When Nancy climbs onto the inward bound 4F bus in the morning, my instinct is to look away. The instinct is born out of fear and insecurity, and I'm a bit ashamed that this is my impulse. Nancy has physical limitations that might be called deformities, and I've never been very comfortable around this. I'm not the only one; lots of people look away when Nancy gets on the bus. I don't like this about myself: I hate hospitals, and often find myself tongue-tied and profoundly uncomfortable around anyone with a severe handicap.
Nancy's chin is almost absent, and her chest is so unusually prominent that I find myself wincing to think about how uncomfortable this must be. A spinal aberation gives her something of a hunched back, and her hands have the claw-like appearance of someone with a nerve disease. One of her legs is a prosthetic replacement, though she uses it so well I didn't know this until the day when I glanced down and saw the metal ankle joint. Damaged or faulty nerves in her face cause one cheek and lower eyelid to droop a bit.
Other than her appearance, much about Nancy's life is exactly like ours. She talks to friends on her cell phone, she commutes to a downtown job each morning, she bobs her head to music playing into her ears through her I-pod. She makes the best of her appearance, wearing attractive earrings, makeup; she takes pains with her hair.
This morning, a young woman I'll call Brook got on the bus near Franklin Avenue, and as luck would have it she sat directly across from Nancy.
In a quirk of fate and genetics, Brook has every physical gift than Nancy has been denied. Both women are in their early to mid 30's, but it's clear that nobody ever looked away after spotting Brook. She is classically beautiful in every modern sense, with small, fine facial features, porcelain skin, a striking figure. She has the legs of an athlete or dancer, and everything about her screams health. I'm not alone in noticing her; several heads turn to look at Brook, and she sees this and looks away in slight embarrassment. The burden of a beautiful woman isn't often appreciated. Surprisingly often, an extremely pretty woman is also a lonely one.
Nancy sees Brook, too, and for several long seconds she stops bobbing her head to the silent music of the earphones and scans Brook up and down. But Nancy's expression when viewing the beautiful Brook isn't envious or resentful or even wistful, even. Her expression is quite matter-of-fact, as if to say, 'isn't life random?'
I wonder: Does Nancy ever get angry at God, bitter with nature, for her lot in life? Does Brook ever thank her lucky stars for physical blessings she was born with?
On the 4F city bus, though, everyone's pretty much the same. In the end, Nancy and Brook get off at exactly the same bus stop: Hennepin Ave. and Seventh Street.
A few blocks later, an odd event: I've been sitting for most of the bus ride with legs crossed, and my left leg has fallen fast asleep. As I get up to disembark at Fourth St., I can barely control my leg and I lurch and hobble off the bus in a manner that makes me feel and look like I have MS or cerebral palsy or some other neurological disease of my own.
Several passengers look away in discomfort when they see my disability.