There’s nothing worse than sticking your foot in your mouth. I hate that feeling when the words escape your mouth and hang there, floating in the air, as it slowly dawns on you what horrible thing you’ve just said.
I try to be cognizant of these things in my work as a vet. I’m pretty sure I’ve said some awful things unintentionally, and the most I can do is hope the person didn’t actually really register it. Like when I’m coughing in the middle of a euthanasia, and I apologize by saying, “My allergies are killing me today.” AW DANGIT I DIDN’T…UGH…. that sort of thing.
Unintentional gaffes, awkward as they are, are still better than remarks that are just plain oblivious. People who have adopted children can usually rattle off at least 20 awful things people have said. The always uncomfortable “When are you due?” question to a woman who is not actually pregnant. “Well, you can always get another one” to someone who has just lost a beloved pet. Or, “Who died?” to someone who has just actually lost someone.
I went to Disneyland this week, my first trip since the time they lost my wheelchair bound aunt on the Haunted Mansion. As fate would have it, she was with me again this time. There are few places better for people watching than Disneyland, a location of highly concentrated humanity teeming with all its best and worst attributes desperately, painfully intent on having a VERY MAGICAL DAY.
As we were waiting in line for our magical $15 burgers, I watched a member of the self-appointed mood police harass the cashier in front of me. She was very neutrally taking orders, neither kind nor unkind, simply doing her job. This man was having none of it. “Where’s that SMILE?” he asked, loudly.
She looked up, confused.
“Where’s your SMILE?” he asked again, a bit aggressively, forced cheer pulling his mouth into a rictus. SEE? LIKE THIS?
She gave him a wan smile. She looked tired. She was a captive audience, though, so she tried her best.
“I knew you had it in you!” he boomed in response to her most unenthusiastic ‘smile’, before engaging her in a totally unnecessary discussion of drink preferences. (The line is piling up behind him by this point.)
“I usually drink regular soda,” she said in response to his inquiry. “I like things sweet.”
“Yes,” he said, smirking. “You look like you like things sweet.” It was clearly a comment on her size. He looked up and around, proud of himself and his wittiness, and I slowly shook my head at him. His wife stared at her feet. I doubt this was the first time he’s said things like that.
I bumped into the same guy not 10 minutes later, as I was heading back out to the patio area with a tray of food. My aunt was waiting with the kids, sitting in her motorized wheelchair we had rented from Disneyland. Keep in mind, this is the standard grey wheelchair anyone can rent. It was not special in any way, an unwieldy, functional looking thing with a metal bumper on the front and a small metal basket.
Our friend paused, and pointed to it with a big grin on his face.
“How’s that working for you?” he asked. “You liking that thing?” He asked this the way one might admire a new Porsche 911, or a Harley, instead of an industrial grade medical device.
“Oh yes,” my aunt said without missing a beat. He nodded in admiration. “Yes, I love being in a wheelchair.” Then she turned her back to him while his wife stared on in embarrassment.
“How are you liking walking?” I started to say, but my mother saw the look on my face and kicked me before I could get past opening my mouth. She knows me well.
This is precisely why I prefer working with dogs.