Stop Looking At Me
April 1st, 2014
“What’s wrong with your foot?” They would ask him, sometimes. He hated when they asked him that.
“It’s just like that.” He would say, when he was honest and up for the challenge, with a mix of guilt and shame and a large dose of insecurity. But every time he said it, he wished he hadn’t, and wished with everything he was that he could yell at them to just leave him alone.
“What happened to your foot?” They would ask, and whether or not there was a taunting insolence in their voices, he heard it, because he had heard it once before and that’s how it insolence is: It leaves a terrible stain in your mind, like a bad-tasting medicine that taints everything you taste after it.
He wanted to yell at them and punch them or kick them. He wanted to be able to run away, he wanted nobody to look at him, and he wanted to blend in with the crowd and for nobody to know that he was there.
Even when nobody was looking at him, in his mind, they were. And even when nobody was talking about him, in his mind, they were. They were whispering about how funny his leg looked, how strange he looked when he walked, how slow he was, how ugly he looked.
“What happened to your foot?”
“Nothing,” he would say, ashamed, because he didn’t know the answer.
Stop looking at me! He wanted to scream. Stop it!
And every time somebody mentioned the word ‘foot,’ or ‘leg,’ or ‘toe,’ he would cringe, because it would bring attention to that part of his body. And no matter what he did, it would never be the same as everyone else’s. And any time someone mentioned ‘running’ or ‘walking’ or ‘jumping’ he would shy away, as if they’d cursed god’s name in a chapel in front of a pastor on a Sunday morning.
If just enough time had passed since the last time someone asked him about his leg, he might be able to imagine that his deformity wasn’t actually an issue, and that he was just like the other kids. He would look in the mirror, turning his foot until it was just the right angle that the deformity was invisible, and tell himself: “See, it’s not really that bad.” But it was a fragile, insecure lie built of glass that shattered under the first glance in his direction.
Sometimes he would find out about a famous person, like an actor or an sports player who had some kind of disability when they were young, but they got through it, and he would get all excited and tell his mom “look, they’re like me!” But only then he would realize that no, they weren’t really like him, that he was different, he was broken, he was disabled, he couldn’t walk right and he looked funny, and the other kids would laugh at him, and make fun of him, and even if they weren’t making fun of him, their words left that stain in his mind that would make fun of him, even when they weren’t actually there.
He would go to his mom and cry to her, but she didn’t have any words that she could say that could comfort him, because she couldn’t remove a disability like that, she could only tell him that it didn’t matter and that she still loved him. And even though he knew that was true, it didn’t make him feel better, because it mattered to him.
“I just want to be normal, like everyone else.” He’d say. “Like anyone else, but me.”
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