I’m staying in my old neighborhood while taking care of my mom in the hospital. Yesterday, as I headed out on my exercise walk, I passed the 50-something year-old man next door, who was a neighbor for 15 years. While asking me about my mom, the neighbor checked out my body a couple of times, with that run-of-the-mill invasive male gaze.
While he had done it in the past, and while it had always made me uncomfortable with him — adding the “ick” factor to otherwise friendly and pleasant interactions — I felt extremely disrespected this time around. My mother’s daily mental and physical state have been a source of terrible distress for me. My mother’s very life is in the balance. Was that conversation an especially appropriate time to check out my ass?
To make matters worse, the neighbor asked when my mother was coming home from the hospital — pointing out that another neighbor had just gotten brain surgery and was already driving around in her car four days later. For starters, I find it disconcerting when people demand a tidy narrative around illness: “What’s the prognosis?” “When will the issue be resolved?”
After both my wrists were injured a couple of years ago, I immediately called my editor at a major periodical — informing him I would need a couple of extra days to round up typing help and therefore turn in my article. “When will your wrist be better?” he asked, more out of annoyance than compassion. As if I could give him the exact date and time.
Second of all, how useful is it to shove in my face that someone else healed lickety-split, whereas my mom has been fighting for her life for three weeks? Never mind the fact that a non-malignant brain tumor is a far less complex condition than landing on one’s head and back from a five-foot drop. It’s just plain mean to point a finger at someone’s struggle, instead of expressing compassion for it.
I didn’t feel the energy to confront the guy, on top of everything else. So I just got out of the conversation and away from this man, as fast as I possibly could. Next time I go on my walk, and he’s outside, I think I’ll cross the street.