The overly crowded parking lot was an accurate predictor of the longer-than-usual line I would find in the post office the busy week before Christmas. As I settled in to wait, I noticed the gal in front of the person in front of me. From my vantage point, one person removed, I observed.
She was about my height, but it was difficult to guess her age. She was wearing boy clothes – black denim jeans, worn and frayed at the heels, cowboy boots, a hooded Carhartt jacket – and holding a pair of work gloves in her left hand. Hair that had been obviously colored at one time, now lay limp and stringy, not having seen shampoo or a comb in many days.
Animated by a frequent facial tic, her expression was otherwise slack. Her eyes were slightly drooping and vacant and her chapped lower lip jutted lazily causing her mouth to sag open. When she spoke, her teeth revealed years of neglect.
The lady between us was petite and well put together. You could tell from her appearance that everything about her life was orderly. I could feel her discomfort when the disheveled girl turned around to engage her in conversation. After a momentary hesitation, she responded with enough warmth to be socially acceptable and enough distance to discourage further interaction. This I observed from the safety of my position, one person removed.
Why did it surprise me that the girl in boy’s clothes seemed confident, intelligent, and unashamed? Maybe because I expected the downcast demeanor typical of those who suffer the ridicule and abuse of being socially different. She did not seem to realize that she was different, that she had breached an unwritten class boundary.
There really isn’t a point to this post except that here I am still thinking about her a few days later. I wonder why she doesn’t take better care of herself. I wonder why I felt the urge to clean her up. I wonder about those unwritten rules about who may talk to whom. I wonder why I feel so unsettled about the entire situation.
I wonder…what if I were not one person removed.