Tuesday, September 08, 2009

'Round Here, We Call Days Like This "Saturday" (Part Two)

After an unusual start to my Saturday, we took the little van, Star, to the local Firestone shop to get a new tire, killing the waiting time at the public library across the street. Once Star was repaired, we headed out for some rattin' around: a few thrift stores and the used bookstore. Then we stopped to eat at Burger King.

We were sitting in a booth, eating, when a young woman yelled obnoxiously loud. Des recognized & identified the girl from her school as a special needs kid (as if the yell hadn't told us that already), but other than this brief alert to the girl's presence, we thought nothing more of it and continued our meal -- with Derek continuing his mocking the "Daring Girls BK toys" for being anything but daring.

Suddenly, there was a blur and then pressure on the right side of my face, quickly followed by more pressure down my right side -- the girl was pressing her face, nose smashed uncomfortably into my cheek, drooling, onto my face. Because she was sitting at the opposite side of the restaurant and a row behind me, I hadn't even seen her approach. Suddenly she was just there. Firmly there. In what can best be described as a very wet yet motionless dry-hump.

I'm a tolerant person -- even if I weren't parenting the kids that I am, I'm understanding and tolerant. So I remained still, aware that her caretaker was somewhere nearby, perhaps still ordering at the counter, and so I expected a rescue shortly.

But shortly is a long time when you're so uncomfortable.

Not just physically uncomfortable, but emotionally so.

I felt that special vulnerability that comes with another's vulnerability... Given our position, the full front of her body pressed against my seated right side, I quickly ascertained the few options I had... I didn't dare slide to my left for fear she'd lose her balance. Ditto turning my torso to use both arms. So I figured I'd only be able to use one arm or hand to touch her -- but I was afraid that even if touch wasn't something she might be startled by, the simple use of an arm to resist her crush would somehow disturb her or her balance. I also figured that the odds were pretty high that any attempt to touch her could result in, however mistakenly, a blind inappropriate touch.

Plus, these days, touching anyone makes you vulnerable to accusations & recriminations.

So I just sat there, waiting rescue of some sort -- be it the girl's own decision to stop or her caretaker's intervention.

Time seemed to stand still in that odd way time has, leaving you to just absorb all the details of the moment. Details that seem surreal in their crystal clear logic of the moment.

Her drool, unexpectedly cool, likely from her mouth-breathing and/or from pooling about the outside of her mouth, was now running down the side of my face.

I turned my face toward her, all gleaming eyes and mouth; she seemed happy.

I suppose I could have said something; but the girl wasn't talking either, so what could I say? Besides, these days, directing anyone can be described as "bossing" or "bullying," leaving you nearly as vulnerable to accusations & recriminations as touching. So I just sat there.

Aware of everything. Knowing that time had stretched -- but little of it had passed. I knew that too little time had elapsed even for my husband to do anything. I knew I just had to wait, no matter how uncomfortable & long it seemed in that moment.

In less than a minute the caretaker was there. I felt the girl leave me. Still speechless, I turned to look at her. The young twenty-something female caretaker had the girl by the arm. "I'm sorry. Remember, personal space," the caretaker said -- looking at me. I knew she was speaking that personal pace part to her charge, but addressing me in that apologetic I-hope-you-see-what's-going-on-here way. Of course I did. I've given those looks myself. As a parent, I've given those speeches & looks with far more hopeful prayer than that caretaker felt the need to express too. I smiled; I nodded. Then they were gone. Before I could even say anything.

All I could do was wipe the drool off my face and continue eating my meal as if nothing had happened. I wanted to go scrub my face; but I was afraid of how it might appear to that girl, and I didn't want to shame or embarrass her. So I unceremoniously used a paper napkin to wipe the side of my face and finished the meal with my family.

After we left the restaurant, I nervously laughed about it all. Not cruelly; just to shake off the discomfort.

And then our family had a little talk about what manners really are: they are norms and standards of behavior which are there to prevent people from being uncomfortable.

In this case, the girl, for whatever reason, had not learned them. Yet. She was still being taught about personal space.

But those things we teach the children about being polite, those things kids find silly or a pain or too formal or 'whatever,' are there to help us all feel comfortable.

Case closed, right?

But I still felt funny.

An odd mix of feeling both violated by and protective of that girl...

Even writing this post feels like dashing off to the bathroom to scrub my face clean.

But in the end, you have to do something to validate to yourself your own experience. You might begin with the giggles to wiggle the crazy-awkward feelings off; but at some point, you also want to acknowledge the deeper issues... The questions...

You don't want to blame or shame this girl who didn't know any better (or, if she did, who just couldn't control her impulses); you aren't looking for a pound of her flesh. But it isn't over. Not yet.

It could be your own personal neurosis, your decades of training in observation & problem solving atypical behaviors, but you do have to wonder, "Why me?" Why did this girl single you out? And what had she singled you out for? Was it a 'good' feeling that she impulsively followed? Or was she agitated, acting out of anger? Whatever she was feeling, why did she find you so important to share it with or direct it at? And did you respond appropriately -- or have you somehow made things worse?

You don't know the answers; you won't know them. You wouldn't dream of asking for such things & making others uncomfortable (including your spouse who was there). But you can't ignore it all in the name of politeness either.

As a writer, you write it.
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