I just don’t want to die a stupid death. “Did you hear about Jeremy?”
“No, what happened?”
“He was pumping gas and smoking a cigarette and accidentally mistook the car’s gas tank for an ashtray. He blew up.” Ouch
Which is pretty unlikely since I’ve never smoked. But a stupid way to die nonetheless.
“Did you hear about Jeremy? He was driving in the mountains and watching Netflix. He accidentally drove off the side of a cliff because he wasn’t paying attention. He just so happened to be watching Thelma and Louise.“
All of my life I’ve vied for attention in most settings. I can talk over people in school. Try to upstage anyone in a play. Compete at an obnoxious level. Preach. I like the center of attention when I want it. It just so happens that I usually want it too much. It’s probably some need to be recognized and adored which I suppose many people want.
At the same time, I don’t like to be centered out for bad attention. I was in science class in 8th grade at a new school in Florida trying to make friends with my irresistible charm when my teacher said, “I don’t know how they act in Alabama, but we don’t act like idiots down here.” That’s not really the attention that I was looking for- I never spoke again in that class.
Over the last several years, Tiffanni has been hyper-aware of the attention that she draws. She hates when a kid sits beside us at Dairy Queen because kids stare. Like, bore a hole into your soul. And they usually choreograph what they’re thinking with their facial expressions. I’ve seen kids, eyes peeled back with raisin-furrowed foreheads, and I’ve seen kids with mouth snarls of disgust. I always try to distract Tiff. As clueless as she is sometimes, she catches all of the gawking glares.
I don’t say anything to the kids. I don’t even make faces back at them. I don’t know what it is about being different, but it draws attention. That’s why we all stare when we see someone handicapped, or a little person, someone with a deformity, a transvestite, even a couple with eight kids, or anything that is different. I saw Noah Galloway (the wounded veteran from Dancing with the Stars) at the movies yesterday and caught myself staring at his partially amputated arm. Dragging a stumbling, lumbering Tiffanni on my arm and staring at another “different” person- what an odd combo.
Two years ago I took Tiffanni and the girls to Melting Pot after our Christmas Village estrogen extravaganza. We had a great night with a lot of fun and talking, and on our way back to the car, I was escorting Tiffanni slowly, I heard Addyson scream, “Shut-up you stupid idiot!” as she raced by me and threw herself into the car. Just before I could fuss at her, “We don’t talk like that young lady,” I opened her door and said tenderly, “What’s wrong, what happened?”
“Those boys were making fun of mom. They were laughing at her saying that she was drunk.” I hate the wrong kind of attention for myself, but what I hate more than that is when my kids get the wrong kind of attention because of something they have no control over. Our world can be cruel and oblivious at the same time.
And that’s just it, how can a person be so conspicuous, receive so much attention and yet rarely be noticed? Not noticed in the unseen sense, because they get plenty of that, but not noticed. Not recognized for their personhood, their humanity. I get it, she’s different now, but fully alive, fully human. There’s a reason that the nursing homes have empty hallways.
Someone asked me several years ago what my greatest need was, “How can I help?”
I told them, “Just notice Tiffanni, make her feel like although things have changed, she’s seen.” And my people have done very well with that. She still gets shower invitations, lunch invites, and phonecalls.
Everyone wants to be noticed for their humanity, not for their uncontrollable differences. And Tiffanni is no different. Or maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s me that needs her to be noticed for her normalcy and overlooked despite her unique needs instead of the other way around. While I try to pretend like nothing has changed, it’s the gawking that I catch in my peripheral that snap me out of my unreality. There are a lot of stupid ways to die, but none worse than a death that no one realized ever happened.
* I know that many of you read this with a desire to be inspired and uplifted. Today just isn’t one of those days. Thank you for loving us in the easy days and the days that aren’t so much.