|Image description: 5 word bubbles sayin: no thanks, no, uh, nope, no.
We had finished our shopping and, as is our habit, I left Joe to go through the line and pay for the groceries while I headed over to a small shop to buy the week's lottery tickets. It costs exactly 14 dollars to buy one of each of the tickets for the draws which occur through the week. Added to this I picked up a couple of 'scratch and lose' tickets as well.
There was a new fellow working at the desk and his nervousness showed when it came to figuring out the cost. He counted it out in his head and then, after bagging the tickets, he pulled them out and did it again on the computer. He apologized, I told him I was in no hurry.
Once he was sure of the price and I'd paid him. I took the bag from the counter. A fellow, just a couple years younger than me, was standing off to my right. He had been politely waiting, and I nodded a thanks to him when he stepped back a bit to allow me to move the scooter.
Then out of nowhere ...
Because of course people feel free to make comment on people with disabilities who dare to be out in public ...
Because our lives are invitation for intrusion ...
Because difference is a magnet for inappropriateness ...
He said to me, indicating with a glance the bag I held in my hand, "Do you ever think about how easy it would be for someone to rob you. I could grab that bag and be gone into the subway, you'd never catch me."
I didn't know then and don't know now what the appropriate response to that should be. No witty rejoinder comes to mind.
Of course I know I am more vulnerable than others. I know it personally because I feel it deeply. I know it statistically because I am aware of the research on crimes against people with disabilities. I know it. Everyone with a disability knows it.
But, of course, I don't feel vulnerable all the time. I wasn't feeling vulnerable until he spoke. I was feeling safe, in a store I knew, following a routine I've done a hundred times or more.
You may be wondering what I said to him. I said nothing. That's right nothing. I just stared at him. Like really stared. I wanted to really see him. This ordinary looking man, in ordinary looking clothing, doing an ordinary task, who felt he could be extraordinarily cruel to a stranger, who was he? My stare made him uncomfortable so to deal with it, he asked me again, this time laughing like he'd made a joke. My stare didn't waver, my lips didn't smile. He broke the moment by stepping forward and asking to buy some lottery tickets.
I backed out of the store.
On the way home I told Joe about what happened and then, I paid attention. By the time I got home I can say definitely that not once on the trip back did I feel especially vulnerable. That man's words stayed with him, they didn't come with me. He didn't manage to 'freak me out' as I would have said many years ago. He didn't manage to make me feel fear. I had managed to reject his gift of anxiety.
I may be vulnerable in many ways, but apparently no longer to the bullshit of strangers.