Her eyes flick over me twice before she levels with mine.
She has read me like a barcode and in a second, I know that she knows.
I try to smile at her but I can’t and so I shove the yoghurts into my basket and move away quickly.
My illness hangs around me like cellophane wrapping, and I am frightened that I’ve been branded with an, ‘Ah So You’re One Of Those’ sticker.
Everyone seems to have a ‘one of those’ story.
It’s their niece or their friend’s daughter… a colleague’s son or a friend of a friend.
Unfathomable, the visible signs of this illness can be a trigger for a multitude of thoughts and feelings in the strangers who might notice your matchstick legs, the bones in your hands as you hand over change, or the frailty of your gait as you weave down a supermarket aisle.
Once upon a time, I was one of the watchers. My sister had suffered with Anorexia for years and I was the one on the ‘other side’, forced to watch her fading form. I could spot the illness a mile off in the people I passed in the street. My eyes sharpened and my ears so finely tuned to hear the silent cries of the girls who woke and slept under the cruel hand of the illness.
From pity to total outrage, I projected my frustration, my despair, my anger and my grief on the coat hanger shadows of those who I passed. Now, I am that hanger and I fear the disgust on the faces of those who judge (though I am aware that it might be my mother’s helpless anger on the faces of these women, rather than their own).
I realise that anyone with a physical disability must bear this same small cross that is the flickering eyes of those who can’t help but look. A small but constant reminder of their difference. I understand how selfish it may seem that whilst one appears to choose to wear an illness, another has no choice. An Anorexic can be judged to be somehow choosing their disability. I want to clear my name as I stand in the dock of the all too public courtroom, but that will take another post and a lot of energy that I currently don’t have.
I reach an end here with no more than a gentle reminder to those who stare, that the stared-at may appreciate being smiled at.