This story is difficult to write, since it hits close to home and to the people I care about, but here goes.
Uncle Grumpy and I were sitting in one of those tiny movie theaters, waiting for the matinee to begin. It was quite pleasant, almost roomy, having the place practically to ourselves, although more and more folks trickled in during the interminable wait to finish the ads and promotions that bog down the enjoyment of the theater experience these days. Hmph! We were there to see an action-packed thriller and I had my comfy earplugs ready in my coat pocket, to make sure I could still hear the birds singing when the movie was finished.
I noticed a young woman walk in and find a seat across the aisle from us, but a little closer to the screen. Although I wouldn’t go to the movies alone I have friends who do, so I didn’t think it was strange to see her sitting by herself. As she settled in I noticed that she carefully straightened her sweater, pulling her sleeves down after she removed her coat, and smoothed the front of her long skirt.
Uncle Grumpy couldn’t wait any longer for his popcorn fix and left for the concession stand. I made sure his jacket was draped across the entire seat of his chair, so no creepy person would try and sit next to me; I must have thought I was 25 again. Looking around I noticed that the young woman who had just sat near us was pulling her sleeves snugly down to her wrists and tugging her skirt down to cover her ankles—no, now she was standing up to tuck her thin sweater into her waistband. Following this, she worked on her sleeves and smoothed the fabric on her skirt from her hips to her knees. This happened three more times before the movie began.
During the quiet parts of the movie the young woman held her elbows in her hands. When the loud action scenes were happening she partially stood and re-tucked her sweater, then smoothed her skirt. At times she gently pulled on her eyelashes. This continued throughout the whole movie. It was all I could do not to cry through the blood-and-guts thriller we came to see, because part of my heart was breaking for this beautiful girl who had no rest from her behavior.
Uncle Grumpy and I walked out of the theatre into the cool, starry night. When we got in the car he turned to me and said, “What was that all about?”
I looked at him, this confident, can-do man who rants at world events every morning when he reads his websites but faithfully shows up to tutor little kids whose first language isn’t the one he speaks. Looking down at his fingers, bleeding or mending from his incessant picking, I wondered what to say to him that would make sense. “She couldn’t help doing those things, she has to do them or she will feel terrible. If she took enough medicine to keep her from doing those things I wonder if she would be awake enough to enjoy the movie.” Of course, I had no way of knowing if what I said about the medicine was true but I felt it was okay to potentially exaggerate to make a point.
The drive home was a little somber and my heart was heavy throughout the evening. I’m used to ritualistic behavior in the students I work with in special education. The never-ending, anxious questions, the need to carry certain objects throughout the day, the confusion and, sometimes, outbursts when there is an unexpected change in the daily schedule. But, tonight, this happened outside of work, away from the people I know who understand how to help people with a variety of disorders. It happened in the other part of my life, the “normal” part.
Before bed that night I made sure the doors were locked, the windows closed and there were no skinny, creepy people behind my couch or bedroom door. Uncle Grumpy was softly snoring and he looked like a little cowboy angel, tucked snugly in his blanket, hands at rest. I got into bed and arranged my covers just so, not too tight on my toesies and just high enough on my neck. The floor fan was on for just the right amount of white noise and I turned to face the door, so I could react instantly if any bad guys burst in the room.
But my thoughts were not so quiet that night, thinking about the woman at the movies, my work, my family and myself. I just want to know, where are all the normal people?