I stepped off the plane and was greeted by the fellow who was there to help get me from the gate to the baggage area. I told him immediately that I would walk up the long ramp into the airport. I am not good at walking, I have very poor balance, but if I go slow, hold my hand up against the wall touching it all the way, I can manage. It seems that the extra information from my fingertips on the wall assists with the balance. I don't like being pushed up hill. I know that I'm a big guy and I don't want to cause injury or stress for someone assisting me. The fellow walked a bit ahead of me at first and then, as I continued very slowly, he got up to the end of the ramp.
Just as I got there, I noticed him notice someone out in the gate area. He pointed his head back at me and then held up his arms wide, with his fingers held such like he was describing something very wide, and then puffed out his cheeks. All to indicate to someone through crude signs that I was hugely fat. Well, I am hugely fat, but I don't like being mocked or mimicked in any way. I was immediately angry. I mean I WAS RIGHT THERE. HE DID IT RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. I said to him, 'I saw what you did.' He looked over at me, grinning, as if it was a big joke and that my seeing it and being hurt by it made it even funnier.
I sat in my chair. By now I was winded and in my upset I'd lost my balance entirely. I was in danger of falling. Once seated I turned to him and said, 'You will not help me, get away from me and get away from me right now.' He started towards the back of the chair, obviously about to push me out into the gate area. I now shouted, 'If you touch this chair I will consider it assault, now get away from me and get out of here!!!!' The fellow at the gate, whomever was in charge, came over and I said, 'I saw what he did, he stood there in front of a gate full of people and mocked me, made fun of my weight, I will not be treated this way.' The mocker, didn't even try to deny what he had done, he just said, to the fellow, not to me, 'Sorry.'
I wanted then to make a complaint but the man wouldn't leave, he just stood there trying to muffle laughter. To him this was just plain funny. Maybe fat people look ridiculous when upset or something. I tried and tried to get the gate attendant to get him away from me. Finally he sent the fellow to help another passenger in a wheelchair. Right, when someone alleges that an assistance staff has engaged in abusive behaviour, send them to help others. Don't investigate the claim, don't take it seriously, just try to calm down one upset wheelchair user and act in complicity with the abuser by simply assigning them a different person. Good strategy. I wonder why there is so much abuse of people with disabilities - maybe it's because people just don't want to take it seriously.
Now, we are stuck at the gate. I notice when I roll myself out that there is an eerie quiet at the gate. They'd all seen a show and were waiting to see how it played out. I didn't realize, until later because I was upset, that many of them would have seen what he did. Any one of them could have spoken up. Not one of them did. They all, seemed by their silence, to either approve of what he did - he was only mocking a fat guy after all, it's not like he said anything racist or sexist or homophobic - or they disapproved of my loud complaint. I couldn't sit there in a room full of people who stared out the edges of their eyes. I pushed on to the elevator.
On the way to the baggage, I saw someone from the flight and spoke to her. I described what happened. I needed help to get to baggage but would not take help from someone who felt comfortable to make a joke about my size in front of me and in front of at least a hundred waiting for the next flight. After I told her what happened it actually took her a moment to say, 'Oh, right, he shouldn't have done that.' She clearly didn't see the seriousness of it, the effect that would have had on my sense of self and how difficult it would be to turn and face a room of people after they'd seen his crude imitation of me.
We got to the baggage under our own steam. I managed to get up several long ramps. Joe and I, together, got out and to the rental car.
I constantly hear about the 'power of one' ... the idea that one person can make a difference. Well one person can - but the difference they make is a choice. We need to remember that one person can lift a spirit but that another person can lift a gun. We need to remember that one person my choose to show kindness but that a hundred, individual, one persons can watch someone humiliate another and choose to say nothing. It is never 'one person' and 'many people' ... it's always, only and ever, 'one'.
I am as angry at the 'one person' who choose to make what had been a good flight an unpleasant one as I am at all those who watched, in silent approval - because silence is consent - as 'one man' openly humiliated 'one man'.
Joe said as we drove away, 'Don't forget check in, don't forget the ride, don't forget the people on the plane, don't forget the kindness in the face of the cruelty.' And he's right. That's why I told this story in stages. There was so many people, all individuals, who made the decision to be helpful and kind. I can't let 'one person make a difference'.
But gosh, that's hard.