My big mouth has gotten me in trouble throughout my life. I’ve gotten better at keeping it closed, but if I start talking without thinking, I can really make an ass of myself.
It was a day like any other in the parking lot, not particularly busy. A car pulled in, and I stepped over to it. A man was driving; a woman sat in the front passenger seat. The window on the back drivers side door was up and had enough of a tint to keep me from seeing the backseat.
I asked the man if they were here for the trail and he said yes. I told him about the $5 parking fee.
As we spoke, I heard grunts and groans and growls coming from behind the closed window in the back. It sounded nothing like a dog, so I thought there must be a kid or two in the backseat playing around and making funny noises in hopes of freaking out the lady talking to the driver.
I should have said, What’s going on back there? or Do you have kids in the backseat? Instead, I opened my mouth and what came out will haunt me for the rest of my days.
Do you have a monster back there? I asked. I thought it was a funny thing to say. I’ve met plenty of kids who like to pretend to be monsters. I swear, I thought there was a kid back there playing.
The man used his control button to roll down the back window. In the backseat sat a young girl of about ten years with obvious physical and mental developmental disabilities.
That’s our special needs daughter Amelia, the man said happily. That’s how she communicates. We adopted her two years ago.
Needless to say, I wanted to sink into the ground and never be seen or heard from again. I felt like such an asshole. I would never purposefully refer to anyone with a developmental disability as a “monster,” but that’s exactly what I had just called the girl. Why hadn’t I kept my big mouth shut?
I stammered and stuttered and sent the family on their way.
I sat at the front of the parking lot feeling awful. What I’d said was not what I’d meant. Then I thought about how awful the parents must feel when complete stranger said ugly things about their beloved daughter. How could I make amends for what I’d said?
The man and his daughter came walking by later. I decided I should apologize.
I’m sorry for what I said earlier, I told the man.
What did you say? he asked pleasantly.
Was he playing with me? Did he just want to see me squirm? (If that’s what he wanted, I knew that’s what I deserved.) Did he really not know what I’d said? If he didn’t know what I’d said, I certainly didn’t want to repeat it. Why hadn’t I kept my big mouth shut? I was only making things worse. Again, I wished the earth would swallow me whole.
I hemmed and hawed and stammered some more. I don’t remember exactly what I said to the nice man and the sweet girl he doted on, but it was apparent to me the monster was the person wearing the uniform, not the one looking at trees with her father.
I did learn a lesson from my rudeness: I don’t make any cracks about what’s going on in the backseat until I see who’s sitting there.