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.