I rolled in through the entrance of a very large mall. I quickly scanned the area looking for a place to pull off to the side. As a wheelchair user I find this really difficult because no matter where I park, I end up being made to feel in the way. Even so, I look for a place to tuck myself in and wait for Joe to park the car and come and join me. I find a spot, turn the chair and back up.
A few feet away from me I hear a protest, “Mom! Stop it! Stop it!” I turn to see a little boy with facial differences, he is glaring at his mom, clearly angry. She is looking at him, confused. “What?” she asked, “What are you talking about? Stop what?”
He pointed at me, he knew I saw him, he didn’t care, he was angry at his mom. “You were staring at him. You were. You were STARING.”
I admit, I hadn’t noticed her staring at me, I’m not surprised that she might, as it happens all the time, but I hadn’t noticed at the time. He clearly did though and he was angry about it.
“Staring is wrong, Mom, you know it’s wrong. It’s mean, it’s really mean. It’s like calling names over and over and over again. It’s like saying ‘You are different. You are ugly. You don’t belong.'”
Mom is clearly devastated, she starts to cry. She reaches for him, to pull him towards her. He won’t let her. He steps away from her. He looks at her like she is the enemy. He looks at her like he’s seeing her for the first time. Now, he starts to cry. Standing alone. Crying.
People are staring at them now.
I move my chair, I pull in, not close, but in such a way that I can block the view of onlookers. One of the benefits of being fat is that I can provide shelter. This is one of the moments that I’m glad of that fact.
Finally he falls into her arms, “It hurts mom, it hurts. You shouldn’t do it because it hurts.”
“I know, I’m sorry, I know, I’m sorry. I know, I’m sorry,” she says.
She looks up at me and says, “I’m sorry,” then indicating the privacy I’ve given them, “Thank you.”
She’s still holding him. Quietly she asks, “It happens all the time?” He nods his head. “Why haven’t you talked to me about this?”
He grabs tighter.
“I didn’t want you to be ashamed of me.”
Pain covers her face. She knows what he faces. She knows his difference will call attention to itself his whole life long. She knows, now, for the first time, that she has to parent him honestly. Her love has to be evident and her love has to include his difference in a real way.
“How can I be ashamed of someone I love so much?” she asks.
“But my face …” he began and she cut in, “Yes, you have a face that’s different than other people’s, but you have a heart that’s bigger, you understand the world in a whole different way, and you will grow strong enough to be different and proud of it.”
He calmed and looked at me. Joe was standing beside me now. He saw how the chair was positioned, he knew something was happening so he waited with me quietly, adding to the shelter. After considering me for a second, he asked, “Is what my mom says true? Can you be different and proud of it.”
I answered in a word, “Yes.”