There’s no situation in which a complete stranger’s assessment of my life should leave me feeling like I’m a waste of good oxygen.
But last week, after a lovely night out with friends, that is exactly what happened. I hailed a taxi. I told the driver my destination, and off we went through the dark city with its twinkly lights. I’m not one for starting conversations with strangers, but I was brought up to be polite and so when the driver started chatting, I felt compelled to respond.
You’ll have to imagine, throughout what followed, the feeling of being thrown about at high-speed, whilst my slightly-grimy chariot avoided the Jeremy Kyle-esque characters who were throwing themselves, drunk, into our path.
Him: You’re going home early.
Me: Yes – I’m not feeling so good and I have to work tomorrow.
Him: Are you ill?
Me: Not really. I’m just in pain.
Him: What’s wrong with you?
Me: (Bristling slightly now) I have arthritis. I can’t walk very far or it hurts.
Him: Poor you. My mother has that. What you want to do is this exercise I know.
Me: Oh really? You can cure arthritis?
Him: It’s all about exercising the muscles. (Proceeds to explain completely unrelated and non-arthritis-curing exercise, complete with hand actions).
Me: No, really, I need an operation. Exercises won’t fix it.
Him: Oh, that’s sad – you’re so young. Do your kids look after you?
Me: I don’t have any kids.
Him: Oh dear. So your husband looks after you?
Me: (Slightly sharp tone now) I don’t have a husband.
Him: Oh dear. Do your parents look after you then?
Me: (Audibly annoyed) No. They don’t live nearby. It’s just me. I’m fine.
Him: That’s terrible.
On reflection, and with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, I should have quite bluntly told him that, despite my appreciation of his attempts at empathy (and he was genuinely a nice chap, concerned for my welfare), actually it’s not terrible. Actually I am a useful member of society who happens to have a health condition but who also happens to be completely self-sufficient and, dare I say it, a fully-fledged grown-up in my own right.
Sure, I’d rather not be in pain and drugged to the gills half the time. I’d prefer it if people didn’t continually ask:
Oh you – what have you done to yourself?
because I’m limping a bit. And obviously I’m not really relishing the concept of major surgery. But I’m well-aware that just about everybody has one or another body-demon with which they have to contend on a daily basis, and a lot of those people are a damn-sight more sick than me.
I don’t think being in a relationship or having kids would necessarily help. I’ve been married, I’ve had boyfriends. I wouldn’t say that any of them “looked after” me. Unless you count leaving a woman in a hip-brace, alone at a bus stop in a blizzard and driving off in your shiny car as “looking after” her? I guess occasionally, they might have carried my shopping for me. In which case, the fact that my supermarket now delivers has rendered the concept of a husband rather pointless…
I’m just not used to being openly pitied. It was a shock. It’s not something that happens to me and I didn’t really know how to deal with it. So I said nothing. Not a word. I just thought “Maybe everyone secretly pities me and I just never noticed. I really, really hope not”.
Still, I’m glad I didn’t tell him I’ll be spending Christmas alone. I quite honestly think that coping with that amount of pity might have ended with him driving us, in a bizarre Thelma and Louise (or – large, beardy taxi driver and small, vintage passenger) parody, off the top floor of the nearest multi-story car park.
- An open letter to you, Taxi Driver (bikeablejo.wordpress.com)
- A Dreadful Experience (myoceandeep.wordpress.com)