The truth is, I don't know what I look like to someone else. In the mirror, I think I look diseased, although I am aware that it is possible that I look pretty normal to anyone else. Whether it's true or not, the result is that I did my round of errands today as an ugly woman. And it was interesting.
I think of myself as a reasonable looking person. Attractive, not head-turning. I've had my issues with weight and attractiveness. But when I go out, I don't think people are noticing me. There are people who are ugly. Someone who has lost part of their jaw to cancer, for example. Or who has been burned. You can argue with me and say these people are not ugly, but their experience, I suspect, will be that people stare, children ask questions. In the last couple of days I have wandered in that direction myself. Yesterday I didn't go out at all. A good friend called in the afternoon and kept me on the phone for a couple of hours, saving me from one of the most interminable days of my life. I couldn't get out of my own head--my discomfort, my itching, my eye swollen half shut making reading a real pain.
I found today that as I did my errands I kept changing my strategy, as it were. First at the library, the librarian knows me and knows I have Hodgkins so I just told her. I have this weird skin infection. She said she could see how I was still a little swollen around one eye. One strategy, although I wasn't thinking of it that way. Explain right away. I look like this because I'm ill.
The next place was Petsmart, where Smith needed to be dropped off to be completely shampooed of eau de raccoon morte. I was chatty and right out there. Hey, nothing wrong with me. You may be a twenty-something kid with perfect skin and I may look odd, red, blotchy, swollen, but by God nothing going on here. Again, I wasn't thinking about it as a strategy. I just did. The kid who took Smith seemed a little unwilling to actually look at me when he talked to me, but you know, some people don't make eye contact. He works with dogs.
At the vet's, where I went to pick up dog meds, I left my sunglasses on and explained, laughing, that I had an infection. One of the vet techs laughed in understanding (they know me, I pick up dog meds once a month.) She had been asked that morning when she was due. She's not pregnant, or to my eye, particularly fat.
By the time I got to the grocery, though, I dreaded seeing someone I know. Again, I know, at least by sight, a lot of people at the grocery. I found myself thinking I had gone a bridge too far, confidence wise. And I slunk around the store, my shoulders hiked a little, thinking, 'don't look at me. don't look at me.' I avoided the wine department, where they know me because I buy a case of Dubonnet wine for my mother ever six weeks or so. And the same guy kept appearing in every aisle where I went, with his cart and his baby. He was inept, by which I mean he seemed awkward with the baby seat on the cart, and clearly didn't know where things were in the store--you know, when you shop the same store again and again, you know where the pasta is, that the coffee is in the next aisle. He backtracked and stopped with his cart in the middle of the aisle, fiddling with list and baby. Normally he'd have had my sympathy, but today, everytime I turned my cart down an aisle and there he was, he would glance up and I'd think, 'don't look at me.'
So I got flustered, and had to backtrack, which was how I knew he was confused.
So strange. The way I was so worried. The way my confidence seemed to go so far and then collapse. I wanted a hood, a veil, a mask. And yet now, looking in the mirror, I know that the only thing that the guy with the baby was likely to be thinking was, 'How come every aisle I turn into, that woman is there?'
My confidence came and went, my self-conciousness never left me. How hard it would be to have to do this every day, if I were scarred, say.