The other day, if you’d passed the intersection near my street, you would have found me standing in the road, middle fingers raised at a car trying to run the red light and run me over.
No one would ever say I’m a delicate flower.
Someone did see this, and, as he crossed the footbridge, he comforted me with, “They’ll get theirs someday.”
I wish I could be that calm. My mom, too, has recently comforted me with assurances that everything works out. I used to believe that, but I’m struggling.
I have a hard time dealing with injustice and, despite my occasional street rantings, I’m really very sensitive. In this unfair, harsh world, you can imagine how things work out for me. I took that Briggs-Myers psychology test, and I’m an INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceptive). I’m sure there are successful people out there with this personality designation, but they’re mostly tortured artist types. I have no artistic talent—no sonnets to write, no brilliant novel within, no symphony to compose, no masterpiece to create. I don’t have the creative genius to excuse being bad at important aspects of life.
I don’t want to focus on the negative. I did realize during my treatment and with subsequent friend visits that I have a lot of amazing people who care about me, so I must be doing something right. But day-to-day existence has always been hard for me. Balancing finances and dealing with bureaucracy can easily lead me into the depths of despair.
I recently read something about how cancer patients often experience anxiety over their changing physical appearance. The baldness didn’t bother me that much. Partially, I think this is because I used to try to stand out, so looking like a freak is old hat. But I also realized, now that my hair has grown in—not to mention my eyelashes and eyebrows—that in a perverse way, I didn’t mind looking the part of a cancer patient, because I had hoped people would be nicer to me.
In the same way that looking weird and dressing in all black told people to stay away, in hopes they wouldn’t bully or be mean to me, I felt the same comfort with my bald head for all to see. It was like wearing a sign that pleaded, Please be nice to me. I have cancer.
And for the most part, people had been. But lately, I’ve had several disappointing experiences where it felt like people were being only temporarily nice to me, because I had cancer—and then they made a mental note to mistreat me at a later date. It’s been like I’ve been on the receiving end of rain checks for unkindness. It’s been made clear to me that in some cases, no matter what people say, it’s all about the bottom line.
I knew this day would come, when people would stop feeling obligated to be nice to me. I don’t expect special treatment. I worked through cancer and never wanted to use it as an excuse to be lazy or to be a jerk. I just want people to be decent.
As a kid, I was bullied. I was chubby and had no friends for several years. I was the weird, overweight, pimply girl with glasses who wore funny dresses. There are lots of movie and book characters based on this girl, so you can imagine how it went for me. Some people say I’m pessimistic, but I just prepare myself for the bad in people.
I wonder why it is that we always focus on the bad things we hear about ourselves. I’ve probably forgotten beautiful moments throughout my life but will always remember the group of girls a year younger than me who tormented me on the playground almost every day. Billy Ocean’s “Get Into My Car” was popular at the time, and one day the girls came up and sang, “Get into my car—if you can fit!” I’ll always remember that.
In eighth grade, I was at the mirror putting on makeup and some other girls wanted to use the mirror. “Why is she using the mirror?” one girl hissed to another. “She’s a loser.” They wanted me to hear. So now I remember. I still remember their names. Not long after that, I realized there wasn’t any point in wearing makeup, so I stopped for more than a decade. I wore black. I didn’t weigh much. I wanted to disappear, so people just wouldn’t be mean to me.
I guess I should have developed a thick skin, but I feel as if it’s still paper-thin. I’m back to wanting to evaporate. I feel like that bullied kid again, but instead, these discouraging words are from an unlikely source—myself.
During my beautiful, perfect vacation, the bartender at a Long Island brewery criticized our tip of $4.80 (on $24, on a credit card). “Who does that?” she said to her friend next to us. “Why didn’t they just leave me $4?” Her offhand comment ruined a good portion of my day, even though she didn’t mean to. I wrestled with melodramatic thoughts. Why did I bother to get through everything only to let this stuff hurt me so much? In some ways, it felt worse that she didn’t know I was the “bad” tipper. I wondered what every person ever has said behind my back until it was so much that it exploded within and dissipated, and I couldn’t even be sad anymore.
I hate it about myself that I’ll forget some aspects of my perfect friend-and-family-filled week but I’ll remember that.
I’ve been wrestling with a lot of self-loathing, especially with recent events. Am I really incompetent or cheap? I think I may have survivor’s guilt to some extent. When something small happens, I think, Why me? Why did I survive cancer and not somebody who has a job? Why doesn’t somebody with kids survive? Sometimes I feel like it’s unfair that I’m in remission. I feel like I don’t deserve it, and as I said before, I hate unfairness. When I’m exposed to life’s tiniest bumps, I now feel terribly hurt, then ungrateful, and then I just shovel all that into the self-loathing machine chugs along next to me almost all the time these days, waiting for me to feed it.
I know that, today of all days, my problems are trivial. I have to re-learn how to live in a cruel, unfair world. (Boo-hoo, I say to myself. Get it together.) For my part, I’m going to try to be kinder to people, because I know how much the alternative can hurt. (Unless they run red lights near my street.)
Recently, I have been explaining to people that I waited so long for the light at the end of the tunnel and now I feel like I’m standing at the end, blinking, unsure of how to live on the outside. Sometimes, on days like today, I want to crawl back in. But I know I have to move forward, even if the real world’s sun is so bright that it burns my thin skin.
Photo note: This is a photo of a fish from my vacation.