I dubbed her the Queen of Hyperbole to which my Aunt laughed. “I just call it like I see it,” she said.
“The title stands,” I insisted. She laughed more.
It’s genetic. If my Aunt is the queen my Father is the king. My niece is pretty darn good, my cousin a bit guilty, and Chase is working his way up the ranks. Since I’m the one making the claim I’ll admit, I have a flair for the dramatic as well. I routinely use phrases like “absolute worst” and “it was a complete nightmare.”
I suppose it’s because we’re storytellers and exaggerating is one of the ways you prove a point when spinning a yarn. It’s a tricky thing though, because sometimes this way with words misses the mark and can be hurtful.
Last week my Aunt and I walked up and down the 16th Street Mall in Denver at least a hundred times (okay, it was more like fifty). With every block we crossed there was something interesting to see. I use the word interesting but the Queen used the word weird and strange interchangeably always upping the ante by adding an “est”.
“Now that’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” she’d say.
“Really?” I’d ask. “In your whole life that’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen?”
“Yes,” she would say unflinchingly.
Granted the man in the oversized Dr. Seuss hat and red bowtie, bemoaning the government’s tax policies looked odd. I’ll give you that. Lots of other folks stood out as well. It was a parade of characters each prompting some exclamation on her part. She was as entertaining as the scenery.
Then one afternoon we finally got to the Tattered Cover bookstore where books about things that actually are weird abound. Two hours later (okay, it was more like an hour) we both had a stack of books to buy. Standing in the check-out line the Queen commented on the cover of a book I’d chosen.
“Temple Grandin—the most famous autistic person alive today.”
“I LOVE her outfit,” she said.
“She drives me nuts with those outfits,” I said. “They make her look so eccentric. I wish she’d try to look more normal on the covers. I think it makes people assume all autistic people are odd looking.”
The Queen almost struck me down with her scepter.
“You’re wrong,” she said emphatically. “She should be wearing Western clothing. She works in the livestock industry. Your Great Grandfather was a rancher. He wore shirts just like that when he dressed up. I have a few of my own. The detail is exquisite. You’re being a snob.”
I was speechless. First, I couldn’t picture the Queen with her striking white hair and perfect posture, looking like she could work a dude ranch. Secondly, she’d nailed me. I was wrong. No way around it. My prejudice on the subject was apparent.
It’s not the Western wear. I don’t mind that. But, when I see Temple all dressed up for a rodeo on the cover of a book about autism it pushes a button. The button that sounds the alarm that says don’t let your kids look out of place. They’ll pay a price for it.
When you’re a teenager if you don’t look like everyone else you’re labeled the “est” of something. Weirdest, stupidest, grossest, or any other exaggeration you can think of. It’s not until you get to Temple’s point in life that people will accept you as you are. You have to publish books, sell out arenas, or invent something that makes millions before you can escape the hyperbole. Eccentric is only cool if you’re famous.
I know this, but it’s still wrong to criticize a woman just because I worry about how it reflects on my kids. I don’t have the right to judge anyone. It wasn’t a proud moment for me. The irony of course was that my beloved Aunt, who is actually a very kind person, has her own biases. However, those don’t excuse mine. Nobody’s biases justify your own.
After my reprimand she wandered off to get another card. When I took her place in line my head was bowed in shame. Staring at the ground I noticed a penny behind the foot of a woman in front of me. Reaching for it I noticed she was wearing a long maroon velvet hooded robe.
I put the penny in my pocket and waited for her to finish. When she turned to leave I noticed her face and hands were painted completely white in Kabuki make-up. She had an elaborate diamond studded tattoo framing her right eye.
Wow, you don’t see that every day I thought.
I smiled. She didn’t return the smile but looked me right in the eyes as if to say, “Who are you looking at?”
The Queen approached and whispered, “What in the world was that outfit?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “But somewhere that’s perfectly normal so, no comment!”
“Touché” the Queen said. “Touché.”
In the end between my run-in with Temple’s Western wear and the robed woman I was reminded that weird like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. While I’d like my kids with their quirks to always fit-in, what’s normal shouldn’t necessarily be the norm. Fitting in your own skin is always what’s best.