Friday, May 9, 2014

The Grocery Stories

Since cutting my hair (which I'm still not thrilled with) and becoming brain damaged (STILL not thrilled by that either) I haven't been hit on often. At all. That I know of. It used to be an annoying and inexplicable fact of my curious existence. Even when I was with Huck, they wouldn't hit on me specifically, but they would catch Huck's eye and nod. I wondered if Huck had some secret gay life until Huck explained to me that this was man-code for acknowledging another man's ability to catch a great fish from this great sea.

As explored before, this whole thing bewilders me.  Growing up, I was not "the cute one."  My little sister was and people fawned over her with abandon, at times not even acknowledging my existence.  And she took advantage of the attention, teasing me about how much cuter she was than I. To make matters worse, my mother gave me hair cuts I didn't want.  I cried all night when I got them.  She loved her "bi-level" (AKA Mullette) and longed to spread the joy, telling me I needed a bi-level too because my face was too long, my forehead too big and for some reason, to balance out all this ugliness, I had to get ugly hair cuts too. And on top of that, I had a teeter-totter accident which triggered my mouth to make extra teeth... er... an extra TOOTH, that perched in the middle of my mouth, a giant crack across it. I required multiple surgeries and years of braces to work it all out. In the mean time the kids called me "Saber-tooth Sara," occasionally breaking up the monotony with "Snaggle-tooth."  And I didn't mind.  Because that's all I saw in the mirror too. In addition, many of my clothes were hand-me-downs from the neighbor girl of a totally different coloring.  I looked horrible in those clothes, but they were clothes and my mother always insisted that "life is not a fashion show!" and I had to wear them no matter how they made me feel. Although, it turns out that life is just a little bit of a fashion show, actually. I have always hated looking at photos of myself as a child because they slip me back in to these well-worn neural pathways: that ugly hair, that ugly tooth, those ugly clothes, ugly me.  I have layers and layers, a veritable lasagna, of ugly-girl issues and being hit on has always been bewildering.

10: Trying so hard to feel pretty in my neighbor's annoying clothes
Biologically/evolutionarily, most girls want to be pretty. Fight it as we may, it's a normal fact of being human. Our culture gives us the standards (and we pray those standards are attainable, not near-death experiences), but the desire to meet those standards is standard issue human genetics. And there's also something about pretty that can't be ordinary.  I don't know why.  I don't have this all figured out. I can counter this base desire to be pretty with my good feminist ideals, but pretty is pretty primitive. Nota Bene: 1) pretty is not the most important thing in a person 2) pretty is still unavoidably important to most humans and it's okay to want it. I have read ridiculous essays about how you should never tell girls they're pretty.  We can spin this as religious (vanity!) or mid-guided feminism, but it's all the same thing and it's not going to get the results you want.  It will just leave a girl subject to the vagaries of the beauty industry and the first moron who calls her pretty.  We don't need to emphasize pretty, note it first and foremost, but to ignore it altogether is to pretend away millions of years of evolution.

As a younger child, I was stung by my supposed lack of cute-ness, but my longing to be pretty was on the back burner and did not find a place in my ineffectual, fervent prayers.  My mid-night pinings as a child were 1) to be wise as Solomon and 2) to have red hair (it's now black and gray). In my preteens, pretty would find it's way into my prayers, but those prayers shifted from the non-red-hair-granting dude upstairs, to the more real seeming moon beams that shimmered down through my sky-light on to my bed in my short attic room.  I felt ashamed and shallow for my vain prayers of vanity, but now I understand, I was a biological being, wondering how I would fulfill my biological destiny.

8: Just ignore the tooth and playground hair and tell me I'm pretty in my favorite dress
Instead of being hit on, the only time a stranger has approached me since my head injury was to get in my face at the grocery store and call me "confused and retarded."  I could see his point. This is a snap shot of me grocery shopping in those days, about a year ago: sunglasses (to keep out the glare from the bright overhead lights), earplugs (to keep out the fuzzy music and annoying announcements), a loosely fitted baseball cap pulled down over my eyes (to keep all of the unnecessary packaging and signage from overwhelming me), and moving slowly to avoid the zooming sensation that having no peripheral vision produces when you move.  But I couldn't ever move as slowly as I wanted to because there was always a time limit on how long I could be in a store.  I tried to rationalize his comment, which unfortunately made it through my foam earplugs, saying he was probably talking to himself, or that it was just like being hit on with someone breaking in to your private world to tell you want they think of you, as if you needed to know.  But it really wasn't like being hit on very much. I could tell because this comment stung my eyes like onions and the words punched me in my stomach. Someone checking me out or saying hello never did that.

This is just one of the many reasons I don't really like people any more. In theory, people are amazing.  But the reality is iffy. I mean, there are some that I like because I trust them, but strangers, man, fuck strangers.  I have no idea what I'm going to get from them. And my mind is not fast enough on it's feet to handle the wide variety of possible interactions. I also don't feel like explaining myself any more, which can increase awkwardness.  I look normal, why don't I act normal? It's actually none of your business. I used to blurt out to people that I'd had a head injury and didn't understand things anymore. I can engage with people pretty normally now, with people that I know.  But with people I don't know, or people I know I can't trust, I still talk very slowly and can get lost in my own sentence. The impulse to explain myself is still there, but suppressed under some amount of resignation and cynicism. There was a time I wanted to explain; I hoped that people would be better if they knew there was medical reason why my IQ points all seemed to be scattered like bowling pins. But I've come to realize that if you're an asshole, you're just an asshole, facts aren't really something that will transform you into being the good person I hoped you were.

At one store, the staff has to ask the customers what we're up to today.  It's the new "how are you."  So a while ago, I worked really hard to sort out the question and finally I responded honestly: "I don't know."  I keep a list in my car and a pile of sticky notes on the dashboard.  Each note has the time and place I need to be written in sharpie.  When I get there, I discard the top note so that when I get back in the car I see the next place I am supposed to be and when.  Without these devices that I organize the night before, I can get pretty lost. Although I am getting much better and can actually go without the sticky notes some days. But back then, I was not better and without looking at my cheat sheets, I really had no idea what I was up to. And just as I was leaving, I suddenly remembered, in my own head, all by myself, where I was going next, so I blurted it out, "Neuro-psychology!!!"  "What's that?" the cashier laughed.  "I have a head injury!" Oh goody! I was remembering everything! And in a grocery store with lights and noise! What a success! "I go to learn how to interact with people. She explains people to me and tells me why they do things! And how I can think better!" By the look on that cashiers face I realized that this is not something you yell about excitedly at the grocery store. But then she wanted to know everything: how I got hit, would I ever get better, will I ever work again. It was kind of weird and confusing and she was a little judgmental, with a dose of "Well, you look fine to me!" (Here I thought she was a cashier, but she's actually an expert both in medicine and me! You would not believe how many medical experts are peppered about disguised as cashiers and middle school teachers and office managers. Some days, I just want to draw a fake scar on my head so I don't have to explain or endure the 20 questions, I'll-be-the-judge-of-that-myself, and well-you-look-fine-to-me ignorant ridiculousness).  There's a nice way to say this, actually: Coyote's Dentist, "Wow. I never would have guessed. You look great."

I am definitely better than that now.  And also I would not bother to dig in my head for personal information for a format question from a cashier. But I am also not quite up to "flirty repartee" levels of human interaction. And that is where this little discourse brings us.

7: Lucky Seven, freckled with love
I was digging in the bulk peanuts at our local natural food grocery which shares the same name as my husband. Also in this aisle was a man facing the other direction, looking at the wine.  He had this salt and pepper hair, like a younger Richard Gere and he was wearing a very expensive looking cashmere overcoat and suit.  I mean, I actually don't know a thing about expensive suits and over coats, but to my untrained po-dunk-city eye it looked exquisitely expensive, nicer than anything I've ever seen in person.  I couldn't bring myself to look him over the rest of the way, I was so overwhelmed my the beauty of his hair (am I old enough to be checking out men with gray streaked hair?! wonders the woman with gray-streaked hair) and his suit.  Now, I have heard that this wealth is attractive to women and I have thought myself above all of this evolutionary non-sense.  I had talked myself out of the idea that pretty mattered to me and I was fairly convinced that I had out-evolved my species into being a sapiosexual, turned on by intelligence alone. It's not that money-ed men are completely foreign to me; I'd once dated a man who owned personal jets and had bodyguards, but that was all secondary to his adorable Ghandi look and sweet disposition. But there were not even words at this here store, just the look of money. I am apparently not that evolved. Surprised and confused by myself, I returned to my task of scooping out peanuts for pad thai.

But then the cashmere coat said "hi."  And there was no one else around, so I guessed it was either me, or his bluetooth. So, without really looking him in the eye, I cocked my head in his direction and said "hi."  I actually have no idea what he looked like, really.  I couldn't look him fully in the face because I had the distinct feeling that he was so beautiful that I would burst in to flames if I actually looked him in the face, like he was God. For all I really know, he may have been a wall-eyed, chinless salamander. But I couldn't risk exploding into to flames, not in the grocery store.
And I hoped that little "hi" would satisfy him and end this exchange because I noticed that I was wearing clothes completely unworthy of a cashmere overcoat. I was wearing jeans that seriously needed a belt ("Oh, that was it." Huck said later).  I was wearing a slouchy, very old (but still quite serviceable) red bamboo hoodie, unzipped.  And beneath that, the piece de resistance, a garish purple tee-shirt with a giant white unicorn on it and advice of dubitable merit: "Always be yourself, unless you can be a unicorn, then always be a unicorn." Blue got if for me for Christmas.  Also, I had the feeling that I was breaking out, right at that moment.("I don't see a thing," Huck said later.)

9: Unicorns FOREVER, Baby!
So then the beautiful suit leans in and says, "No, I mean hiiii."  And I could understand nothing about this moment. This stranger was not being an asshole. But just what was this man, this money-ed alpha-male doing? He just thought he'd dress up in the fanciest suit Spokane has ever seen, head out to the store, pick up a $62 bottle of wine (I noticed) and a unicorn-festooned, pimply-faced, married floozy from the health food store?  Or was he looking to get high, and thought I looked like a likely supplier? Did he know me, but had just forgotten my name (that actually happened once... I was worried I was being hit on, but it turns out some guy I'd known in India with was just trying to get my attention but couldn't remember my name)? Or was he really just being nice? Did he maybe need directions somewhere? Or was he actually letting me know he thought I, lowly little me, was... pretty?

So, carefully avoiding eye contact with the god, I groaned loudly. And ran.

What the hell is wrong with me? Discuss.

Kidding, Please don't.

I'm addressing this with trained professionals. If this little silly episode has one thing to show me, it's that I want to re-open myself up to goodness. In order to do that, I feel I need to be able to weather the bumps of general human interaction too. And I'm not sure I'm there yet. But with each positive interaction, I want to open up a little more to the world.

Around this time, some childhood photos surfaced... one's I've never seen before, ones without any standard neural pathways. And for the first time, I saw myself through my own eyes, unclouded by the opinions of the adults of my childhood.  I saw myself without comparison to my little sister, as others always had. I saw the little girl in those photos and she was gorgeous, eyes full of dreams and mischief and life.  Beautiful. Shame on the grown-ups for not having noticed. I'm not going to follow in their footsteps, step in line with their narratives. I wanted to reach through time, and chub that cherub's cheeks and tell her, yes, you are as beautiful as a person can be. She always has been and she always will be, forever, and nothing anyone ever said changes that.  And I like to say that nothing anyone says in any grocery store can add or subtract to the truth. But that "hi" really did help and that "retarded" really did hurt.  So lets say that I strive for a solid sense of inner beauty that's untouchable by this volatile world. That child, me, I am beautiful. And by beautiful I mean beautiful and loveable and worthy of all the good things life has. I feel ridiculous going on about my inner child, but it feels true, and it seems that the best way to dispose of that lasagna of ugly-girl issues and disability vulnerability is to go back in time, inside me. That precious child is still here. And she deserves
to know the truth.

Chillin' at Bloedell with the Cool Kids

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