I cried in Walmart today.
I've seen other posts that start with this same sentence. In fact, a google search of that phrase netted 33,800,000 results! I suppose it's in part because we all seem to find ourselves in walmart stores more frequently than we imagine. It's also because Walmart is such a cultural icon, such a slice of life, a cross-section if you will, of America. You see everything at Walmart. In fact, Boo got his first tooth at Walmart. (At least, that is where I saw it for the first time.) So it should not have surprised me today when I made a connection with my cashier. But it did.
I was feeling annoyed by the fact that only 3 register lanes were open besides the "speedy checkouts." I chose the shortest line, and was pleased to find that the cashier seemed to be quick and pleasant. She was chatting away with the customer in front of me. She asked the customer "where did you find this shirt?" and then spoke at length about her mother, her stepmother, her mother-in-law, what she wanted to get them for Mother's Day, what she'd gotten them for Mother's Day in the past. I noticed that the customer seemed to take no interest in the conversation, and that this did not slow the cashier down in the least. I felt a moment, just a moment, of frustration. I was in a hurry, and here I'd chosen the line with the chatty cashier. But as she finished up with the other customer and I placed my items on the belt, I saw that she wore a button on her name tag. It was a small thing. A simple thing. It was just a black circle with white letters which read "Respect Others."
It stabbed my conscience. I realised my mistake instantly. I silently chastised myself. I reminded myself that this is precisely what I imagine Boo looking like in adulthood. (Well, maybe not precisely, as I imagine him a man) I think it likely that he will continue to have trouble knowing when others are engaged in conversation with him, and when they are politely uninterested. I imagine him talking incessantly all the time. These are both big challenges for him already. I thought about how I hope that others will respond to him when he is an adult. I thought of how it would pierce my heart to know that random strangers would feel annoyed by Boo simply being himself. I resolved that this woman deserved and would receive my utmost kindness and respect.
As I stepped forward in line she offered me the bubbliest of greetings. I smiled genuinely, glad to be checked out by someone with a positive attitude. We each asked how the other's day was going. She told me that her only complaint was a bout with writer's block. Aha! A fellow writer! A comrade! I asked her what she writes. She offered a lengthy description of the eclectic nature of the genres of her work. I noticed that she wore a necklace with two charms on it. They were both awareness ribbons, one green and one multi-colored puzzle pieces. Now, you can say what you will about the puzzle piece as a symbol of autism, (and I'll tell you my feelings on that matter some other time) but when I saw that necklace, I knew I had met a kindred spirit.
We continued to chat about her writing, and in the course of conversation, she said confidently "I have Aspergers" and proceeded to try to explain to me what that means. I smiled the biggest smile I could muster and told her, "I'm familiar. I have a son with PDD-NOS." Then she smiled a big smile. She continued with her explanation of the challenges that her Aspergers gives her as it relates to her writing. I told her that I understood, and mentioned that I have similar difficulties with my writing. I told her that I write a blog about parenting autism, and that I read several others as well. She was very excited about that, and told me that she was diagnosed at age 5 but only recently came to understand just what the diagnosis really means. She said that she would be interested in reading about it from my perspective as a parent.
By that time, I was finished checking out and it was time for her to help the next customer. I hastily wrote down my facebook address and my blog address for her and we said our goodbyes. As I pushed my cart toward the door, I choked back tears. I know the numbers. I preach the numbers. I'm the first girl to tell you that autistic people are everywhere. That they are already in your life, whether you know it or not. That you meet them in church, at restaurants, in grocery stores, and in schools. Yet when it happens, when I find someone that I really connect with, someone who speaks that esoteric language, someone who gets it...it pulls at my heart. I feel blessed to be reminded of how not alone we really are. I love finding comrades in my every day life.
So to you, Walmart Cashier Friend, if you have made your way to this blog, I want to say welcome. I want to say thank you. Thank you for being so open about your diagnosis. So willing to tell a complete stranger "I have Aspergers" as if it were the most normal thing in the world...because it is. Thank you for being a shining light, for saying, yep, I'm the face of one in 88, this is what it looks like, I'm just like you. Thanks for being your awesome self. And the next time Boo and I are in Walmart, I look forward to finding your line, no matter how long the wait, and finding out how that book you're writing is coming along.