When I passed you in the cereal aisle of “Stop and Shop” I smiled. You scanned the labels, Life, Cheerios, Kix , while your husband pushed the carriage; the knit blue cap that covered your hairless head, a beacon of pain. “I’ve been where you are,” I wanted to say, “I understand how you are feeling.” But I didn’t say anything, I just smiled at you, hoping you would smile back.
You didn’t smile back at me. Why would you? You probably felt self-conscious. Maybe you thought this long-haired woman was being rude to stare at you like that. There was no indication that I had been where you are. No outward sign.
And you were probably tired. So very tired. But the shopping still needed to get done, because you had people depending on you at home. Children, teenagers that maybe felt bad for you but mostly were concerned with themselves and complained that there was no food in the cabinets when they got home from school.
Maybe you felt nauseous too, and queasy. It’s hard to smile at strangers when you’re trying to get through the grocery list while your stomach is doing back flips and the inside of your mouth tastes like metal all the time. You needed to stay focussed.
But I remembered another woman on a day like today two years ago at another grocery store, in another aisle. As I leaned into my carriage, willing the turbulence in my belly to settle long enough to get me home, this woman did approach me. “I’ve been where you are,” she said, “You will feel better, believe me.”
It’s what I wanted to say to you, to make you feel better like that woman had made me feel better, but I didn’t because I thought you would distrust my concern. Also I thought maybe this wasn’t your first time through. That maybe, just maybe, you had already recovered once and now your disease had returned. In that case no reassurance from me was necessary. Because then , if I told you that you would get better, it would be a lie. My recovery would be like salt in your wounds, not reassuring at all.
So I gathered my groceries and passed you again on my way to the register, and this time I did not smile.