Updated: Aug 1, 2021
“ I became a skilled imitator, able to absorb a person in seconds then reenact their walk, speech or mannerisms like a Vegas nightclub act. "
I am walking behind a large woman in tight teal sweats, her body hanging over the waistband and rubbing against the two tote bags slung from her shoulders. She is wearing a fuzzy pink jacket with a tear in the back and it does not fit her well. She is listening to music through her headphones and playing a game as she steps slowly ahead. In the short time I walk behind her up the subway stairs, I place each one of these things about her on an invisible list in my head. I could turn any of them into a snarky comment or joke to acknowledge each of her imperfections. As a child, everything I did was attacked with sarcasm and I was degraded by my brother for just breathing. My mother praised her own kids but poked fun of everyone else. As an overweight teenager, I honed the power of insecurity to a precision focus so that I could rip someone apart with lightning speed and beat them in a draw. I became a skilled imitator, able to absorb a person in seconds then reenact their walk, speech or mannerisms like a Vegas nightclub act. So when I saw this woman ahead of me, so obviously not perfect, my old instincts said “make the list.” But I did not. When I began to wear my pain proudly on the edge of my sleeve, I could suddenly see the colors of other people’s experience. I know the wall of protection she creates around her middle to keep from feeling vulnerable. I sense the hopelessness that prevents her from believing she deserves a new coat or to even clean this one. I hear the music that allows her to pretend she is dancing with someone who adores her or is performing to a cheering crowd. I can guess what is in her tote bag, the books that keep her mind distracted or the crafts that make her hands busy. And as I get to the top of the stairs, and as I pass her, I turn back to see her face, and for a split second I look into her eyes and I make a wish. I wish that she will be touched today by someone who understands her dreams, her fears or her pain. That the next person who notices her will first see that her eyes are beautiful and green. And that the next person who passes me might think the same about mine.