I’ve always been a people watcher. My real-life persona is to be more of a wallflower than the Life of the Party. I know. This is shocking. How can someone as vibrant and adorable and fun like me be so shy? It’s true. I can put on my game face and be outgoing most of the time, but my true identity holds a shocking amount of introversion. Anyone who knew me before the age of 25 can verify this. I was SUPER shy in high school, a little less shy in college, a bit more outgoing when I was a young adult, but then I branched out in epic proportions when I was 25. Of course, I had a very brief boxing match with thyroid cancer at that point in my life, which seemed to be a game changer for me. I decided to throw out my rule book and start enjoying life. I should also mention that my confidence boost coincides with the first time I ever ate mustard. Maybe it was a condiment that changed my life instead of cancer? Nah.
Anyway, I love to watch people interact. I enjoy watching a conversation where people one-up each other and constantly try to talk over one another. I think that’s why I stopped talking in public at a young age. No one ever heard me. I just listened and collected and watched and (sometimes) learned. I can recall and imitate how my grandmother drank her coffee. I remember conversations that no one else recalls. If there ever needed to be a family historian on useless information, I’d be your girl. Things that might seem mundane to others were fascinating to me. And I think this little nugget of my personality is why I love to write so much – there’s no one to dispute me or one-up me as I’m letting my thoughts and feelings flow. There’s no one to make me feel like I need to edit who I am.
So, now that Ben is missing the aggregate of cylindrical, keratinous filaments covering his noggin (AKA hair), I’ve intensified my people watching while we’re out in public. Some people look at him and smile with a bit of sadness in their eyes. I can get on board with this scenario because cancer is pretty flipping sad, especially when it happens to a kid. Some children point and stare. I’m okay with this, too, because he looks different and they’re kids. How else are they going to learn? I just hope their parents aren’t telling them some made up crap. But most people look at him, then look at me to see if I’m looking, then look away. In many cases, they’ll steer completely clear of our path. And I just want to say to these people: “He’s not contagious.”
I realize that most people just aren’t prepared to see a boy his age without hair. It can be shocking. But if we can get used to people with offensive tattoos and the bejeesus pierced out of their faces and those gauges that stretch ears to the point of being able to tie them above your head in a bow, or ANY myriad of differences, then why do we have trouble looking at a kid without hair? Or in a wheelchair? Or with Tourette’s? Or with Down’s Syndrome? Aren’t we supposed to appreciate and celebrate our differences? Aren’t we supposed to learn from one another? Is the issue the fact that Ben’s illness isn’t self-inflicted? He had no choice in the matter, he’s hairless because of cancer, not because he’s making a statement or owning a belief. I don’t care if someone wants to wear their ear lobes as garter belts. That’s up to them what they do with their body. But I’m gonna look. I might even ask questions. I want to understand. I guess I just want people to understand what my kid is going through, too. It’s okay to ask. Heck. I’ll even direct you to my blog so you can read more about it.
As I step off my miniature soapbox, I’ll admit that not all people are afraid. Last night at Walmart, a young man in line behind us offered to pay for our order, which consisted of a package of AAA batteries and a copy of “Shaun of the Dead.” I’d already paid but thanked him anyway. It would have been odd for him to buy me that movie. The batteries? Sure. They were for Ben. But the movie was solely for me, and not a classic like “To Kill a Mockingbird” or something worthy of a benefactor paying for it. “Shaun of the Dead” is a classic, but probably only to me. 🙂 Then, another kind person at Panera bought us some cookies and told us she’d be praying for Ben. That’s always nice to hear. I’m sure if I were to strike up conversation with either of them, they’d probably divulge that they had been intimate with cancer – and it had most likely attacked a loved one.
The funny thing is, I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been affected by this dastardly disease in some way or form. And with those odds, I would think that the majority of the world would realize that it’s simply not contagious.