A* has intimidated my entire grade since we were in our early teens. He’s tall, broad, staring and deep-voiced. One might think his stutter could even out the playing field a bit, but it simply gives him an additional edge: it’s ominous.
When his legs were hurt this summer, my friend and I wanted to go visit him in the hospital to be nice and show we cared. But what do you bring with you to visit someone you don’t really know? I had no clue as to what to bring, say or do. So I went with what I know: writing. I wrote him a card. Damn that stupid card.
We got there and instantly felt out of place, because his friends were there and he didn’t really know us that well. And we were intimidated. We tried to stick as close to the wall as possible to leave room for the people he actually liked to be near him. We kind of wanted to leave, but we were dependent on busses to get home and we didn’t want to wait outside the hospital for forever. So we stood, awkwardly, praying we disappeared into the background.
Finally, an hour later, it was time to go catch our bus. But I was still holding the letter that I’d taken out of my bag as we’d entered, and had since clasped in my clammy claws of hands. Eventually I said, “Where can I put this?” and he said, “Here, you can give it to me.” I passed it to him, wanting to snatch it back and burn it.
Months later, I was sitting in the school lobby and looked up to see him standing next to me. Standing. I squeaked out “hi!” (Intimidated).
“Hey. How are you?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine. You’re walking!”
“Limping,” he corrected, and thus ended our interaction.
After that, they told us in class to bring our gym clothing for the next day, because A was going to teach us some self-defense. A few weeks before there had been an incident with a knife outside our school that ended, thankfully, with no injuries, but with an injured sense of security.
Knowing I wouldn’t be able to participate fully, I decided to at least dress the part. I might stand out because of everything else, but I refuse to stick out because of my clothing. So I come in my t-shirt, leggings and sneakers, and slowly take in that everyone else on the field is dressed normally. So much for that.
I also knew that I would have to let A and the other instructor know in advance that I wouldn’t be taking part in everything and I would be more of an observer. In theory, that part shouldn’t have been so bad.
Except that I miscalculated how far away they were from me. I started off at my normal walking pace, which I wouldn’t call slow but also can’t categorize as fast. If they hadn’t looked up I would have been fine. I would have had my time to collect my thoughts and call out to them in my own time. But they looked up, and saw me coming from a distance. They halted their conversation and focused on watching me approach them. Let me stress this: they were just standing there, watching me walk to them. Eye contact? Yeah, there was some of that. Awkward eye contact? Yeah, heaps of that. I kept walking and walking and walking and it felt like I might never reach them.
Then came the dilemma: do I speed up, now that they see me coming? I mean, these hulks of men might get impatient and why would I want to add fire to their wrath? But I decided to stick to my original pace, feeling that that might exude a sense of calm and normalcy about my gait. Once I was within earshot, one of them called out, “Hi.”
“Hi,” I said. Steady breaths. I didn’t feel as short as I thought I would, but that didn’t improve things much. “So here’s the thing I have health problems and I can’t participate in everything but it’s okay I came to watch and I’ll do what I can and it will all be fine so yeah thanks.” And breathe.
Okay. So, I guess I leave now… right? I said what I came to say, but they’re still looking at me. Deciding once again that consistency is best, I turn around walk away from them at my steady pace, except I now feel their eyes on my back (or butt? *Nervously tugs down the hem of her T-shirt*).
Did he read my card? As the thought occurs to me during my time-consuming departure from them, I’m almost sure they can see my blush through the back of my head. He never said anything. I never said anything. Did he read it? Does he think I’m stupid? Am I stupid?
Uh oh, hell no, how do I stop these thoughts? Well, having to turn around and face them as they called us to attention was probably not the best way. Turns out that they were following me, about five paces behind me (of course).
The value of the self-defense that I learned most probably outweighs the discomfort I felt for a few hours, and will likely stick with me for much longer, so I’m going with positivity for this case.
Until the next time I cross paths with A….
And the only solution was to stand and fight, and my body was bruised and I was set alight. -If Only For A Night, Florence and the Machine
*Want to guess what A is short for? Leave it in the comments, and get creative!