strangers a while back that may have led me to inadvertently put on a curse on
one of them.
hospital in a suburb an hour’s drive from my house, was the first time I’d
driven so far by myself in months (after the whole broken-right-wrist thing).
When I came out of the cancer clinic, I decided I’d go to the Barnes &
Noble in the shopping center across the street to see if I couldn’t get my
wrist and knees to hurt less before beginning the long trip home.
have a placard), I saw a lean guy in shorts, late-thirties or early-forties, confront
a very heavy woman who’d left B&N and was opening the door of her car in a
handicap space several cars up from mine. He yelled at her, “You fat, lazy
bitch. Getting your doctor to give you a placard just because you’re too lazy
to walk and too undisciplined to curb your urges to stuff candy in your mouth
all day. You’re running up everyone else’s health expenses. We’re having to pay
for your lazy gluttony.” The woman stared at him with wide eyes like a deer
caught in the headlights, began to cry, got in her car, and roared off, while
the guy stood there watching, satisfied.
neither one’s name. But I recognized the woman. She goes to the same cancer
clinic I do. As happens in such places, I’ve overheard bits of conversation
between her and other patients she knows or the nursing staff in the chemo infusion
lab or between rooms (I’m a novelist—I observe and eavesdrop—shoot me), so I
knew that she had a different kind of cancer from mine, that it had been very
advanced when it was found, that she’s been battling it for years now and gone
through surgery, radiation, and five or six bouts of chemo already. I knew she
had gone through years more of pain, nausea, fatigue, depression, you name it, than
I have. I knew she had dealt with pain in joints and muscles so intense that it
brought tears to your eyes walking from one part of the house to the other. I
knew she had probably had long periods where she only got a couple of hours of
sleep at night. I knew she had dealt with fatigue so overwhelming that she
would have days when just getting out of bed was a triumph, when she couldn’t
summon energy to talk or would nod off sometimes in the middle of a
conversation. I knew she took meds that did all kinds of horrible things to
your body, like eat your bones or put on pounds, no matter what you eat or how
you try to exercise, or cause swelling in your face and body.
these times with more chocolate than she should have, so be it. Not anyone else’s
business. Because take it from someone who’s dealing with just a little of what
she’s had to deal with for years—there is no amount of chocolate that’s too
much when you’re facing that kind of shit.
that cause so much joint/muscle pain, fatigue, and weakness—so I wasn’t able to
get over there before she was in her car heading out, but when I did, I turned
to this guy who looked so swollen with self-righteous indignation and found
myself pointing my finger at him, something I never do because my grandmother
warned me against it as a child. I may have yelled, but since this med makes me
weaker in all my muscles, my voice is not as strong as it once was. “I hope you
someday truly understand what it’s like to have physical problems that make you
sedentary and gain weight, to have lupus and fibromyalgia and rheumatoid
arthritis and multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s and all the other things
people have to deal with every day. May you someday understand what it’s really
like to deal with cancer.” A couple of people had stopped walking through the
parking lot and were staring, so he just shook his head and took off running,
yelling, “Another fat, lazy bitch.”
started to call “health bullying,” that I’m seeing more and more often lately.
Whether it’s gluten-free, vegan, nightshade-free, or various supplements or
special diets or special kinds of exercise, some people seem to feel the need
to prescribe for people they know or even don’t know. I remember when my
youngest was a teenager and recently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis that had
almost killed him from internal bleeding. They pumped blood into him round the
clock for over a week and powerful IV steroids that put him into induced
diabetes that left him injecting insulin for a year. Once he got out of the
hospital, he had to continue taking steroids that puffed him up like the
Michelin Man. Someone tried to say he just needed to walk a little and eat more
fresh fruits and vegetables. Common sense, yes? He had no car and already
walked more miles a day than they probably did in a week, even including the
treadmill. He had a long list of foods he was forbidden to eat because they
would cause the internal bleeding to start again, and at the top were those
fresh fruits and vegetables. I won’t even start on all the folks who think they
know how to cure cancer, and I have to tell them that my doctors and I are
working on that, thank you very much.
driving home and made it fine. Could hardly walk to get inside my house, but I
made it. I started to feel bad about what I’d said to the guy. I just wanted
him to think outside his selfish box for a minute and understand what others
might be going through, but I began to realize that, instead, I’d probably
placed a curse on him. Because this guy was totally deficient in empathy, and
empathy is the only way to understand how someone else might feel—unless you
experience the exact same thing. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to do it. I
hope he’s only going to get one of those diseases and not all of them.
Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret, and books of poetry, Skin Hunger and Heart’s Migration, have received many awards, such as St. Martin’s/Malice
Domestic Best First Novel, Latina Book Club Best Books 2014, Midwest Voices
& Visions Award, Thorpe Menn Award, Ragdale and Macondo fellowships, among
others. She is Chair of the AWP Indigenous/ Aboriginal American Writers Caucus.
REPLY TO COMMENTS (because Blogger still hates me):
Sorry I’m so late getting back to everyone, but today was another doctor’s appointment, so I’ve been gone all afternoon.
Pam, thank you for the hugs and prayers. I can always use them.
Thank you, Kathy and Marilyn!
Judith, I really didn’t mean to.
Kathy, both of them did. Yay!
Ritter, you are so right about all three.
Doward, I try to avoid physical violence because the cancer meds increase irritability and I might accidentally kill someone.
Thank you, Alice!
Thanks, Mary. I know allergies must be awful. That’s one load I don’t have to carry, and for that, I’m very grateful.