Some days my entire body feels as if it is covered in bruises. A mix of chemotherapy and regular nuepogen shots take over the nerves of my skin, movement of my joints, the strength of my muscles, and bones of my body. I am bloated, sore and tend to walk like I am 80 years old. I cringe when I am hugged, and on occasion, I swear at my sister who has forgotten my pain and swats my arm grabbing my attention. To combat this, I wear soft pajama pants. They are warm, loose, and allow comfort where comfort is hard to find. I wear slippers, as honestly my feet swell so much that slippers seem to be the only thing they fit in. I don’t wear my wig, as my scalp tends to irritate easily. I turn to soft beanies or scarves or if one of the hell flashes erupt I allow my melting scalp freedom in the open air. As a person just trying to find comfort, I never thought I would be in need of defending my fashion choices. In that defense, I have learned to be a little more open minded about things I tended to ignore.
My Oncologist’s office is right across the street from the old St. Mary’s hospital in downtown Reno. The four story building attaches on the ground floor to a parking garage. I had just finished getting a nuepogen shot and was making my way to the parking garage. I stopped as I was feeling light headed. It happens from time to time. In this small corridor that connects the building and the garage there are a couple benches. I sat. I barely noticed the man sitting on the other bench. I was hunched over my knees just trying let the light headedness pass. I felt the cold air from outside blow in as a woman walked in. She was wearing a long black jacket, and tall boots. I saw the back of her as she began talking to the man. “You cannot be in here, there is no loitering. I know it’s cold, but you will have to find somewhere else to be.” It was then I looked at the man, actually looked at him. He was rummaging through a shopping bag, his leathered face, and beat up jacket was enough for me to come to the conclusion that he was probably homeless. The same conclusion this woman had come to. It was then that the long black jacket turned to me and I looked up at her. “You too ma’am, you can’t stay here.”
I was immediately furious. I stared at her perfectly curled hair and make-up, and whipped off my hat. “I just got done at my oncologist’s office. Excuse me for needing to take a break before heading to my car.” As if my bald head was some superhero shield against the unjust.
Her face, and maybe it was all in my head, was as neutral as ever, she turned and walked away. She had no words. No apology. Nothing. I was still angry, fired up, and then embarrassed. I put on my knitted beanie, that resembles cabbage patch hair with its braided pigtails in shame and walked towards the elevator. I felt bad in that moment. Someone thought I was a bum. I felt dirty. My eyes traced my clothes, my slippers, and I felt like hiding. I vowed in that moment not to tell anyone what had happened. This was a truly embarrassing moment. A paranoia surfaced, and I wondered if everyone knew I looked like a bum and was just afraid to tell me. Did they just not want to hurt my feelings? My sister called right as I was getting in my car, and I didn’t tell her. I was ashamed.
It was a little later in the day as I began to reflect on everything, that I began to feel bad for a whole other reason. I had stood up for myself, bald head shield and all, but not that man. What was wrong with him getting warm in that corridor? He was not harming anyone. If anything it was that woman in boots who had harmed someone. She had harmed me, and probably that man. I finally told my sister and brother in law in the late afternoon. They were in agreement she was not a very Christian woman, and those words were not the ones used.
At first I was upset and embarrassed with myself. How could I go out looking like or getting mistaken for a bum. Now I just regret not saying something for that man. For all I know, he had a Dr. to see as well. For all I know he was waiting for someone. For all I know he was just trying to stay warm. There is nothing wrong with that man sitting on that bench. Not everyone knows my story, and I don’t know theirs. The biggest thing I learned from this experience is to remember that I don’t know what is going on in people’s lives, and it is not my place to judge. In this I have learned that I should give the benefit of the doubt to the woman in boots as well, maybe she has no control in her life, maybe she needed to feel superior for a moment, or maybe it was also her time to learn my same lesson.