A few years ago, I went to a concert with a friend.  We stood in the venue lobby, sipping overpriced wine before the show, when my friend chuckled to herself.

“I’m so self-centered,” she said, grabbing my attention.  “I’m standing here, thinking all these guys are staring at me.  But they’re not.  They’re staring at you.”  I smiled uncomfortably as my heart sank.  I took a sizable swig of my drink.

She was right.  In that moment, not unlike many moments in my typical day, people were staring at me.  And I had no idea.

My friend thought these concert-goers were staring at her, because she’s pretty.  Strangers often comment on her beauty.  But that’s not what happens with me.  That’s not why these guys were staring.

When I was 12 years old, I lost my right eye to cancer.  The surgery also damaged the bone structure that supported my eye, so a prosthesis wasn’t an option.  Ever since, I have worn a black eye patch.  And for more than 15 years now, the world has not stopped staring.

On some level, I get it.  The strangers I encounter on the street, at the grocery store, or waiting around before a concert are caught off-guard.  They’re living their everyday lives, and BOOM!  Captain Ron is in the house.  I don’t blame them for needing a moment to process that.

When they stare, I think these strangers are wondering what happened to me.  On its own, my patch doesn’t scream, “CANCER.”  It’s more mysterious than that.  I could be a cancer survivor, or a wounded warrior, or some badass chick who survived a sick bar fight.  (Did I mention I also have a six-inch surgical scar that slashes horizontally across my neck?  Yeah—it’s intense.)

While I can rationalize the staring as unavoidable human behavior, the stares still hurt.  Sometimes, they cut deeper than a scalpel.  They infiltrate my headspace and expose fifteen-year-old wounds.  They remind me that I’m different.  And after all these years, they suggest I may never be “normal.”

Luckily, I have a secret weapon: I am legally blind.  I have some sight in my remaining eye, but the details of my surroundings are often lost on me.  Unless they’re within arm’s reach, I won’t notice a stranger’s stare.  Rude comments and probing questions are hard to miss, but silent, lingering stares from more than a few feet away can easily slip by.  They simply do not enter my consciousness.

This gives me the power.  Unaware of the stares, I can define who I am, unaffected by the perceptions of others.  I am not forced to decide whether I will let someone else’s reaction to me compromise my opinion of myself.

In my head, I’m still the girl I was before my surgery.  I’m not unusual.  I’m not stare-worthy.  And when I’m walking down the street, at the grocery store, or waiting around before a concert, that’s the way I like it.




  1. Norma O says:

    I am in awe of your honesty and courage Mary. I will comment again, revealing my far less traumatic experience but one that has resonances with your.

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