|Appears in||Een lege brug|
Paulien is a character in the Dutch-language young adult book Een lege brug (English: An empty bridge[note 1])
Paulien is a 15-year-old girl living at home with her parents, older sister Lisa and younger brother Kirst. During the day, she goes to group home De Hand (English: The Hand), where she is taught a variety of activities of daily living as well more regular school things like basic mathematics. Every day, she goes to the bridge over the train tracks, where she draws the exact same picture of the landscape. She counts each stroke and uses the same amount of strokes every time. At the group home, she is being sexually abused by Steven, a 40-something caregiver. Additionally, she has sexual relationships with a Michael, a 16-year-old boy who also stays at De Hand.
One day, while she is drawing on the bridge, Siem spots her and becomes head over heels in love with her because he finds her very beautiful. He is informed/warned that Paulien is autistic by multiple parties including Steven, Paulien's mother, Kirst, and his current girlfriend Marijke. He still tries to pursue her, but in the end decides to break things off because he realises that Paulien does not love him back.
Paulien is described by Siem as extremely beautiful. She has long brown hair and green eyes.
Although the books mostly is told from a 3rd person subjective narrator following Siem, a select number of pages follow Paulien's inner monologue, giving a valuable insight into her experience.
Paulien relies on very strict (down to the minute) scheduling to bring order in her day. She becomes very upset when things happen too early or too late, or when plans are deviated from otherwise, and this may progress to a meltdown. She is also insistent on sitting in her spot at the bridge, and keeping things very orderly; she has to count and organise all her drawings when Siem has touched some of them, and the same goes for her trains.
She displays a variety of stimming, most prominently when upset. When her routine is disrupted or an unexpected change occurs, she starts rubbing her fingertips together, rocking and repeating "I don't want to". If she fails to calm down, this develops into a full-blown meltdown, which includes biting her wrists and hitting and throwing things. She is also fascinated by Siem's inline skates and enjoys touching the turning wheels.
Paulien is rather uninhibited when it comes to sex and is unaware about why it was inappropriate when Michiel masturbated in public, why Siem didn't like that she had sex with Michiel while also being in a relationship with Siem, and the fact that Steven was committing statuatory rape by having sex with her (a minor to whom he is a caregiver). The parts told from her own perspective give no indication that she particularly likes or dislikes sex.
Controversially, Paulien enjoys seeing people in pain, and she states this herself on multiple occasions. She is also unaware of how her actions can hurt others, even when they're well-intentioned; she cuts the wings off from the family canary Flurk so that he won't fly around and bounce off the walls of his cage (which may injure him and is also a sensory discomfort for Paulien).
She laughs at footage of a train accident where a girl is on fire; she states that she doesn't think about the girl's pain but finds it exhilerating to be able to safely watch something that she's afraid of. When she's alone in the room with her brother's cat Pipo, she wonders what it would be like if his hairs were on fire, and then actually sets him on fire. She smiles when she sees him darting around the room and running into the walls. Her mother often cries at her actions, but Paulien doesn't understand this and merely describes it as "water coming out of her eyes." She also states that she didn't know she wasn't allowed to set the cat on fire, or cut off the bird's wings, at which her mother calls her emotionless.
In the final pages of the book, she is at the bridge with Steven but is becoming increasingly agitated by the fact that Siem isn't there with her, and accidentally pushes Steven off the bridge. She says that she's happy that Siem's spot is not occupied by Steven, and continues with her drawing.
Een lege brug is a commonly assigned book for book reports in secondary schools throughout the Netherlands and the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.
- Victor Hoppe - the main character of The Angelmaker (De Engelenmaker), another book with an autistic character that is commonly assigned in Dutch-speaking schools.
- The book has never been officially translated into English. The German title is Ich bin nicht aus Stein; I am not of stone
- https://www.davidsfonds.be/edition/files/Eenlegebrug.pdf - Een lege brug. Begeleidingsbrochure voor leerkrachten (An empty bridge. Guidance brochure for teachers - Dutch)