He may have been about 14 or 15 years old, out with a bunch of his friends. They were a noisy bunch, banging into each other as they walked, laughing loudly, and generally being boys drunk on their own testosterone. I’m not fond of groups of teens, they so often see me as an easy target, I tensed up when they came alongside where I was sitting. Joe was at the car, having forgotten something, and I was waiting for him.
Predictably, the boys turned their gaze to me, there were some whispers followed by guffaws, there were overt stares. I saw a woman with Down Syndrome approaching from the other side. She saw them and looked scared. I turned my chair, there is much more of me to see from that angle, and then I took my coat off. My display and my actions distracted them from raising their gaze from me to her. She escaped safely.
“We take care of ourselves, we take care of each other.” (From the pledge of personal power)
They were beginning to jostle and move forward. I watched them leave. One of the boys, maybe a bit younger than the rest, turned to look at me one last time. I looked straight in his eyes. I wanted him to know that I had seen him. And I don’t mean having seen his behaviour. And I don’t mean seeing his cowardice. No, I mean that I had seen him. A boy willing to participate in cruelty towards a stranger, a boy who went along instead of standing up, a boy who could have chosen differently but didn’t. I had seen him and his easy cruelty and his weakness.
He mouthed, “I’m sorry,” to me.
I shook my head.
It wasn’t enough. He knew better, they all knew better. I’m done with easily given apologies. I’m done with letting people off the hook, I’m done with being judged as inhuman yet being expected to dig into my humanity to find a way to make those who hurt me feel better about themselves.
He looked distressed.
I may have ruined his Saturday.
But I hope I improved the rest of his life.