Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Vanity

Yesterday, I stayed home all day, unwilling even to go to the mailbox at the street. Today I felt that I looked better, and there were things that couldn't be put off any longer. The dog's thyroid pills, an overdue book at the library (a 7 day book overdue @ $0.25 a day.) So I went out, although I'm still swollen around one eye and my skin is blotchy and strangely pink. My wig makes me itch. But, I told myself, unless someone really looked at me, it wasn't obvious.

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.

14 Comments:

Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

An acquaintance tells you that you have one eye swollen, so the next public place you go to, you slink around with your shoulders askew?

Were you trying for the Basic Quasimodo or something?

April 27, 2005 8:39 PM  
Anonymous Jo Walton said...

Would you become a recluse if you were scarred? People who knew you -- in the vet or whatever -- would get used to it. But there would always be strangers.

I'm not scarred, and there's nothing wrong with my face, but I walk with a cane. Some people flinch. You get used to it. It's actually getting to be less of an issue as I get older, though I think it makes people read me as older than I am. They can think "old bat with a cane" and have a box to put me in. But sometimes people flinch, and sometimes other people ask, most frequenty "What have you done to yourself?" and I have to say "I have a chronic problem with my pelvis..." and then they flinch.

April 29, 2005 3:34 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Maureen, I can completely relate. I never - and I mean NEVER - wear my wig. I go with no topper and let the bald pate wave until right when I'm about to go in some place. (And then, if it's a restaurant, I do take the hat off.) I can't explain why, but somehow, physically if not logically, it makes sense to me. So yesterday I got my first finger-point. Of course I've gotten plenty of stares, and I've made small children uncomfortable and/or curious -- but a full-fledged comment-about-me with accompanying finger-point at the end of an outstretched arm? This was a first. I was just about to put the hat on anyway, but damned if I didn't keep it on for longer than felt comfortable after that. I grew quiet, my posture changed, and I avoided eye contact for a while.

Today I'm stronger though, and can better recognize that the issue was their rudeness, not my illness. I still feel just a little uglier than I did yesterday morning, though.

It will get better for both of us. Your skin/eye thing will pass the way of our fallen hair, and we will get stronger and more consistently upright, both of us.

April 29, 2005 11:51 PM  
Anonymous Autumn said...

I took a while to get comfortable about my cane, and I still struggle sometimes.

I'm lucky to have a friend who's been very supportive. He's been my savior about that self-esteem issues I have over it. I mea, 24 and with a cane. My family and friends are cool about. Strangers, not so much.

Yours will get better, but its probably a good thing for understanding about those who are scarred.

April 30, 2005 1:21 PM  
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