Last week I took part in a kiosk that is selling my children's book, The Kiss, in a shopping center near where I live. Every time, I'm excited all over again to meet face to face with the buyers, the readers, and the ones who recognize me and have come to give their support along with those who are exposed to the book, and to me, for the first time.
In the 27 years that I've been alive (and in the 23 that I remember), I've stumbled upon thousands of different reactions to a first encounter with me. From my wheelchair, I've seen men who cried, women who screamed, children who laughed, religious people who ran, elders who came to give a loving hand and hundreds of people who put the words "cute" and "poor thing" in the same sentence. Oh, there was once, special and rare, when someone approached me in the middle of the street with no hint of what was to come, and simply asked -- "Excuse me, where is the nearest bus station?"
It's ok. All of these reactions are totally natural for a first encounter with a figure that is in a physical state we have never seen before, one who does not appear with the perfect and beautiful models in the media. I was never hurt or insulted, but it upsets me to learn that this is the reality. And last week, at that same stand, I got another reminder of the sterility people are trying to live in.
Among the thousands of passers-by of the stand, was a mother with her two children trailing behind. While the mother moved forward with her eldest daughter, the little boy stopped right in front of me, stood there, and smiled. Then, he pointed his little finger right at me and called aloud, "Mom! Look! What happened to him?!" The mother, in surprising hysteria, ran back, taking the pointed hand of her cute son, dragging him and the hand away, while giving him a fiery deafening speech: "What have I told you?! Behave! It is not allowed to point or to go near!" The curious smile of the boy turned now into a face frightened by monsters in the middle of the night.
And so, in a moment of wanting to keep to the politically correct rules, the mother enforced, in my eyes, a line of separation that I have spent my life trying to erase. The natural curiosity of the boy, who had stumbled upon something he had never seen before, was now covered by panic. That panic will make him think twice the next time he wishes to approach something unfamiliar to him. He, indeed, didn't get a simple answer as to what happened to me, but what happened to him while trying to figure it out, he'll probably remember pretty well.
We all, naturally and overwhelmingly, develop prejudice, fears and reluctances of the unknown. And so, this same reluctance might make it so we miss people along the way. People who could have integrated into our lives in a very meaningful way as friends, partners, workers, or even as a lovemate. Every day, I'm required to defuse the first impression my appearance brings with it, and prove I'm much more than just a pretty face. My words here, and the rest of my blabber around the net, by the way, are part of the plot.
Maybe that is why I was sorry for that incident at the shopping center. While actually trying to give a lesson in manners and politeness, that panicked mother made her son miss out, but mostly she herself missed out on a much more important lesson -- a lesson in vanishing monsters.