He was sitting, at a table in a busy food court, looking very, very, alone. He kept an eye on his mom who was in the line up to pick up some lunch for them. Across from him were a table where sat two elderly couples. They had noticed that he had Down Syndrome. They were staring at him. Pointing at him Talking about him. They knew he could hear them. They didn't care.
I have marinated in the bullshit behaviour of others for my whole life. A fat kid, a fat adult, a fat elderly wheelchair user. I have been looked at, judged, examined and vilified my whole life. People made the assumption that they could speak to me about me, speak to others about me, freely, my body has always been, in their minds, permission.
It never has been.
As an adult now I confront those who stare, and I have a look that silences those whose lives are so empty that they need to talk about the body of a stranger. I can handle myself. I can leave without the heat of the judgement leaving burns on my skin. But it wasn't always so. When I was young, it hurt so much, words fail me.
And as an adult, I can use what I know. I can take action. I grabbed the wheels of my chair and pushed over. I came to a stop right between the table of the two couples and that of the boy alone. I parked there. They would have needed to stand to continue to feast their eyes on his difference.
They had me. They had bigger difference to see.
But I sat and stared at them.
I said nothing.
I stared at them and slowly shook my head.
In moments, their trays were picked up and they were gone. And he was safe. I rolled away.
His mother was returning to him with lunch and he was reaching up to her. She set the lunch down and hugged him. She maybe wondered why he needed it so badly right then. But she was a good mom, it only mattered that he needed her love, the reason why could wait.