and verbal abuse sparked a thought process in me of ‘WHY’. Everything I had seen and heard up until now seemed no reference in understanding what I had seen and was trying to justify. Somehow after a matter of days of too much thinking I locked it away in a place only I can go when I want and when I need to for reference maybe, now I don’t want to forget it but I don’t want to remember it all the time either, so I locked it in the bottom of my memory and covered it with the rest of the experiences of life being knowledge I had gained so far, neither denying what I had seen but not accepting it either, I saved it in the back of my hard disk memory for what should have been a long time, it wasn’t.

By March 66 the Sun came out and memories of the new year went away, I was feeling more self conscious now and started to look at people and things in more detail it was a long time till another party at our house. Hot summer nights in 66 we visited other people usually associated by the car yards most of them seemed very uninteresting to me, they very rarely had anything I hadn’t seen I used to think. At first after 10 p.m. was bed time usually Friday or Saturday nights, I remember being told to go to bed time after time one night, after being threatened with the strap several times I GOT IT and stayed in bed, one or two hours later I fell asleep. I woke up the light was off it was darkness again and I screamed my sister woke up, mum came in and we went home. After this night when I was put to bed at someone else’s house I would pretend to be asleep for hours, just laying there listening and thinking until we went home.

Donna Williams with her older brother Shane

Donna Williams with her older brother Shane

Now between new year 66 and my fourth birthday six months later my parents (arugement and fights) did not end. The physical abuse did not seem as evident, but the verbal abuse was from both sides, I had not seen my father actually hit or punch my mother in a argument yet, so in my mind the physical abuse was not an issue unless it was happening. I tuned in to the verbal aspects of growing up, not the words that were said so much, as at three and a half four years old I could not comprehend a lot of adult talk anyway but, more in the way that words were said and the tone of the persons voice that was communicating. Whether it be an argument or just an interesting sounding conversation I would tune in, in great detail to the speed but most emphasis I put on the voice tone, at first this tone change in voices confused me to the point of great internal frustration, no before I was 4 I remember sitting tuned into a conversation, playing with my matchbox cars and service station I had gotten for Christmas 65. Very interested in what I was playing with, but totally committed in absorbing the tone of what was said. As the voices and tones altered so did I on the inside, but always conscious of not showing it on the outside. Talk, turned to statement tone the internal lock would go on, stomach muscles would tighten, my teeth would clamp and all inside defenses were up in an instant, but not a flinch on the outside soon statement tone changed to abuse anger tone, this time it was my mother and a visitor. The words came hard fast and strong, she stood up from the table and without stopping what she was saying machine gunned them verbally out the front door, I know what the words and gestures mean now nothing like they did them. It was the way and the tone in which it was said that worked on everyone to a degree.

Fourth birthday – I was feeling angry and confused, something my mother had said to my father some time earlier had hit home, I can’t think what it was but this time I know it was the words and the tone combined. I must of comprehended enough of what was said, I think I got a partial meaning and with categorizing the tone instantly the internal of hate arrives, soon changing to inside anger. By the time of the party and people started turning up I was still a little angry, but the confusion of ‘WHY’ she had said what ever she said was taken over. As I reflect hard about this day in deep emotional and mental detail I am sure what she said was about throwing my father out of the house, and I am also sure I took the hurt and anguish of possibly losing my father from the house pretty hard. And I remember thinking and feeling personally insulted, as she had threatened this on my birthday.

Anyway the party started, but the 4 year old true Shane did not everyone got a copy of him on the outside, but the true open genuine one was deep inside wounded. As people gave me present I felt sad inside, it felt like a stain although my stomach which constantly tightened and when it eased left a sour taint. I recall thinking these people have come to see me and are happy and have bought presents, and don’t know how sad I am inside. Most presents seemed to fuel my sadness somehow anyway the party went and I pretended to be happy.

Dad had said happy birthday to me that morning and had promised me a special present when he got home, he was bringing it with him from the car yard, by now he had opened a second car yard – Bedrock Motors, 275 St.Georges Road Northcote, and was making a lot of money. He brought that night a metal car one twelve scale 1963 Cadillac Convertible gold in color batteries in the boot and head lights and taillights worked from switches on the dash and it drives too. This made me as happy as dad being home the sadness subsided and confusion was rested in the back of my mind my birthday party was over dad was home the internal lock came off and I was true me again inside and outside.

Spring to late 1966, most of my true self of then memories, are also of my sister Donna most of the time we played in the back yard, always simple games like collecting plums that had dropped from the tree or stacking sticks and leaves, usually a organizational or semi-productive tasks rather than a game, but one I control.

donna aged 3 a I was always at first caring and sharing with Donna with full feeling of helping and consideration, I never had to use the false me on the outside with her much until I was 5 and ½. If I felt sad I could still play with her and still have fun of a kind. I soon realized that when we done something together, once I got my sister interested in it to leave here alone in her WORLD, as she would play happily and converse with me more frequently. She was very vague most of the time when any one else was around, but when we played together alone usually out the back in the sun or on the front porch or yard with the front gates closed, she would come out of her shell, only in the form of a stronger interest and a few more words. It doesn’t seem much but the one and a half years between June 1966 and January 1968 were the best times I would spend with my sister for thirty years.

Inside the house when we were being ourselves or what I perceived as Donna, I would get annoyed by her regularly. She would become strongly vague and void I would interpret this as ignorance directed at me most of the time and the other things she would do were not rhythmic tapping on things to the point of continuance annoyance, like a dripping tap that wouldn’t stop.

donna aged 4 tartan 2 Mimicking was her other annoying attack, I think that ate to my soul, and got me upset most of the time I presumed or made the assumption these (antics) she did mainly in the inside of the house that I can remember were aimed and done to aggravate and upset me which it did.

donna aged 3 'daunted' Because my room joined hers with the door open between our rooms we were twelve feet apart without visual contact. I now remember most of the time I got upset with her tapping and mimicking was when I was alone in my room, inside my own thoughts, inside my outer self, with the what I call (internal lock) off relaxing but deep, she would invade my headspace with tapping or repeating something verbally over and over from the next room.

donna aged 4 eyes closed The tone or the rhythm would start internal turmoil which would start my verbal attack in defense, I never thought or considered she had an internal lock or a inner place she could go or hide to and was there most of the time. I have very through cherished memories of my sister between 1966 – 1968 I wish I had a lot more, but what I had is better than none. Memories of trips to Myers and toy shops, and a very few times to the beach and a few day trips away, doesn’t sound like a lot but it is a lot to me now, about 10,000 days later.

One very good time that comes to mind is in early 1968 I started school and was five and a half this was grade one I adapted to school with what seemed good on the outside but on the inside thoughts of the over dressing for a state school my mother had inflicted on me was usually in contrast to the rest of the children also the cow lick on my hair, she would lick her hand and wet my hair down leaving my hair wet on one side.

For what seemed the first hour of school every morning I was very self-conscious, but within two months I found a friend. His name was Greg he was 4 months older than me he had a younger sister Gayleen, my mom met his mom and since we had a swimming pool by then, every hot day left in February and March they would come to swim. Recalling the 4 of us playing in the pool me and Donna, Greg and Gayleen. For hours I would forget everything stressful and enjoy myself I remember the easy feeling well. This was the best and only time I think, my sister and I played with two other children our own age, and being our own selves without any conscious pressures, meant we had a ball. It is a shame it only happened about 3 times between January 1968 and March1968. This would be the last of the semi-consistent happy memories I have of my sister, shortly after this my grandfather dies.

harry 1 One morning mum comes to me and my sister, she takes us to the kitchen and in a low unintrusive tone she explains well kids some times people go to sleep and they don’t wake up, and they go to heaven, now well, pop has gone to heaven so I want you to come with me and give him a kiss and say good-bye, and so she led us to the back garage. As she walked us both to the shed, I remember starting to hurt but I did not accept what she had said because of the way she said it, plus the words did not add up right. As I entered the room I could see him lying on the bed about ten feet ahead of me he looked asleep, was my first thought, then as I let my sister go ahead to his bed side, I heard my mother telling her to give him a kiss good-bye, all defense went up, the internal lock went on – real hard this time. It felt like I had eaten large apple pieces and they were stuck in the bottom of my chest, all things I had seen on TV and heard in conversation regarding death or dead raced through my mind in a few seconds, by now my sister had left the bedside, I took three steps forward towards him and stood beside the bed, I realized he was dead and now I knew what dead was exactly. My mother was soon saying something to me but I had no interest in what she was saying, so I ignored her as much as possible then kissed my grandfather good-bye on the forehead. I stood straight up took one step back turned right on the spot, and marched straight out the door without looking back. Just as I had seen on army and war shows on TV. I remember how I felt inside and what I thought to myself exactly, my grandfather had told me many stories of his time at war in world war 1 they were mostly about Gallopoli and France. Nothing tragic really, I can remember only hardship, fear, and bravery ones, about mateship and situations against the odds and elements. About human resilience and strength from internal commitment, ‘THE UNSAID WORD’. As I stood up at his bed that morning, before kissing pop bye forever I thought of Anzac day and the last call on the bugle or trumpet I remembered the unsaid word he had told me about many times in many ways, courage, valor and honor filled my chest for a couple of seconds, while I kissed him bye and walked away … forever.

The rest of the day I tried to keep to myself as the loss turned to anger on the inside, many relatives keep arriving and leaving all day. Just as things were settling down someone else would turn up and the crying and stories of how good he was would start again. I remember listening to my mother and other people praising him constantly, at the same time I was thinking to myself about all the complaining, criticizing and back-stabbing I had heard behind his back, mainly from my mother having a go at my father about him. Or sometimes on the phone to somebody, anyway the internal anger felt like your whole body being dipped in an ice cold bath very quickly it is no wonder I remember it so well still.

donna aged 4 with cowboy brother Next came my sixth birthday I got a brand new full cowboy outfit, chaps best hat, badge, and duel holsters with two cast metal colt 45 pistols. I put it on instantly adjusted all the clothing loaded the cap pistols and waited for Greg to turn up. When he did he had a similar outfit on and we played different cowboy and sheriff gunfight games all day.

Both as partners and opponents, without an incident of personal conflict over the outcomes or decisions in which ever make believe game we were playing. Our source for the games and adventures we played came from TV shows we had been watching such as rifle man, Western movies with characters like Jesse James and Billy the Kid (but I was always the sheriff) and I am sure we finished the day with the gunfight and the OK corral. Greg was an equal and my sixth birthday was one of the last days we played together.

A few months later Greg and his sister, Donna and I were playing in the back yard, something. When Gayleen made a comment about my sister’s type of, what I thought as silliness or stupid playing. Donna must have been in her world she was carrying on like the 3 stooges all in one, anyway next minute they were fighting, pulling hair, a full cat fight, yelling and screaming. The end result was Greg and Gayleen went home and never returned. I blamed Donna for being stupid and a nut this was the first time her actions or antics upset someone else who were my friends, especially in front of me while we were having fun without any internal defenses ready let alone up.

Her actions angered and embarrassed me and I persecuted her for it as being a nut and wrote her off as an idiot. I ignored Greg and he drifted away easily my mother asked me a few times after this, why don’t you ask Greg to come over after school tomorrow, in a nice motherly tone with about 30% of feeling and emotion in her voice. I would just answer I’ll see, and stay in the exact same locked deep internal self where I was.

donna aged 4 at zoo On the inside I had not just blamed or was angry at my sister, no, I held my mother just as accountable. Because of what I had seen in the first fight between my sister and Gayleen was the first instance of violence portrayed at what was, my first friends my own age. This violent outburst mixed with factor two ignited self-denial in me as a conscious weapon and subsequently I sabotaged Greg and our friendship, factor two is a mixture of the wrong words in the wrong tone at the wrong time, persecution and internal anguish through loneliness and distance of self.

jack5From the start my dads untrustworthy sexuality dysfunction undermined their relationship/marriage from the beginning. My father was like a Ram or a horny Billie-goat when it came to women, female and breathing started at a rank of 6 out of ten with him, and with the money props and false sense of power and egocentric traits the business conjured up and away he went, little head leading the big head, the big head doing the mission impossible stuff by what became almost instinct or second nature. Big flash fast cars, big extravert bullshit talk, he put it together always tricky and subordinate.

But occasionally and memory would fail him and he would get either caught or at least majorly suspected by my mother, this would ignite them to regularly, and result in the physical abuse, punching kicking and generally bashing my mother, inflicting black eyes, broken teeth, blood noses, ripped out hair or at the least she had a sore jaw. This heavy level of physical violence happened around eight times between 1966-1969 when it really got heavy he would turn in around verbally and throw it back at mum, I don’t think it is worth repeating intricate, offensive, and defensive gutter talk from either side but mixed with usually Whiskey, Gin or beer these quickly well selected, phrases and sentences, started actions and reactions beyond belief and at the time interpretation. Mum usually retaliated by smashing gifts, presents, ornaments, and later antiques, that my dad had purchased from either a good financial week at the yard, (that was the first excuse) the second was a win on the races. She always said he bought them out of guilt? And action for reaction again.

Late 1968 one of the (nights to remember) or early mornings before sunrise I am six and a half and I have gone to her rescue, dads just finished belting the piss out of mum, I’m feeling sorry for her big time, I’m consoling her with a damp teatowel trying to stop the blood from her nose and mouth and cheekbone, I’m crying slighly but hurt and deeply angry at my father, when my mother tells me the police are on their way and they are going to take my father away. This time this cuts like a knife and I change internally instantly. I yell and yell at her with great conviction for a six and a half year old that if she (gets), my dad locked up, I will hate her and never talk to her again, then I said I would run away and never see her again. I blackmailed my mother by her feelings and emotions to stay with my father in many different ways from 1968-1980 until I was eighteen.

shane noddy I was her favorite the oldest of only two children still in late 1968 I knew it and used it to my advantage to keep us all together. My mother had said things to other people and sometimes what seemed strange to us as children. I overheard phone calls to who knows, about something dad got from someone somewhere, something he brought home he shouldn’t have. Something dirty, unclean, low, degrading, filthy, something not from a toilet seat, but you can catch from there it was thought sometimes, something unmentionable it was thought to a women if you caught it in the sixties, something someone might have found humiliating enough to try suicide.

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