Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The public gaze

When one is walking around the busy streets of Manhattan with a disfiguring injury to one's face, as I was today, one must prepared for the intrusive stares of one's fellow New Yorkers. I've noticed this phenomenon before. When I got into a bicycle accident in 1996 and had two black eyes, even the freaking freaks on the street were looking at me like I was the freak. Staring, even. I think that when people see a freak, they feel as though they are one rung up from the freak in life, and can thus take certain liberties in dealing with them. People gaze openly at the injured, the homeless, the people walking down the street helplessly crying. Like as though we are paintings, or small children. Give us a modicum of privacy!

When I was still in college, my friend Kristin had a binder filled with freaks. I think she curated the binder to include freaks from popular media, but she had also surreptitiously taken pictures of students around the campus whom she deemed subhuman. One that I remember was "Fetus Girl," who was a woman with soft, puffy skin, who did somewhat resemble a fetus who was born prematurely but lived in spite of that. Hers was an unfortunate lot, but I thought what I thought about her and moved on. No need for me to immortalize her like Kristin did! I wonder what happened to Fetus Girl? (She's probably dead by now.)

Whenever I see an unfortunate soul walking towards me on the street, I immediately look away. This includes people in wheelchairs, junkies partially levitating during some nod-out, and celebrities. (Although I did see Ewan McGregor on the street outside work today, and I looked at him - twice - with extreme curtness, just to confirm to myself that it was indeed him). I remember the writer Jean Rhys' book Good Morning Midnight, when the narrator, down on her luck, notices out of the corner of her eye that another woman on her train is staring at her. The narrator tries to stare her down, but the woman won't look away. The narrator wonders: What kind of person would continue to stare at you when you have caught them in the act? Her answer: The same kind who would have gone to a burning at the stake and locked eyes with the immolated as they were burned alive.

People at work kept coming up to me and asking me, "What happened?" I was tempted to reply, "I'm dating someone new. I guess this means he loves me?" But I knew that people would complain about me to my boss if I did that, so I told them the horribly simple truth: I was tripped. Towards the middle of the day, I had become so self-conscious about my near-mortal wound that I began to wish that I could go away to that place that I long for sometimes. The little white room in a hospital where I lie in bed and think about nothing, while nurses come and go, soothing my forehead with a cool cloth. But then I went to the gym and did abs, and then I didn't feel that bad.