He came around the corner, over by the wall of cheese, saw me, and gave a nod of recognition. We don't know each other, but we see each other around town. We always acknowledge each other in that sort of conspiratorial way that those who are different do to say, 'Hey, good to see you, good not to be alone here.' We've never spoken, just nodded, yet I feel there is some kind of friendly connection.
This time was different though, after he nodded, he smiled. A sweet smile that stopped short of a grin. He put his finger up, indicating that I was to wait for a second. I wasn't going anywhere, I was breakfasting at the long tables between two delis.
A fellow, sitting further down the table, turned to me and asked, "You know him."
I said, "Only to see him."
He muttered something that sounded like, "That's all it takes."
I was rankled but before I could think through what he was saying, the fellow was back. With him, and I'd never in all the years I've seen him round town, seen him with anyone, was a woman, a very pretty woman, who was also a chair user. She looked over to where he was pointing and gave a shy wave. Then they went off together sharing the grocery basket that he was carrying.
My heart leapt in my chest. He looked so happy. She looked so happy. They looked so in love. I had come to think of him as a very solitary man. I never thought of him as a sad man, just a solitary one. His choice, and it is a choice because many of the disabled or different I meet prefer to not recognize kinship, to acknowledge me tells me how he feels about community.
In fact the first time I saw him, he startled me, he has a facial and a physical difference. I remember thinking after seeing him the first time how it must be so difficult for him in a world that is so worshipful of beauty; the type you can see, let's be honest the world doesn't give a shit about any kind of beauty that isn't skin deep. I think, and I'm ashamed of myself for this, he saw my startled reaction to his difference, but he chose to acknowledge me anyway, he chose to give me a chance to redeem myself. I took it and nodded back. That was the first time I saw his smile. That was the first time I saw the generosity of his soul.
Now, he is in love.
Someone else has seen that generosity, that warmth, and fell.
"She's awfully pretty," said the fellow from down the table, "even though she's in a wheelchair."
"You are talking to someone in a wheelchair," I said.
He ignored my comment and continued, "How could she fall for someone who looks like that?"
Several realizations happened all at once. First he was speaking to me, as an equal, because the other fellow, my nodding acquaintance, difference was one he perceived as so great, so horrific, that my difference paled in comparison. I've seen this before, when my disability was moved higher on the valuation stick in comparison to someone else and as a result I became socially more acceptable, socially more valued. Second, he expected me to join him in his revulsion at the relationship we had just seen - he expected that there would be universal agreement that some are simply not lovable. I have been in that category most of my fat life, to this very day I am assumed to be this big rolling blob of the living unloved. Then Joe enters the room and smashes that all to shit. Third, I am sitting next to someone who simply can't empathize with those he sees as different, can't see how beautiful new love is - because it always is. These take up a lot of space in words but in thoughts they took a less than a second.
I heard pans banging in my soul.
And it was my resolution.
I turned to him after his comment and said, "At what point did you become a zombie?"
The question was so odd and so out of context he turned to me and said, "What the fuck do you mean by that?"
The pans were really loud now but I stayed calm, and I spoke in the calmest most gentle voice that I could muster, "Well, it's clear that you have a heart that has ceased beating. You see two people in love and can't respond with warmth. That makes you a kind of living dead doesn't it?"
I'd finished talking but I didnt' take my eyes off him. I looked at him waiting for an answer. He blustered about muttering to himself about me being ridiculous, me being an asshole. I didn't stop looking, I mean how often do you see zombies out and about?
I kept my gaze on him until he'd picked his stuff up and moved to another table.
The pans stopped banging in my head, because of course, they'd worked.
They'd driven evil away.