Memories : Look At Me When I’m Talking To You!

It was a lesson I learned
A long time ago.
Before so many
Of the people I know now
Existed.

A lesson I learned
In seventh grade.
When my father was
The Protestant Chaplain
For the US Naval Support Activity
Across the Severn River
From the Naval Academy.

I learned it on a Sunday morning.
After the church service.
While I was experimenting with sound
On a piano
In the church activities building.

That’s when a full-grown male
Of the human species
Sat down in a chair
To my right.

He started talking with me.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate
To say he talked to me.
Whatever.
It doesn’t matter.
And it never did.

I heard every word he said.
Clean down to the times he asked
“Are you listening to me?”

I told him what he’d said.
Told him every word.

“I can’t tell you’re listening to me!”
I could tell he was angry.
“You’re not listening to me!”
And getting angrier.

That’s when I learned
What to do.
When I learned
What humans expect.
What humans demand.
As a signal of some kind.
That makes them think
Makes them believe
You are paying proper attention,
Expected attention,
Required attention
To them.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

Have you ever had that screamed at you?
I have.
I had then too.
More times than I can count.
More times than I can remember.

But that time.
That Sunday.
It was different.
That time I realized
What humans expected.

So, I looked at him.
Straight into his eyes.
Dude.
He was angry.

I wanted to look at the wall behind him.
To look at the ceiling tiles.
To look at the floor.
The piano keys.

I didn’t.

I looked that human in the eyes.
I watched his mouth move
As he spoke.
I observed his facial expressions.
All of them.
I watched how he behaved.
I watched how he moved.
I watched everything he did.

His tie was perfectly tied.
Perfectly.
The collar of his shirt
Looked like it hid a noose
Around his neck.
The jacket of his suit
Was still buttoned up.
Hell,
It even had that fake tie
Stuffed in one pocket.

I saw every detail.

And I learned.
I learned how to shut him up.
How to keep him quiet.
How to make him happy.

A lesson I remembered.
A lesson I mastered.
In those few moments of time.

Pretend you’re looking at someone
While they talk to you.

That way.
They’ll shut up.
And leave you alone.
Because they’ll believe
You’re a good one.
Well behaved.

They’ll think you heard
Every last word.
And understood
Everything they said.

That human never knew
What I learned that day.
No one ever knew.
No one could ever figure out
What I’d learned to do.

It’s a memory
I can’t forget.
I never have.
I never will.

It was the day I learned.
Everybody lies.

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One thought on “Memories : Look At Me When I’m Talking To You!

  1. Social etiquette. And I have actually shouted that line at both my sons. But to neurotypicals, not looking at someone when they are speaking is a way to express defiance, a way to say without speaking ‘I’m ignoring you’ – it’s a body language that I know people on the spectrum – including my eldest son – don’t understand.

    At the dinner table, when speaking to my husband sitting across from me, about something that I was upset about, my youngest son, who sat between us, asked me: ‘Mama who are you talking to?’ Because my husband was not looking at me, was in fact turned away looking at my youngest son, and pretending I wasn’t speaking. So not looking at someone when they are speaking to you does mean a lot to neurotypicals, and my husband uses it a great deal, so he doesn’t have to hear what I am saying. And it leaves me feeling ignored.

    Maybe it helps for you to know that, or maybe it doesn’t. But in neurotypical land, it is offensive and upsetting when someone doesn’t look at you – even if they do hear your words. It’s that whole world of unspoken, body language that is easy to miss if you don’t understand it.

    But you help me understand my eldest son.

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