I remember when I was working at Donatos by the base during college in 2012. One particular night, a customer came to the counter while I was at the cut table. He looked to be in his late 20’s, early 30’s. I’m a little fuzzy, but I recall him wearing a military uniform, grasping a camouflage hat at his underarm with crossed arms.
“Hi there! How are you doing today?” I swerved through the swinging door to meet him at the front.
He lowered his forehead a little bit.
Some customers seemed a little hostile, but he seemed to be fairly bothered by something.
After asking his name, I asked him if he wanted to pick up or eat there. He answered “ P-P-Piiiiiiiiii………. ppppppp-ppick it up.” His face distorted into a frustrated cluster. I had no reaction. His name was Andrew.
“a, uh, medium hand-taaaaaahhhhhh….” he sighed and averted his gaze to the tile under his feet. “Tah-tah-tah-tttttttttt-taaaaaah- tossed”
I allowed him to sound out the syllables without any interruption or suggestion. “Okay, so you want a medium hand tossed? What toppings would you like on that?”
“Pppppppp…. Peeeeehhh….” he stopped for a second. A vein popped out of his forehead as he shot daggers down at the floor. “Peh-ppppppppperonni”
“Good choice! How about some bread sticks or cinnamon twists on the side?”
He finally made eye contact with me for a second or two. I shot him the kindest eyes I could, with a wide smile and an inviting posture. He looked around a second and focused again on me. His frustration started to subside- in fact, I saw a grin start to curl on the side of his steady frown. “No thanks.”
“Alright Andrew, I have you down for a medium hand tossed pepperoni?”
I wanted to tell him that I understood his struggle, maybe not to the same degree because I didn’t have a speech impediment. But I do have Tourette’s, and around that time struggled with a very violent swing of the arm and a neck jerk tic. I managed to suppress it during this particular exchange- sometimes the urges to box my ear came and went.
“That’ll be 10.19! With a card?”
Not only did I want to empathize with this stranger I just met, but I wanted to empower him. I wanted to look him in the eye and tell him to NOT feel ashamed for what his brain cannot do, but to be thankful for what it does do properly. That his disability is NOT a personality flaw and should not be regarded as such, but treasured as a characteristic that built you into the person you are today.
It’s none of my business.
I handed him back his credit card slip. “Okay, if I can get your John Hancock right there,”
I thought about all the jokes my friends would crack up about my vicious right hook, which were meant to be in good spirits but got really old really quick.
I thought about those people who ridiculed me for it, those acquaintances with no patience for someone who accidentally tosses pencils, pens, paintbrushes, hairbrushes, and, at work, pepperonis with each hook. Those what-the-fuck glares, the stigma, being different.
I know it Andrew- and I know it well. And if i had the guts to have shared my healing energy with this suffering stranger, I would have, but it still was none of my business.
But I think my magic might have gotten through to him- he ended up tipping me a crisp $20 bill for my “G-gggguuuuu-gggg-good service”