My partner shuts his laptop with his headphones in the microphone jack on game night. A feedback squeal erupts. “Aaaaaaa!” I yelp, and slap my hands over my ears until he gets it sorted. Others stare quizzically. I realize I’m the only one in the room with my hands over my ears.
I’m walking on campus, and I hear a high-pitched whine from a ventilation system. I plug my ears habitually as I pass it. It’s the change of class, about five thousand people are crossing campus. I see one young man with his ears plugged. We nod at each other, silent recognition of each others’ discomfort.
It’s bright outside, and I realize I forgot my hat. I walk across campus for coffee with my eyes shielded by my hands and squinting so hard I can barely see. I hear someone laugh at me as I walk past.
I still bounce down stairs at 26. I just don’t let anyone see me, so I don’t get asked, “What are you, six?”
I’m at a conference, in an interesting lecture, but I can’t sit still. I remember why I never wear this blouse now – the tag is poking into my side, aggravating me to no end. In the interest of not irritating the heck out of those sitting around me, I am the only person in the lecture of around 200 who has to duck out for a short while. Someone later asks whether or not I had too much coffee. I say yes because I know from experience that “My shirt tag was annoying me and I had to go tape it down” won’t be believed.
Someone’s staring at me in the conference reception. Her face is screwed up in that mixture of bewilderment and snide mockery that any bullied kid learns to recognize instinctively. I realize I’ve been fluttering my fingers at shoulder level for who knows how long. I drop my hand to my glass and lightly drum the glass side instead.
I sneak out of my session two minutes early, so I can grab coffee before the coffee break rush starts. Then I slink off to a quiet corner I found on the registration day, when I spent an hour staking out quiet areas where I can retreat to. I know all of the quiet corners. Someone else invades mine for a cell phone conversation. Feeling irrationally irritated, I flee to a different quiet area.
My stomach feels like it’s trying to tie itself into a pretzel. There’s a meet and greet going on, and I know I should at least show my face at it, but I’ve been up since 5 and am exhausted. I lean my head against a pillar and let the waves of sound drift over me.
A person is giving an interesting talk. The person seated next to me moves away a seat. I realize I’ve been rocking side to side as I get more intrigued by their work.
I attended a conference recently. It was exhausting, fun, draining, and exhilarating all at once. It was also alternately joyful (when chatting with people equally gleeful about their stuff) and terribly lonely (when I did something that made other people treat me like a freak and/or when I hit a point of it’s-too-much and needed to slink off somewhere for recharging).
Sometimes, going to an environment not set up to accommodate you sends it home how different you are.