Dear Beverage Cart Girl,
After the interminable hours we worked together this summer, all I can say is thank you. You taught me what it truly means to “never judge a book by its cover.” I hear the way people make cat calls and sexual remarks under their breath. You’re beautiful, perky, and gregarious; traits often misunderstood as being shallow. In a job where sales and tips can create competition among coworkers, I did not understand why you had my best interest at heart because I, like several others, bought into the facade that has shadowed you your whole life.
A lesson you have taught me: As humans, we are too quick to judge based on first impressions. You have every excuse in the book to be cynical and contemptuous, but instead you have used life’s trials as an opportunity for growth. You went from one spectrum of being accepted as a cast member for The Real World to the other, where you encountered every parent's biggest fear. It sickens me to hear the many stories of abuse you have endured over the years, but your remarkable strength and kindness does not go unnoticed.
As time went on you opened up to me about your son, Kellen. Even though he is only one aspect of your life, he is the foundation for your unbelievable strength. From being born without skin to countless chemotherapy appointments, he has been a humble reminder to never take life for granted.
Most people don’t understand when you explain his inability to communicate through words. When Kellen becomes distressed, he expresses himself the only way he knows how. Sometimes that means hysterically crying; sometimes that means aggressive and violent behavior. You live in a world where you have to conceal scratch marks, bruises, and black eyes with makeup to avoid stares. I have seen as people purse their lips and squint their eyes when Kellen gets upset. Heads turn as you carry, if not drag him to a place of comfort. Some chuckle, some empathize, but most gaze in disapproval; for clearly they could raise this child better than you, not knowing that he has severe autism.
More often than not, it is something as simple as a haircut that can cause so much anxiety for Kellen. Your ability to provide comfort as he claws your glasses down your cheek is a testament to your incredible patience. After what feels like ten minutes of agony is quickly forgotten once you carry him to the car. Even though it was a struggle, his smile radiates a sense of accomplishment as you both made it through that horrendous haircut together.
Taking into account the amount of stress you undergo everyday, I understand why you choose to keep your private life discreet. You shared stories of other adults who criticized your parenting because Kellen didn’t say “hello” back to them. Another time someone called the police because they believed you were violating handicap parking spot privileges. In her own words, she thought you both looked “fine.” Worst of all, strangers feel the need to ask, “what’s wrong with your son?” Your clever and sarcastic responses reflect that just because one child faces more adversity in life does not mean they’re broken.
But your profound relationship with Kellen is undeniable. In his eyes, you are everything. What he can’t express with words, he looks at you with more love than I have ever seen. His soul dances with curiosity as the world unfolds before him. He will have every opportunity in life because of your support. This journey has not been an easy one for you, especially as a single parent, but with the connection you two share he will achieve more than anyone thought possible.
I cannot thank you enough for the footprint you have embedded on my heart. You have shown me how the truth between perception and reality can so easily be distorted. You and Kellen are the epitome of beautiful human beings. The number of road blocks that you have faced, and will face in the future has left a pit in my stomach. However, between his strength and your love, I have no doubt that you will continue to rise above the challenges in your life.
Thank you for everything, Sara. Thank you for being someone I meet along the way.