Monday, June 29, 2009
As a teenager working my family garage sale, I was terrified when a kin of John Merrick came shopping at my house. It was early Saturday morning in suburbia, before cartoons and sugar coated cereal filled the air, when he walked up the drive.
Bulbous ulcers covered his head and hands, every part of his visible body. His hair grew out of deep valleys crevices formed by the collision of his tumors. He, thoughtfully, had tried to cover as much of his skin as possible, and even on this hot, sticky day in July, he wore a long sleeved flannel shirt, jeans, and work boots.
As his bawdy fingers sifted through pop culture remnants of the 90s, I tried to avert my eyes. Surely I, a 15 year old girl, had nothing to sell to this monster. In fact, my plastic treasures seemed obscene in his presence. "I'm trying to think nice thoughts, God" but all I could feel was disgust. Either my junk or my incendiary glances drove him away soon enough, but the image of this man remained seared in my mind long after he was gone.
In fact, this stranger's image has revisited me from time to time, and now, as an adult, I feel a deep gratitude and sorrow for his person. Despite my awareness of his devastated vanity and inferred immense pain, I had abhorred him completely. At the time he entered my life, he represented something which was foreign to me, and terrifying.
Now, as my own health and age have begun to teach me that we have little control over many things, let alone our bodies, I yearn for the freedom of vanity that this courageous man illustrated of that sweaty sunny day from my youth.