Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Just Looking

by Luna Lindsey

I need a dress for a wedding
It is a custom I don't understand
And endure for the sake of friendship.

My heart burns in my clenched chest
as I browse the bright colors
Not finding the color I need.
I consciously draw breath, in, out, in
Keep breathing, air like water
to wash away the stain of terror.
There is always more fear to replace what I exhale.

The employee, well-dressed, blond,
intense red lipstick crisp on her pristine face,
above her fashionable clothes,
and accessories,
"May I help you?"
Unaware, she ignites my red-pain anxiety into a new inferno.
I smile.
I pretend.
"No thanks, just looking. "
I repeat the pat line,
An uncomfortable lie,
Just to make her go away.
I really mean:
"I don't belong here,
"No one can help me look normal…
like you.
I will never feel normal…
like you."

My fears are illusions
I know they are illusions
I tell myself they aren't real—
If only I were a credible witness.

I am almost forty.
Shopping still feels
like I am marching to my death,
like I am fighting for my life,
like my insides are burning,
like my skin sloughs off, charred and liquid
like they are judging me,
I am in the wrong place,
doing the wrong thing,
looking at the wrong products.
I am too fat for this section,
Too thin for that,
Too old,
Not cool enough,
Too geek, too punk,
Ten-years out of date,
So five minutes ago,
No dresses here,
Sportswear over there.

And they know.

Who am I to be here?
I have no right.
A pretender
trying to disguise myself in their clothes,
lipstick, perfume, pastels in spring,
lace and sequins and belts and 2013 styles
They are all the rage.
So they say…

They also tell me you cannot find silver dresses
This late in the season.
Customs that seem so arbitrary,
Except to the millions who participate
Everyone but me.

I try so hard to not care.
Yet my Asperger’s mind only possesses one social instinct–
You are doing it wrong.”
It shouts and I cannot ignore it.
No relief will come
Because no instinct will tell me what to do right
Or maybe the doing-it-wrong mechanism is misfiring.
Maybe I'm just fine.
Maybe no one is judging me
Maybe I'm succeeding,
pulling off the artifice
of “normal”
I will never know.
No one will tell me.
And I need to be told.

I am upper class by the numbers,
But inside I am of a caste lower,
more reviled,
less worthy,
than any on Earth.
A caste with a different brain
An imposter species,
outwardly identical,
who has to consciously try to make eye contact
at the precise time,
laugh at the exact moment,
Say hello, goodbye, pleased to meet you,
But not too early, or too late,
I cannot reveal the hesitation I feel
The unasked question:
“Am I still doing it wrong?”
I can never diverge from the track of known rules
Lest I make some unknown mistake.
And be thrown out
out of the store
out of friendships
out of social circles
out of society
like I have no right to live inside.
Like a leper,
I have a social disease which is not contagious.
It cannot spread.
Yet it disgusts all the same.
As if my fingers rotted.
As if my face were pocked and swollen.
My nostrils red.
My eyes falling out.
As if my heart were an open, seeping wound.
Step back, you normal person.
Or you might catch it.

To distract myself, I compose this poem
in my head.
I note that it is just a long series of tweets.
Too many to remember.
If I stop to write it, surely,
It will break some law I do not know.
"Thou shalt not write poetry in the mall."
It must be written on the walls for all to see
In the finger of a neurotypical god
Glowing in letters only a neurotypical can read.

Each person I pass has a head full of rules
I cannot read.
There are more rules I do not know
than there are unsilver dresses at Macy’s.

I leave the store
Empty handed.
I still have no dress
In the right color,
In the right cut,
For the right occasion.
yet just the same
as the other three bridesmaid dresses.

Moving to the next shop
I begin the ordeal again.


  1. God, Luna, I really do love your poetry. There's so much to say, but I feel like you've invited me on a personal ride in your heart and head. And your reflections on your reflections speak to me as well. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

  2. Imagine if we awkwards could reshape the world according to our preference. There's a certain kind of person, that person who loves people like us. Maybe they love everybody. Accepting, disarming, they make our walls unnecessary because they're so benign, so adoring of humans. In our world, that's the only kind of person who could work at clothing stores. ^^

    1. If Aspies ruled the world in particular (shrinking the hypothetical a little from yours), it wouldn't matter what color dress the Bridesmaid wore, because there would be no Bridesmaids. There would be no such thing as colors that are "in season". It would never matter to anyone if a 38 year old looked for a dress in the Juniors section. Most arbitrary-seeming social rules would be thrown out - Consequences for poor eye contact? Not smiling? Missed formalities? gone. More people would bluntly say what they mean and you could ask any question without fear of reprisal. It would seem like a rude, abrupt culture, and more people would rock or sway when they were stressed. Loud children in stores would be considered an abomination - these rules, what few there are, will be clearly posted on signs at each entrance.

      And no one would wear matching socks. Because that would be the fashion.

    2. Thinking this through a little more, and chances are society would be so altered that there would be no stores. We'd have some system based on smaller groups of 6-10 people, with micro-cultures forming to the needs of each small group. So basically, we'd all be hunters and gatherers.

      I can't hate on the customs of NTs (and extroverts) too much because they make things like stores possible. Even if the stressful trappings that go along with it are useless.