My friends have always played an important part in my journey through life.  In college, time with girlfriends often involved dressing up in black pants paired with a flirty top to explore Seattle’s night life.  Over the years it evolved into meeting up for martinis after work, and flying to Vegas for bachelorette parties.  These days, we often opt for yoga pants and a bottle of wine in someone’s quiet, childless living room while pretending to discuss a book that no one actually finished reading.  And I picture my future self with these same “girls”, sharing photos of grandkids while drinking tea following a 4 o’clock supper date.  

I’ve been blessed by friends who accept me for who I am, even when I’ve been unable to accept myself.  Back in college, friends showed their support by grabbing my arm and leading me through dark night clubs, whispering things like “That guy is gross – don’t dance with him.”

In the years following, my friends have continued to offer me an arm, a ride, an ear, and a shoulder.

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller

Last year, just a few months before getting my first white cane, I had an awkward airport experience while walking through security with my friend, Jaime.  We were headed to Scottsdale for a much needed girl’s getaway weekend with several of our besties.  (For those unfamiliar with the term, “bestie” or “besty” is defined by Urban Dictionary as “Friends who have each other’s backs, look out for each other, spend lots of time together, and are just really good friends. They have inside jokes together, they go to the park and swing on swing sets, get ice cream, go to the beach, go to concerts, go bowling, and basically any activity that they like doing together as friends.”)

The first airport security checkpoint we passed was breezy – the guy barely looked at our ids and made a flirty joke about whether or not we were on our way to Vegas (Jaime was wearing designer gold pants).  So I was feeling pretty relaxed and not too worried about vision-related stuff.  Besides, I was with Jaime, a seasoned traveler who I had explored Italy with, and a pro at guiding me when needed.

I walked confidently up to the next security checkpoint and handed over my id and boarding pass.  

“Step back!” the stout woman scolded me, “That’s what it means when I stick out my hand like that!”  

Oh, I had not seen her silent hand.  I looked down, hoping this whole thing would be over quickly.  

“Eye contact is VERY important.” she added as she looked suspiciously at my id and then up at my face again.  I raised my eyes to meet hers, fighting the urge to scratch my forehead with my middle finger.  I remained silent as she barked at me to “Go stand over there!” I had no idea what “over there” meant since I could not locate her hand to see where she was pointing.  So I sort of shimmied awkwardly in the direction I saw others heading, anxious to be through airport security.

While the security official’s gestures had been out of my field of vision, her angry face was completely within my line of sight.  I clearly saw the look of disgust in her face when she stared back at me.  This brief ordeal had taken me by surprise, and triggered feelings of shame.  I fought back tears as I continued to pull my little red suitcase along.

Jaime soon caught up to me, and I immediately asked her more questions about her budding romance, hoping she hadn’t heard my tense encounter at the security checkpoint.  

“I hope you don’t mind, but I said something to that rude lady about your eyes.” Jaime told me a few minutes later.  

“Oh?” I was surprised, given the fact that Jaime is the most non-confrontational friend I have.

“I’m not sure if you saw this, but she was holding out her hand for you to give her your id and boarding pass, and instead of handing it to her, you stuck it out in a different place.” So I had missed 3 hand gestures, and only realized 2 of them.  Groan.  

“I told her that you couldn’t see her hand, and that’s why you stepped forward and didn’t hand your id to the right place. And then she replied that she didn’t know you couldn’t see her hand.” I groaned inwardly, angry at myself for not just being upfront with the security guard about my vision loss.

Jaime continued, “So then I told her that’s why she shouldn’t say things like that to people, and should give people the benefit of the doubt before judging them.’  Upon hearing her words, the scorn and judgement I had felt weighing on me from the security guard dissipated.  

And that’s what I love best about true friends.  Sometimes they have the ability to speak the simple truth when we can’t find the words.  

“A true friend unbosoms freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably” – William Penn

 

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12 thoughts on “Friendship & Yet Another Airport Tale

  1. THAT HAS HAPPENED SO OFTEN…WHEN PEOPLE HOLD THEIR HANDS OUT TO SHAKE HANDS AND THEY GET OFFENDED CAUSE I DIDNT SHAKE HANDS WITH THEM! I REALLY HATE WHEN PEOPLE SAY “OVER THERE” TOO BECAUSE I AM COMPLETELY AT A LOSS WITH THAT! I CAN REALLY RELATE TO ALL THAT YOU WRITE. I FINALLY FOUND SOMEONE WHO KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT ITS LIKE LIVING WITH RP. THANKS SO MUCH FOR SHARING ALL THAT YOU DO.

    • Thanks for your comment, Victoria! Joy and I started this blog in hopes that others with RP would discover that they’re not alone in their struggles. The missed handshakes and other seemingly unimportant social cues we miss can feel so isolating. You are certainly not alone in your experiences with RP.

      Thanks,
      Jenelle

  2. Beautifully written! I relate to this–both the nasty, awkward public experiences and the awesomeness of incredible, true friends. <3

    • Thanks Nicole! If only the public could give people (all people, not just me!) the benefit of the doubt more often. I’m glad to hear that you have the support of besties as well!

      Jenelle

  3. So relating to this experience. Your writing was so clear, I felt like I was with you in front of the security lady. I started getting angry! And of course, besties are, well, the best!

    • Thanks Susan! Glad to know I’m not the only one who has awkward airport experiences….I’m sure we’ll have plenty to swap in Salt Lake City in June!

      Jenelle

  4. I love this story, Jen. I feel like anyone who works with the public should be required to take a course on the varying types of disabilities they might encounter, not to mention on etiquette!

  5. I’m sorry that people can be so rude. Glad Jaime was with you and spoke up. Go Jaime! I love the quotes about friendship that you included. Also, this post makes me want to plan a get away with you asap! xo

    • Rude people are everywhere, I suppose. If only “Mama J” could be with me all the time! YES – girls’ weekend PLEASE!

      xoxo,
      Jen

  6. So sorry you had to go through this unfortunate experience Jenelle, although I had to chuckle at you resisting to scratch your forehead with a certain finger. This brought back memories of a few days before Christmas last year. I was at the post office with my son and I needed to know what label to use on my package. Of course there was a long line of people and only one employee at the counter but we waited patiently until our turn. I put the box on the counter (it wasn’t addressed because I needed an answer to my as yet unspoken question about the label). The employee was having a bad day because my son heard her say to the customer in front of us that “I’m 30 minutes late for my break and…” So I guess I pushed her over the edge because before I could even ask her the question she yelled at me “we only accept packages that are completely ready for shipping…” I was so stunned (I had my white can and granted she probably didn’t see it because of the counter height but tears sprang to my eyes and I walked out steamed. A few days later, I went back with the packaged labeled and wouldn’t know it the same lady was at the counter and this time it was a totally different experience. Since there were only a couple of people in line I’m sure she noticed my cane but I also had on my Low Vision pin and she was almost empathetic. We have so much work to do in the customer service arena.

    • Oh, Yes, you can pretty much guarantee that type of “service” at the post office, airports, etc…..you make a good point about people having a bad day and something small sending them over the edge. I worked retail for enough years to know how that feels as a worker. But still…I refrained from being blatantly rude. I guess we all have different tolerance levels. I really wish I could create giant billboards that say “Give people the benefit of the doubt” and post them all over the place as a reminder for us all to not be so quick to judge others.

      Jenelle

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