All week she had been the camp counselor of the working group – easy-going, funny, energetic, always thinking of someway to corral us – so to say I was floored is an understatement. She went as far as to parody “YMCA” by the Village People, creating a song about our project. She even made up a little dance, with YMCA-body-like-letters.
She is a HUGE Australian, living in Paris, speaking fluent French. She must get her clothes from the US – there cannot be women outside of America that even begin to approximate that size. When she visited the States a while back, I volunteered my admin to help her find meeting rooms, hotels and whatever else she needed. He never quite forgave me as her requests proved time-intensive: Could he be sure there was an elevator as she can’t climb stairs? And if no elevator, than please reserve a room on the first floor. Could he be sure to get a sturdy chair as she doesn’t like anything too flimsy and nothing that rolls? Be sure to get the accessible room at the hotel; she has a cane. He told me of his surprise when he saw her size in person, and that he had then understood the special requests. She has a physical, yet unacknowledgeable, disability.
She laughed this week. Spoke eloquently. I never saw her eat. Strange how something inside me wants to see another overweight person eat, so the story hangs together, or reflects my own, or something.
So, it’s Friday, and I’m walking out to grab an Uber to the airport, and I see her standing by the side of the road. I raise my hand and say, “Salut.” She waves back, smile on her face. I blow a kiss as I would only do en France and keep walking, no longer making from-a-distance eye contact, and that is when I hear her rage out loud, shrieking: “Where the f*uck are they?!? Jesus –f*ckin’ christ. When are they gonna get here?”
Huh? Whoa. Whatever was holding her together, or that she had tightly wound herself into, had just broken -down, -loose, -out. No more composure, container, controller. It’s like the kid who behaves perfectly at school and then tantrums at home – exhausted from making it through the day. Seconds later, a car approximating the size of one with clowns in it at the circus, pulls up, and she gets in the back seat. Not sure how the height-weight-back-seat-ratio-thing could ever possibly work, I turn away – too worried for my embarrassment over her possible embarrassment to watch further as she can’t fit in the car. I don’t want to witness the next un-self-conscious, blustering fight, the f*cking words spilt all over whoever happens to be there.
I see her and know her as I see and know myself. She is me. Me is she: history, fear, hurt, effort, exhaustion, body bloat, losing it. Her request to be seen, known, and helped, rages as it goes unanswered inside us. There is a volcano erupting, leaving a singled out, diminished, infuriated, standing-as-a-spectacle-in-the-middle-of-the-road. It is a shrill that is filled with injustice: nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.
My mother used to sing me that song every night – as if it were a lullaby.
© Gabriella Strecker