I wanted to go back to the amusement park we liked to visit during our younger years. Before we knew anything about chromosomes, FISH tests or heard the phrase Smith-Magnis Syndrome.
We had just purchased large mugs of German beer along with bratwurst, sauerkraut and hot potato salad. We picked up gingerbread men for desert. We stood in line. A very long line. And there were no meltdowns over the wait. No screaming or head slapping. We stood in line the way normal people do. It felt odd, but we went from the checkout counter straight to a table. Any table we wanted. Not the quiet spot. Not far, far away from the sound system. As soon as we removed our food from the tray, I heard him.
A man was half yelling; half moaning…definitely someone was experiencing sensory overload. I knew that sound down to my bones. And I had traveled to this amusement park to get away from it. We had a clear view of the man and his mother. It had to be his mother. She was trying to get him to eat his food, but he was swaying back and forth and clapping his hands. A group of college-aged kids sat across from them, elbowing each other and laughing.
I didn’t want to, but I looked around.
The entire room was staring at them.
People coming away from the checkout counter made longer trips to avoid walking near their table. I had imagined this scene so many times: My son, Garrett and I were out in public. Strangers turned away from us. They were disgusted by his extreme behaviors and odd ways. And then it happened. All twelve young men stood up, grabbed their trays and left their table in one coordinated motion.
I just had a front row seat to my worst nightmare.
Charlie stood up. I didn’t have to ask if he saw what those bastards had done. And I didn’t have to ask him where he was going. “Please. Sit down.” I pleaded with my husband, but he continued to gather up his food. “I just want to pretend that we’re still normal.” He leaned down and whispered in my ear. “We aren’t and we can’t keep pretending.” He stood back up and waited for me.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and followed him. “Is this seat taken?” Charlie’s cheerful voice was a stark contrast to the tears I was fighting back. The man turned towards us and I realized that he was blind. Thank goodness he didn’t know what just happened, I thought. “My name is Charlie.”
Charlie held out his hand but was pulled down into a giant bear hug. “Nice to meet you, too,” Charlie laughed and sat down next to his new friend. “This is my wife, Tina.” “Hello.” I did not hold my hand out. The man stood up and grabbed me into a huge hug anyhow. Maybe he wasn’t completely blind. I had no idea. This new world was entirely foreign to me. I sat down on the other side of his mother. “Nice to meet you,” she smiled at me.
I had to get my speech out of the way, before I chickened out. I put my hand on her arm. “We saw what happened and I am so sorry.” She looked confused. “What happened?” she asked. Oh, God. Was I going to have to explain to her the humongous insult she and her son just suffered? “Those kids who were sitting here…” “Oh, we weren’t with them,” she interrupted me before I could finish telling her how how sad she should be. “We have a little boy that reminds me of you,” Charlie chatted with the man.“He’s two years old and at home with his aunt today.” “Oh,” the mom looked at me, “you’ll soon learn what is worth worrying over.”
It was my turn to look confused.
She waved her hand in front of her. “Kids. Even adults. Who cares what they think?” She motioned towards her son, “He doesn’t care what they think so why should I?”
Ummm….Because that was rude. Because they were mean. Because someday people will stare at Garrett, too.
“Look,” she began, “you can’t change everybody. Maybe those kids will have children like ours someday. Or, maybe they will never know what they are missing.” She picked up the Dutch Apple Pie from her tray and started eating it. She looked at me and shrugged her shoulders.
“We just came in here to eat and watch the show.” I didn’t get a chance to give her my reasons for caring about the opinions of strangers. The lights went down and the performers walked onto the stage. They sang traditional Christmas carols, songs from The Carpenter’s and current Holiday tunes.
During every song, Charlie’s new friend sang along…loud and off key. He held up his fork like a lighter at a rock concert. His mother just kept on dining and let her son enjoy himself. He gave the most rousing sing-a-long to Jingle Bells that I had ever witnessed. The lead female singer even left the stage to sing with him. She received the familiar bear hug and posed long enough for the mom to take a photo. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before heading back to the stage.
Clearly, he had something the college boys did not. And his mother had perspective that I did not. But I started to look for it.
And all these years later, I thank her for that.