Don’t Pick On Me, by Michael Arlein

arleinIf you want to get a taste of what it’s like to have a visible difference, try walking around with a big bandage on your nose for a few weeks.  I recently had some minor surgery on my nose and my bandage has been yielding some interesting reactions from people. Let’s start with people who I know.  They generally fall into two camps – those who ask and those who ignore.  Upon seeing me for the first time, the “askers” ask me why I have a bandaged nose and I explain to them about my surgery.  If the tables were turned, I would definitely be an asker.  If you see someone you know with a bandaged nose, it seems natural to me to ask them about it.  On the other hand, having answered a question about my nose for the hundredth time, I can also see why it may be annoying to always have to explain your difference. In the other camp are the “ignorers” who ignore the bandage and pretend as if nothing is amiss.  I find the ignorer’s reaction very odd and it makes me uncomfortable.  I wonder why they aren’t asking.  Is it because they think I’d be offended or embarrassed?  Maybe they are afraid I have some terrible disease and don’t want to “go there.”  Or maybe they were raised to believe that it is rude to ask someone about a medical condition. On several occasions I have felt compelled to preempt an anticipated ignorer by starting a conversation with an explanation about my bandaged nose.  “Hi there, I brought you the TCP Reports, and by the way I have a bandage on my nose because I had some minor surgery.”  Preempting in this manner is in and of itself sometimes awkward, especially when the person’s expression indicates that you have given them TMI. What about strangers?  Given the variety of things to see in New York City, it amazes me that people will stare at a bandaged nose.  But stare they do!  I’m a pretty self-confident guy, but I confess that those stares are disconcerting.  At times, I felt like a bit of a freak and wanted to shout out “Stop staring at me!”  At least the train conductor didn’t offer me a half price fare Children’s reactions were also interesting and surprisingly consistent with grown-ups.  Some children stared and said nothing, and some asked me questions.  Of course, when a child asked me about my nose, I was a bit more creative in my explanation.  My favorite was the little girl who asked me about my booboo and I told her it was caused by too much picking.  She thought that was pretty funny. I’m looking forward to shedding my difference soon and rejoining the ranks of the unbandaged.  Nonetheless, I am thankful for the insights that my bandaged nose has provided me into the experiences of those who have permanent differences.  In the meantime, I’m going to take Meg’s advice and flaunt it.

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