i went to NYC to see a friend yesterday. about ten minutes after i got on the train, we stopped again and a guy sat next to me. i was working on logic puzzles (my favorite!). he commented on it and we started Friendly Stranger Chatting. he was also going to penn station so we transferred together in secaucus.
when we got to penn we stood outside by madison square garden and he offered to wait with me for my friend. he was a nice guy, probably 20 years old, and we had had a fun time chatting, so it was cool. and then:
“can i ask you something?” (two things: this is always rhetorical, yet i need to learn to JUST SAY NO.) “…what happened to your arm?” his eyes are straight on my scars.
i can count on one hand the number of times somebody has asked me that in the past decade. not that the scars are unnoticeable; i have just assumed that people don’t ask out of tact. social cues. delicacy. ya know.
i don’t even remember how i responded. i stared down at my phone, pretended to text my friend, and mumbled. what i didn’t say was “none of your damn business” – which would have probably made the most sense. instead, i became extra awkward and wished the ground would swallow me up.
when i first got out of treatment, my mom kept asking me if i wanted to get my scars removed. and by ‘asking’ i mean…strongly suggesting that it was something i should do. she and my aunt magically produced jars of vitamin E while we were at the pool. it was clear that seeing them made her uncomfortable, almost disgusted.
i was 21 and finally learning that i didn’t have to be perfect every second. my parents had very diligently hidden my six months of treatment from everybody, and it was clear that the whole ordeal was not to be spoken of. so half out of spite, i refused to get my scars removed. seven years later, i very rarely remember i even have scars.
and then this happened.
once i got back on the train later that day and started thinking about it, i became more and more enraged. it was clear in the tone of his voice that he knew “what [had] happened.” we had met ninety minutes prior. what goes through a person’s head that makes them think that asking such a question, just for the sake of asking, is appropriate?!
i’m furious because i have taken great pains to come to terms with everything in my past and to be very decidedly unashamed of who i was. because that angry, anxious, hurting girl eventually became the person i am today. and her, i like.
nobody has the right to make me feel ashamed of my past. by the same token, i’m responsible for how others effect me – especially how a stranger effects me.
but the next time i take the train, i’m wearing my ipod and ignoring everyone.