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Making Up And Breaking Down

| Working | October 2, 2013

(It is getting close to Christmas, and my family and I have gone to a massively large department store to finish up gift buying. I go off alone to pick out perfume for my mother. I am high-functioning autistic, and because of this, I am very sensitive/reactive to smells, textures, and being touched. Because of the smells/textures issue, I have never worn cosmetics: the feel and scent of them are abhorrent to me. Since I am only 17, this has never been a big deal. I approach the cosmetics counter.)

Me: “Hi. Could I get a 5 oz bottle of [perfume]?”

Cosmetic Worker: “Good afternoon! Could I interest you in [extremely expensive liquid foundation], or perhaps [extremely expensive wrinkle cream]?”

Me: “Uh… no. I just want to buy some [perfume] for my mother’s Christmas gift.”

Cosmetic Worker: “We have a lovely range of [expensive] eye-shadows, and our [expensive] eyeliner would really showcase your long eyelashes!”

Me: “Um… no. I’m just here for the perfume.”

(I am starting to get anxious, so I start rocking sideways from foot to foot, which is a thing I need to do when I am worried.)

Cosmetic Worker: “Tell you what, how about you sit down here…” *indicates the stool for customers who want the counter ladies to show them new makeup techniques or give them makeovers* “…and I’ll give you a makeover! It’s only $15! You’ll look so pretty!”

Me: “No. I just want the perfume. I don’t wear makeup!”

(I start wringing my hands—another one of my upset/scared/worried motions.)

Cosmetic Worker: “What? Why not?”

Me: “I don’t like the way it smells and feels on my skin.”

Cosmetic Worker: “I can assure you, our products do not smell, and they feel wonderful! See!?”

(The cosmetics counter woman grabs a sample bottle of the foundation from the counter, runs around the counter towards me, and tips a generous amount into her cupped hand. I have passed beyond anxious and I am verging on scared.)

Cosmetic Worker: *advancing upon me* “Now you are just going to love how this feels!”

(She tries to smear the foundation onto my cheek. I block her hand with my arm and back up again.)

Me: “NO! NO! Stop! Don’t touch me! I don’t want it!”

Cosmetic Worker: “But you haven’t even let me—”

Me: “—and I’m not going to! I don’t want it! Stop! Don’t touch me!”

Cosmetic Worker: “Come on! Don’t be a baby!”

(She tries again to smear the goop on my face. That time I don’t just block her. I hit her arm quite forcefully, and she drops the open sample bottle. It shatters and the remaining foundation inside splatters all over the floor.)

Cosmetic Worker: “Assault! Assault! This girl assaulted me!”

(Another customer, a tall man in his 50s who had been watching us, walks over.)

Customer: “D*** straight, it’s assault! But you assaulted her, not the other way around! She told you not to touch her twice, and you did it anyway. She defended herself from your unwanted physical contact!”

Cosmetic Worker: “She hit me!”

Customer: “After you repeatedly tried to touch her despite being told not to. You committed the assault. Go call your manager.”

(She reluctantly calls the manager, who, having only heard his employee’s side of the story, is furious and ready to have me arrested.)

Manager: “Okay, security is on their way.” *turns to me* “Girl, you are in a heap of trouble!”

(Again, the other customer speaks up in my defense.)

Customer: “No she isn’t. I saw the whole thing. Your employee committed the initial assault. This girl had to fend her off!”

(The customer then produces a badge; he’s an off-duty cop! He approaches me.)

Customer: “Do you want to press charges?”

Me: “No. I just wanted to buy some perfume for my mother’s Christmas gift. She wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t let me buy it. Then she kept trying to smear that stuff all over my face. I’m autistic and I can’t handle the smell and texture of cosmetics. All I want to do is get the perfume and get away from here!”

Cosmetic Worker: “But—”

Manager: “Oh! That isn’t what [Cosmetics Worker] told me when she called!” *turns to the worker* “Go collect the stuff from your locker. You’re fired. Hand in your ID to me before you leave.”

(The cosmetic worker stalks off in a furious huff. The manager turns to me.)

Manager: “I’m so sorry you went through all that. That woman has been really pushy before, but I didn’t think it would get that bad! Tell you what, I’m going to get that perfume for you, and it’s no charge!”

Me: “Thank you!” *to the policeman customer* “And thank you! You were a huge help!”

Customer: “You’re welcome. My son is autistic. I figured you were by your rocking. I know how hard it is for you just being here in such a busy store. You didn’t need that woman pushing you into a meltdown.”

(We speak for a little while after I have gotten the perfume, and we leave the cosmetics area together. He helps me calm down and waits with me at the place my parents and I had agreed to meet back up at until they arrive. Thank you, off-duty cop from the Toronto police force for helping a scared autistic teenager in 1995! I still don’t wear makeup, and I’m almost 40 now.)

This story is part of our Autism roundup!

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