Last Saturday, I had a prenatal “Coping With Labor” class. It was basically an extensive “how to keep from freaking out when you’re in pain” workshop, and I was kind of feeling alienated. For one thing, Ethan had his final graduation project due in a few days, and couldn’t come to class with me – so I was the only person there without a partner. I hadn’t slept well, and I was trying really hard not to fall asleep throughout, and my voice was way lower than usual (because I was half asleep), and I didn’t think I was looking too hot (because I was half asleep)… basically, I wasn’t feeling too social or too confident. And when you combine an unsociable mood with 8 months of pregnancy, you seriously just don’t feel like talking to people.
When the nurse mentioned that some people like to listen to more “peppy” music than others during labor, my brain immediately started playing “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)”. That was stuck in my head until the class concluded, at which point my brain switched over to “Highway to Hell.” Wow, I thought. I’m ready for motherhood. I was starting to think I was a total freak.
On top of all this, I’m usually a very active person, and I try to go out of my way to help people around me. During pregnancy, however, I apparently Animorph into a gigantic slug. I have zero energy, and not enough brain power to finish a sentence. Over the past few months, I have become a vegetable of sorts. I’m here. I live. I just don’t usually feel like I contribute to society. And when I try, I usually end up hurting myself.
Long story short, Saturday morning I was on autopilot – and by about noon, when the prenatal class ended, I was kind of feeling sorry for myself. I stopped off at Arby’s on the way home (the baby was driving, apparently), went in, and ordered more food than I probably had room for. I tried to smile and be friendly and all that, but I was also avoiding talking to anyone unless I absolutely had to. I got my food and went to a back table, where people would be less likely to see me.
That’s when a guy came in, sauntered over to the corner table across my way, and dropped his backpack on a chair. He sat down for a few minutes, looked around him with a smile, and then stood up and walked around the restaurant. He walked in a circle around the tables, glanced at the menu, ordered nothing, then sat down again. A minute later, he got up and walked another lap around the Arby’s. I began to suspect he had some kind of mental disorder, but he was enthusiastic enough that I started smiling.
After taking another lap, he came up to me, pulled a receipt out of his pocket, and wrote something down on it. I wondered if he were Deaf, and needed me to order his food. (But why wouldn’t he just write it down for the cashier? I thought.) He handed me the receipt, and I saw the words, “Corn Chex” neatly written in the corner.
Dude, I thought. You are in the wrong establishment. I must have looked confused, because he took the receipt back. When he returned it, it said, “Corn Chex, 1.49.” “Cost,” he signed – and said, with a thick accent.
I was still confused. The price wasn’t the problem, I thought. I signed, “You bought it already?”
“No,” he signed.
“You can’t buy that here,” I signed back at him. He laughed at me, took back the receipt, and wrote, “Maceys” on it.
At this point, I figured it out. My brother has Autism, and he sometimes brings us scraps of paper with lists of his favorite things: Swedish Fish, M&Ms, names of girls he likes…. I realized this guy was just really excited that Corn Chex were on sale. I looked up at him, and he signed, “My favorite.”
Suddenly it made sense. This wasn’t a question; it was just awkward small talk. “Oh, I see,” I signed. “That is a good price. My favorite is Peanut Butter Crunch.”
He seemed to think that was a fine choice. He introduced himself: his name was David. I gave him my name. He then told me all about his three brothers, which of them were Hearing and which were Deaf, which were “real” brothers and which were step-brothers, in addition to his place in the family (firstborn). He also told me about his ex-girlfriend in Wisconsin, his opinion on Oreos, and how much he liked talking to pregnant women.
By this point, I was actually out of my self-pity shell and enjoying the conversation. There’s something extremely relaxing and low-risk about talking to someone without having to physically verbalize anything. It’s also refreshing to talk with someone who won’t judge you if you change the subject suddenly and almost violently without warning. We discussed quite a few of our favorite foods, and I advised him not to put Arby’s sauce on his Oreos. (He doesn’t; don’t worry. Just milk.)
This whole time, David hadn’t ordered anything. After about ten minutes, a woman approached me and said, “Hey, since you can talk to him – will you ask if I can buy him lunch?” He ordered a number 9 combo, and thanked the woman, who wished him a merry Christmas. By the time his food was ready, his brother had arrived, and the two of them sat down for a few minutes to eat. I eavesdropped while David told an elaborate pantomime about deer hunting. He was a very funny storyteller.
They left after a few minutes, and I finally started eating. By the time I was almost done, David came running back in, got my attention, and asked, “What’s your name? I forgot.”
“My name’s Rachel,” I signed.
“Merry Christmas!” he signed. Then he turned to the manager and said out loud, “Merry Christmas!” while signing it. His speaking voice wasn’t great, so the manager looked at me for a hint.
“Same to you,” I said (and signed). “Merry Christmas!” The manager figured it out and repeated the sentiment. Then David bounced happily out the door, and I finished my meal. I took a pit stop at the restroom, then came out and asked the manager for a water cup.
“That was really nice of you to talk to him,” said the manager as he handed me the cup.
All of the awkward came back, and I didn’t know what to say. “He started it,” I blurted out like a guilty six-year-old, then realizing that didn’t make any sense, I muttered, “Thanks,” and went to fill my water cup. Then I headed out to the car and just sat there for a while, thinking about what the manager had said. Why wouldn’t I have talked to him, I wondered?
Well, if I didn’t know sign. That would’ve made things difficult. So I guess there was that. I was probably the only person in the store who knew ASL. And then it occurred to me that David came and talked to me because I was noticeably pregnant. I was the only in the store who fit that criteria. And that woman wouldn’t have been able to offer to buy him lunch if she hadn’t seen me signing. And then I realized that most people didn’t have any experience carrying on a conversation that had absolutely no rhyme or reason. I might have been the only person in the whole store who had the skill (?) to start a conversation with the price of Corn Chex.
“God,” I said (to God), “Thanks for that. I mean… I’m awkward. But apparently, there are some other awkward people out there and I can still brighten their day.” It made me feel good to know that even when I’m feeling useless and weird, God still knows I want to help. And He can send somebody to help me, too – maybe someone who fits in about as well as I do.
Merry Christmas! ♥