I was at a Ross the other day. I love Ross. There is one by my son’s school, and on the days I don’t feel like laptopping at Starbucks, I walk around in their exceptional summer air conditioning while having riveting conversations with myself about my need for their various wares.
“Becca, this is a $3 cutting board! That’s tough to beat.”
“Truth, B. But do you really need a cutting board when the only thing you buy is prepared food from Trader Joe’s?”
“Bec, look! Cute and flowy boho pajama bottoms!”
“OMG, Rebecca, do not buy those. We both know that you will pretend those are pants and start wearing them to Trader Joe’s.”
On my most recent visit, I decided that I did, in fact, need the $3 cutting board, and headed to the checkout. There was a line about five people deep, and I took my place at the end. Two spots ahead of me was a woman, maybe in her early thirties, wearing a wildly bright flowing floral dress. Her slip-on tennis shoes were hot, hot pink and her necklace was huge, plastic and aqua. Topping off this explosion of color was a grapefruit-sized yellow daisy pinned in her short brown hair. I glanced up from my phone to check her out, not because of what she was wearing, but because she started talking.
I could tell from the timber of her voice, her manner of speaking and her movements that she had a disability. She wore it as loudly as she wore that flower in her hair.
As she waited in line, this woman, this vibrantly colorful woman, joyfully talked to those in line next to her. She was tickled pink about finding an awesome, bedazzled green iPhone case and she was loudly giddy about the neon-striped socks she grabbed from the clearance bin. She told the people in line next to her about her shopping finds with an enthusiasm I reserve for things like weight loss and Powerball.
Her joy was palpable, her enthusiasm contagious. This woman marched to a beat of a different, and much happier, drummer than I do. And yet, I stood there watching her with a knot in my stomach and tears threatening the corners of my eyes.
Despite the spirited outfit, despite the huge flower in her hair and the over-sized, aqua necklace that clanked against her cart when she reached in, despite her loud, verbal enthusiasm that she diffused in every direction – despite all of her efforts to be noticed, this woman was completely invisible.
No one said a word. No one made eye contact and no one engaged. The best she received was a tight-lipped smile from the woman in front of her. The colorful woman didn’t understand that smile, but I did. That smile said, I don’t want to be rude, but please leave me alone. I am uncomfortable.
Moments like this really get me. They sink into my gut and get stuck in my throat. They turn my brain into a crystal ball and I see my son in ten, fifteen, twenty years. Take away the passion for color and replace it with airplanes, and this woman is my son. Too loud, too passionate, too unaware of which smiles are friendly and which are not.
Decked in head-to-toe color and engaged in a passionate monologue mere inches away from the next person in line, this woman was impossible to ignore. And yet, ignored she was.
I blinked hard and cleared the lump from my throat, and practically yelled from the end of the line. “THAT is the coolest phone cover ever!” I knew I was over-compensating, mingling her life with my son’s. I didn’t care.
She snapped her head up and the glee in her face was unmistakable to me. It was unmistakable because it was the exact same open and pure expression my son gives when someone mentions airplanes.
She held up the green phone cover and reached it towards me, ignoring the people between us, so I could get a better look. Eyes wide, she said, “YEAH! They are really hard to find. This is for an iPhone 5! Most cases are for an iPhone 6. And I LOVE green! What are YOU buying?”
I showed her my $3 cutting board. She reacted like I, too, had found a green, glittery phone cover.
“WOW!!! Will you cut apples on it?”
“I will definitely cut apples on it.”
She laughed, throwing her head back, the grapefruit flower bobbing up and down. “Apples are my favorite! I LOVE APPLES!”
A little quieter, I replied, “Apples are my son’s favorite, too.”
When it was her turn to check out, she chatted up the cashier, carefully counted out her dollars and cents, and took her receipt and her bag of colorful treasures. I saw her rideshare van waiting for her just beyond the doors. Before she left, she turned around, waved heartily to me, and shouted, “Nice talking to YOU! Say HI to your son!”
I will, my new friend, I will. I just hope other people do, too.
Rebecca Masterson is a writer, speaker, and an advocate for children. For more from Rebecca, follow her on Instagram.