They gathered outside the Ugly Mug, I saw them when I drove by—smiling, laughing, relaxed. Radiating a glow only possible after a long run on a cool morning. Content. Gettysburg has three coffee shops, the good one, the popular one and Starbucks. I use Starbucks, or I did before the pandemic. I broke that habit; now I brew my coffee at home.
They circled up, paper cups in hand, steaming, frothy—caramel lattes, mocha cappuccinos, calories irrelevant, already running a deficit for the day. They recount their week, storytelling, successes and failures. Building their friendships like a fortress, brick and mortar, made to withstand a storm.
Failures: I could join in that part. Thursday night after mountain bike practice, parents pick up their kids. Coaches linger, talk, share data, who’s riding strong, who needs support. I ask a question, my timing’s off. I interrupt, destroy the flow of conversation. “Huh? What’s that?” I ask again. He freezes, panicked, uncomprehending. He looks left, then right, hoping someone translates. I’m not enunciating, I’m not making sense. I try again, I try to make myself clear.
I load my bike on my truck and drive home. Anticipating the conversation once I leave. “What’s up with that guy, why is he so weird?”
Susan consoles me. “Someone stuck up for you. They said ‘You know he has Tourette Syndrome, right?’” Maybe they talked about my brain injury. Social anxiety. Autism. Easier if I advertised. A bright yellow shirt, a white road sign emblazoned on my chest—Caution: Neurological Nightmare. Stay Back.
The next practice is Tuesday. I’ll keep my head down, mouth shut. Try to be solid, predictable, neuro-normal. I’ll rebuild some credibility. Maybe try harder to fit in. Maybe I won’t try at all.