I saw her only in the periphery of my vision because I’m one of those who enjoy the pre-show and even arrive early to be able to watch it. But, I could feel the atmosphere of the theatre changing, it grew colder and the tension rose. People began moving seats from rows immediately behind her. I turned to see a woman, substantially built, sitting in that seat, one over from Sadie, who was moving rapidly by swinging from side to side while rocking back and forth. She was seated perfectly because she needed one seat on either side of her to accommodate the size of her movements.
Then I looked back and saw that all eyes were on her. Several faces showed concern. I heard the word ‘autistic’ spoken several times, always in knowing tones. Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t, I’m not sure it should matter to anyone there. She is a woman who swings and rocks at the same time, she is a woman who needs a bit of physical space and a bit of psychological space, and we should simply let her have it. Like I have an accessible spot, she simply needed the same. I don’t like people diagnosing me when they see me, I don’t wish to do that to anyone else. My diagnosis doesn’t matter, the accommodation of my needs does.
The more she moved, the more intensely people responded. Some couples were having quick, brusque chats and then getting up and leaving. Actually leaving the theatre. I worried that they’d complain and the woman, who made not a single sound, who would not be seen in the dark, would be asked to leave. If there were complaints, no action was taken, and for one of the first times in my life I was grateful for inaction and in fact felt that inaction on the part of the theatre was exactly the kind of action that needed to be taken.
Now there was no one sitting hear her except for us. I was at the end of the row, then sat my husband, then Ruby then Sadie. There was another person, at the far end of the row. He too sat just watching the pre-show. The ripple effect of her arrival subsided, but remember sometimes the ripple is cause by the rock, and sometimes it’s caused by the water itself. This was one of those cases. She was just a woman going to the movies, they were those who had to work to cope with that fact.
The theatre was very, very, busy and several shows had been sold out, so I wasn’t surprised that it took Joe and the kids a while to return with the goodies, but return they did. I hadn’t thought about Ruby and Sadie. I hadn’t thought about how they may react. And when I did, as they came back into the theatre I realized I had nothing to worry about. These are kids who embrace difference so completely that they simply accept that people around them will always be full of different kinds of differences.
Her movements were big. Her silence total.
The kids sat in their seats, chatted about the lobby and their popcorn and the ketchup flavouring they liked. Then, without them saying a word about the woman who moved with big movements a seat over from Sadie. The movie started.
I have written a lot about space this year. The space I need to be a part of the community. The physical space I need, the psychological space I need to simply be disabled and be afforded the space do things in my own disabled way. Public space isn’t owned by the non-disabled, even though the privileged amongst the non-disabled seem to feel they have the right to determine who is and who is not afforded space. No matter what people feel about entry into the space around them, their opinion has no effect on my rights. I belong. We belong. All of us.
Not only do we belong, we have a right to feel a sense of welcome. The community can’t be a community without us for without us they are only an enclave. Community offers all of us the foreverness of belonging. Enclaves offers only belonging, for now. We, the different and discarded, something so big, that their tiny acts of welcome, can never repay, the security of their own place in the community that we create with our presence.
I wasn’t proud of the girls for sitting one seat over from someone with different needs for space than my needs or their needs. I wasn’t proud of them for not being a ripple because, in fact, a rock wasn’t thrown. A woman, who rocked and swung at the same time, came into a movie theatre to see a movie. That’s all that happened. And for all of us who stayed, for all of us who forgot she was there as we watched the movie, she simply had space to watch a movie and as a result we created for ourselves the foreveress of belonging.
May 2017 bring us all a sense of true belonging. May we fight constantly with actions of welcome. May we experience community in the truest sense of the word. Happy New Year Everyone Everywhere.