Maybe, if I post every time this happens, abled people will stop thinking that this sort of thing is rare.
A while back I was sitting by the restaurant in Ikea and using my phone while I waited for Marvin to buy some things.
I was seated at one of four high-backed chairs arranged around a low coffee table. Across the table from me was a stranger, his young son sat in the chair to the right of me, and his daughter, who was about nine-years-old, sat on the floor at the coffee table. She was colouring and her brother was playing on a DS.
Their father stared at me while pretending he wasn’t. It’s pretty obvious when someone is watching you from eight feet away, though. I didn’t get angry vibes so I wasn’t concerned and just pointedly ignored him while catching Pidgey after Pidgey.
My phone had a semi-transparent, soft plastic case on it. I usually covered it with cute stickers. At that time, it had large words written in sharpie on the back that said, “It’s rude to stare”.
I was absorbed in my game when the stranger across from me laughed suddenly, loudly, and pointed me out to his daughter.
“Her phone says, ‘It’s rude to stare’,” he said.
He chuckled and looked at my face, expecting an explanation.
I stared at him.
He stared back.
“Oh, yeah. People stare at me a lot,” Just like you were, I thought. I waved my phone to show off the words. “So I wrote that on there. So, yeah.”
I went back to my game. Guy chuckled again.
“Really, people stare at you? Why?” He asked.
I looked up from my phone. I stared at him.
He stared back. I raised my eyebrows. He kept waiting for an answer.
I held up the butterfly-printed cane that had been leaning against my legs by way of explanation. “Sometimes I use a walker or wheelchair, too.”
“And people stare?” He pressed.
“Yep,” I said shortly.
“Wow. Well, you know, I think it’s probably because of their own personal fear.”
I seriously bristled at that. The tone was awful, really patronizing.
“Yeah. Seeing disabled people in public is a real shock. We remind people of their own mortality,” I said humourlessly, adding in some sarcastic laughter for good measure. I tried to signal my disinterest by lowering my head and leaning over my phone screen.
“Yeah-” he said, charging full speed ahead like he didn’t even need me for this conversation. He clearly had something to say all prepared.
"And you know, it’s funny. But I used to be scared of- people- people with disabilities,” he said, with a smile and lean-in, touching his fingertips together, making me want to punch his face.
I was in a bit of social shock. I just kept thinking, are you kidding me? This Ikea food court confession is happening right now, huh?
“Not physical disabilities, but mental disabilities.”
He was so smarmy, you guys. When he said that, I think my soul left my body. And I had no idea how to either respond or extricate myself reasonably.
I hesitated, looked from this guy to his children, who were watching the exchange with awkward interest.
“Oh. Uh. Well, I’m autistic, so…” I let my words trail off. To this day I have no idea where that sentence would have gone.
“Oh. Oh! But I mean, you can’t tell,” he turned tomato red. “You’re so well-spoken and- I guess you could say that you have really overcome.”
As he was fumbling, I was giving him an exaggerated but sincerely felt grimace and an unimpressed "ehhh”.
At his pronouncement of my overcoming, I sat up straight and said, loudly and pissed enough that his children started looking worried, “Uh, yikes. No.”
Guy’s daughter looked like she would rather he did anything but continue talking, but that’s what he did. Like any allistic abled white dude worth his salt /s, he powered through, ignoring my obvious and projected displeasure.
“But, I mean. In school, it’s funny, because it ended up that most of my friends were handicapped. I guess I kind of protected them-” His voice took on an artificially soft, sticky quality. It was at this moment that I snapped.
“Okay. I’m going to cut you off there,” I said. I put my hand up. His tomato face spoiled.
“What? Why?” He seemed torn between expressing frustration and wanting to appear kind-hearted and open-minded in front of his children.
“Well. Uh. Ugh,“ I looked at his kids, wondering how harsh or how kind I should be. I hated that he put me in this spot. In that moment I hated him so much.
"Well, you’re saying a lot of stuff that non-disabled people think is nice to hear, but it’s not. It’s just- it’s just not.” I knew it was pointless to try to explain. My words were failing fast. He didn’t really care, anyway.
“I wouldn’t even be able to explain it to you,” I shrugged.
He gaped at me. Now he was angry. This wasn’t going how he had wanted it to.
“I know you’re coming from a good place. But it’s not nice. It’s just not… yeah.” I gripped the handle of my cane in one hand and my phone, Pokémon Go forgotten, in the other. I fought the urge to literally run away. I felt the surreal pressure of my behaviour being one of these kids’ formative disability-related experiences.
“Oh. Uh. Well. Okay. Sorry,” he said, embarrassed, not sorry. “And uh, thanks for saying that,” he said, trying to get me back. I looked away.
“I just-” he started. Even his children looked unhappily surprised that he was trying for that last word.
“I just want to say that you’re great.”
I didn’t look at him. I smiled at his daughter, who smiled back out of habit, more confused than anything. His son looked down at his DS, secondhand embarrassment turning him red too.
“Hmm. Well, your kids seem nice,” I offered breezily.
After that, I moved away from the circle of green chairs and sat in an uncomfortably high stool in the corner. I hid there, head down, my hands shaking very slightly, feeling paranoid. Like I failed. And that my friends, is ableism.