Personal Writings

Social Discomfort

Throughout this past week, I have found myself continually surprised during social interactions. The surprise has been mild, shocking only in it’s frequency.

On Monday I went swimming. I had been completely alone, but as I was finishing up a man walked into the pool area. I stalled, hoping that he’d use the sauna or steam room which would allow me to exit the pool without an audience, but to my dismay he sat in a chair directly opposite from the stairs. Now I should be clear that in my case the change from water to land is not remotely graceful. My limbs may resemble human anatomy, but when I am in the water I’m pretty sure they become fins, and when I emerge it is without Ursula’s magical, if manipulative, abilities. Unfortunately I could not stay in the pool indefinitely and, essentially crawling, I emerged from the water. Turning around on shaking legs I plastered a smile on my face with my chin raised, only to find that the man had deliberately turned his head away, giving me privacy. He did not turn back until I was gone.

On Tuesday I went to the gym. After I finished my workout I slowly got off of the machine, a little unsteady. As I leaned against the wall for a minute, finishing my water before bending down to pick up my walking poles, a lady on another machine asked if I needed any help. I smiled and thanked her, but refused, saying that I just needed a minute. I then slowly reached down, only to hear her exclaim in frustration ‘I can’t watch this!’, and she leaped off of the elliptical, grabbed my bag and poles, and cleared a wide path for me through the gym.

These two situations were not isolated incidents. Multiple times this past week, strangers and old friends have acted differently than I expected them to, sometimes in acts of kindness, sometimes not, and sometimes following another category entirely such as a stranger who performed magic tricks for my friend and I as we sat catching up at Granville Island this afternoon.

And that’s wonderful. After all, in my last post I claimed that I wanted change. Is that not what the unexpected is?

And yet, after most of these encounters I found myself feeling a little strange, a little despondent. It took me a long time to figure out why. At first I thought it was because these interactions magnified my condition and its reach, how it snaked its way even into my engagement with strangers. I used to feel quite confident in my ability to gage a social situation, however, this week I have made a number of mistakes. And it upset me. But can I really fault someone for an unpredictable response to this new presentation? And can I fault myself for my sensitivity to these different reactions?

Perhaps there is no blame. Perhaps no one is at fault. Perhaps there is simply discomfort. After all, I have been essentially removed from the world for over a year, taking taxis and socializing only with my close friends and family. I am out of step with the world. And the world is out of step with me.

I think movies tend to give a slightly unrealistic expectation of a come-back. On screen, the world stands in awe and slight intimidation for 24 hours as it witnesses what was previously thought to be impossible, and then by the next day everything has settled back to normal. But life, or at least my life, doesn’t seem to work like that. It is a slow and gradual process. I feel a layer of rust covering me that squeaks and masks simultaneously, and I’m not sure that I can scrub it off.

But maybe it’s not about turning back time, or making things feel like they once did. Maybe it’s about learning from copper. Maybe it’s about the process. Maybe it’s about transformation.

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