I wrote this piece a couple of days ago, and it went viral in Italy: in three days it was read by 21,000 people. I felt ambivalent about the success, in part because in anger I say nasty things about a woman’s physicality, which is something I frown upon when I hear other people do it. I thought I would edit it, in order not to offend my American friends, but then I decided not to, because when we are mad, we do and say nasty things that don’t necessarily represent us, maybe to let out the pain we feel and to throw it on others.
Also, I feel that, as inappropriate as some parts are, it is exaclty what I felt then, sitting in a McDOnalds in Western Massachusetts, alone with my strange boy, and if I want to share my feelings, I should just do that. Finally, I am not sure why we should feel more guilty about discriminating against overweight people than against people with disabilities.
No guilt, on the other hand, in criticizing the choice of the two kids’ jerseys.
Anyway, enough with the excuses: here it is. Hate me if you must.
Luca and I walk into McDonalds and I order his usual crappy meal: fish filet sandwich, large fries and a chocolate milk. Within a minute we have our food and we find a place to sit between two tables that are already taken. A man with a big beard, and reading glasses perched half way down his nose, is seated at the table to the right; he could be Santa Claus' 3rd cousin. He's finished eating, but he's reading something on his phone, which is also charging.
The table to our left is filled by a woman and her two children. The woman, 60 or so pounds overweight, is cleaning the table with sanitizing wipes she brought from home. The boys, wearing soccer jerseys from Italy's and Portugal's national teams, are serious and silent. The woman passes a sanitizing wipe to each of them so that they can disinfect their hands before they eat.
Luca sits down next to me and turns on his iPad; I immediately tell him to turn it down. I'm about to unwrap the fish filet, since he can't eat it on his own and I have to feed it to him, when I hear the lady say, "boys, let's change tables, this is the handicapped area." She gets up, revealing an unexpectedly enormous ass; a flaccid rear, from which two very improbable thighs emerge, wrapped by a sad pair of, by now, humiliated and malformed leopard skin tights. The boys turn to look at Luca, and then they stand up and follow the woman, who turns to me and says, "hi". Luca doesn't notice anything. I sit there with the fish filet frozen in midair.
I felt like saying to her; "my dear lady, we're all a bit handicapped. Take me for example. I'm terrified of birds, which may seem silly, but I can’t even walk along pigeon-filled streets or squares without feeling moments of true panic. Sometimes, when I'm with someone who doesn't know me, I try to pretend that nothing is wrong, but as soon as a pigeon starts to move I jump almost involuntarily, and then I have no choice but to explain. It's truly beyond my control.
Or take this morning, my dear lady. When I was upstairs, Luca pooped while sitting on the couch, soiling himself completely from head to toe, and managing to get not just the couch dirty, but also the floor and a chair in the kitchen. I thought I was going to throw up. Having a son like mine, who turns 18 in November and, every once in a while, still poops his pants, is a handicap. I try as best I can to stay calm, hoping to keep my breakfast down. It's something I have to learn, but it isn't easy.
But my worst handicap, which stops me cold most of the time, is my constant sadness, which drenches my soul like a pair of jeans tossed into a tub. I cry for the message that never came, for someone's nasty tone, for a day spent alone. I am always moved, even when I read essays written by children I don't know. My heart is swollen with sadness. You know how awful that is? It's a handicap I would not wish even on my worst enemy.
Or let's take you, for example. Apart from your many extra pounds, and your chutzpah in showing them off (tights? Really?), or your huge neck, that would make a sumo wrestler jealous, or your badly dyed hair, I get the impression that one of your handicaps is obsessive cleaning. But please don't worry, it's very common. Let me remind you that there are excellent drugs that could be helpful to both you and your children, who I am not saying are handicapped but, did they even see the World Cup? Because they are rooting for two of the worst teams from this summer in Brazil. Poor kids, indeed, whose mother gives them the example of running away from people who are different from them.
But it's obvious that your biggest handicap is your ignorance of what my son's world is like. You were never invited to visit it. Believe me, I was also completely unaware of it for years, before I was dragged into a reality, his reality, light years away from our own, made up of 18 year olds who poop in their pants, but who are happy and, with an overly strong hug, make you forgive them of everything. They’re people who are capable of unfiltered affection; they love unconditionally, and they really don't care if their love is unreciprocated, because it is their love for others that makes them happy. In fact, many of my son's colleagues aren't at all embarrassed by how they are, and couldn’t care less about peoples’ curious stares. They don't give a damn, to put it simply, about people like you who change places to get away from them.
So, my dear lady, in the end you are right, this is the area for handicapped people, and you haven’t been invited. So please move; you and your big ass and your sad kids, over there, to the area reserved for assholes.
Now go and clean that table, and let me finish feeding my son in peace.
(Translated from Italian by Dan)
(Photo made by Luca - he discovered selfies, and God help us all)