The following excerpt is from my upcoming first novel, Selfried and the Secrets, and provides a unique take on physical distancing. I wrote this scene six months ago, but it seems very relevant in our current reality. Remember, stay healthy, stay home.
"Her concern for her younger brother’s safety kept Charlotte up at night. Chris was different, he lacked finesse and social skills when it came to interacting with others. Despite the fact that his mind was a steel trap, never forgetting anything he saw, read or heard, he struggled with unwritten social norms.
As a young boy, their mother had taken him two towns over to learn about proper distancing when you were in public, because they had a shop with automatic doors. Chris couldn’t grasp that people expected you to remain outside their “invisible bubble,” as their mother had described it, and so he always stood too close to strangers. This kind of behaviour would get him into trouble, she explained to Charlotte, and was a key factor in her pulling Charlotte out of school to homeschool both children. Charlotte could help around the house during her brother’s lessons, her mother no longer needed to drive her to school—since the elementary school was even further away than the high school and the bus didn’t stop in their town—and could then focus more of her time and energy on preparing Chris for life outside their home.
And that’s how they found themselves outside the automatic doors on a summer day, waiting for a break in shoppers, and coaxing Chris forward until he was close enough to trigger the sensor and witness for himself the opening doors. Their mother explained that if the doors were a person, standing close enough for them to open meant Chris was inside the person’s privacy bubble, and that was too close. He needed to back up ever so slightly—too far away could also be off-putting as you would need to raise your voice to speak—so that the doors remained closed and the strangers weren’t on guard.
The lesson lasted over two hours, as Chris paced back and forth, counting off the number of small steps, and then the number of large steps, required to keep the doors from opening. Finally, their mother felt he was ready to test out his new social skills at another store, where he couldn’t use the cues of the surrounding environment to determine if he was remaining just outside the bubble. She piled them back into the car and drove for half an hour, before stopping in a town that was completely new to both Chris and Charlotte. Their juvenile minds were fascinated to discover new sights and sounds, despite the fact that this stop lasted less than 30 seconds. After parking the car in a new-to-them store parking lot, their mother turned to Chris and instructed him to approach the doors as if it was a person who wanted their privacy bubble preserved. Ever the obedient son, Chris hopped out and walked confidently towards the automatic doors, his older sister marvelling at the determination in his step. He stopped just shy of the door, turned to see his mother’s nod of approval, then leaned forward until he heard the telltale swish of the doors opening.
One lesson down, so many to go to keep Chris safe in a world that didn’t understand that his brain was wired differently, that he couldn’t decipher social cues or interpret nonverbal communication. Charlotte became very protective of her brother in public, working to help her mother train his brain to function outside the home without drawing attention, or worse, ire to his actions."
Image source: CDC/ Richard Duncan, MRP, Sr. Proj. Mngr, North Carolina State University, The Center for Universal Design (free of copyright restricitions)
Text: Copyright Amanda Sterczyk, 2020, All rights reserved.
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Amanda Sterczyk is an international author, Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor.