I met a friend at the nail shop today.
I know I might not seem like the type to even be at the nail shop, but it’s become a luxury that I allow myself. Having my nails done, smooth and shiny is one thing I am doing for myself.
Call it self-care.
I was wearing my white Unus Annus hoodie as Winter still has a bit of a chokehold on the American mid-west. Unus Annus was a YouTube phenomenon that helped many folks get through the pandemic. It’s gone now, but it was never made to last.
I sat down next to this girl. Let’s call her Star. Star’s eyes got wide she saw what I was wearing.
“You know about Unus Annus?” She asked quietly.
“I sure do,” I replied. Of course, it’s always nice to meet folks in on the bit in the wild.
“Oh, My GOD!” She squealed. “Nobody knows about Unus Annus. Everyone I talk to about it thinks I’m weird. Did you watch that last stream? I had to sneak because my parents didn’t want me staying up that late.” She shook my hand excitedly, and we introduced ourselves.
At this early point in our conversation, I deduced a few things about Star.
- She was a young, nerdy Black girl.
- She tended to stutter a little when she was excited.
- She reminded me of myself and a couple of my students I have.
As a teacher, I’ve learned to be interested in whatever the kids are interested in. Mainly because they will talk your ear off about the things they like anyway, it helps to be knowledgeable about such things as Roblox, Fortnite, and various YouTubers in my line of work. Building relationships with your students is the most basic way to create a positive learning environment.
Being the cool teacher has its advantages as well.
Star struck me as a fellow autistic person, although she was very talkative. She seemed like the kind of kid that was into weird stuff and perseverated at times. By weird, I mean things that other kids and ever her relatives did not care about. For example, I can remember wanting to talk about how amazing Dragonball Z was with my mother as a young teen, but she didn’t care and was not interested in the least.
I could tell that her social skills were a bit rehearsed. I know that people with communication needs are taught to initiate conversations by first asking about the other person. Star made sure to find something to ask me about the entire time we were next to each other. Her teachers would have been proud.
My new friend showed me pictures of her artwork on her phone. She was definitely talented. There were colorful backgrounds and lots of cats. In addition, there were some digital drawings of some adorable Black girls in Harajuku styles that I adored. I told her that my kid was an artist, and she smiled beneath her mask. Somehow, this let us talk about how nervous she was about learning to drive. A common thing with the neurodiverse, I believe.
Keeping it Casual
Star continued talking to me as we got our nails done. I found out that she was a Pisces, and she would be turning 15 on her birthday next week. I told her that I was an Aries, and she advised me to keep my distance from Cancers because there would be relationship problems. Her parents were the same way. (My rising sign is Cancer, but she didn’t need to know that.)
She asked if I had been on vacation, and I told her that I hadn’t been in a while. Then, we talked about her family vacation to the Turks and Caicos Islands for her older brother’s wedding. Star showed me pictures of her family having a great time on the beach and on boats. I love seeing Black people enjoying themselves, and Star was surprised about how silly people started acting when they were drunk.
Star asked me about music, and I told her I liked a lot of different kinds. She said that her family thought she was weird because she liked dubstep. The young darling started to awkwardly explain what dubstep was to me when I stopped her. I let her know that I was well aware of dubstep; this angel’s eyes lit up as if I told her we had just won the lottery. She talked about how the soundtrack to the first Matrix movie was a flawless composition, and I let her. I had no strong feelings about it, but it was sweet.
Her love of dubstep let her talk about her love of Geometry Dash. Geometry Dash is a mobile game that is more difficult than most. Star bragged about playing through levels on the Insane difficulty setting. Then, to prove her pro-gamer skills, she showed me a recording of her absolutely slaying one of the Insane levels. I was obviously dealing with a pro gamer, and I let her know I was impressed with her skills. Star beamed with pride.
All Good Things…
I was about to ask her which anime shows she was into when Star’s mother returned to the shop. The woman walked up to us and asked if Star was done in an accusatory tone. Star said that she was, and her mother asked why she hadn’t texted to let her know. The poor baby got sheepish, and I saw her expression change. I recognized the feeling. As if sitting next to a stranger and talking was wrong, and she was busted. Star gestured at me and said muttered that she was talking and forgot.
I said hello to her mother.
“I’m so sorry.” The older woman said, with a look on her face that told me that she apologized for her daughter being herself in public a lot.
“No, no, It’s no trouble,” I replied quickly. Talking to the young Blerd had mad my whole morning, and I didn’t want her to feel bad about it in any way. I know how it feels to be the weird kid, the ostracized one. I know how rare it is to find a member of your tribe in the wild, especially when you are told to be quiet and keep things to yourself for your whole life.
Star’s mother went to pay for her nails, and I saw this doll baby start to go back into her shell. I didn’t want to make her regret beginning a conversation with me on a random Saturday morning. If I didn’t do something, she might never retake the chance. This kid might give in to the shame and stigma people force on her and try to force herself into a box that would make others comfortable. Damage like that takes decades to repair if you even bother to try.
Ask me how I know.
Know Better, Do Better
“It was nice meeting you. I enjoyed our talk.” I said quickly. Star smiled back at me. I could tell it was genuine even behind the mask because her eyes were crinkled. She nodded and shook my hand again before leaving.
I always try to be the person I needed growing up when interacting with young people. At that moment, Star needed someone she could be herself around. A person who wasn’t going to judge how she talked, how much she spoke, or even what she talked about. I didn’t pretend to be interested to humor her. She was her genuine self with me, and I did the same for her.
I hope I made her day a little better.
I know she did that for me.