I was walking around Fred Meyer this afternoon, carrying three pairs of underpants and on my way to search for Lexol and malted milk, when a middle-aged man came up and spoke to me. I've stopped wearing thong underwear for the most part, since I've found these Maidenform hipsters which are comfortable for riding as well as day-to-day wear, so it wasn't that embarrassing. They weren't fancy colors, either, just two beiges and a black, so he may not have even noticed. It's not the first time in my life that I've had new underwear in public anyway (and the lingerie department doesn't count, although the produce section of Fred Meyer does), and by far the least humiliating. The most humiliating was in 8th grade when my best friend, S (of S&L—yes, we're still friends—I've recovered somewhat since this harrowing experience) called to ask my mother what I wanted for my birthday, and my mother told her I needed underpants, and S BOUGHT THEM FOR ME. AND THEN GAVE ME THE BOX IN ALGEBRA CLASS. WHERE I SAT IN FRONT OF A BOY I HAD A CRUSH ON. And then, even though S said "Maybe you don't want to open this box here . . ." I OPENED THE BOX. I tell you, for a short time, I was in beet red, agonizing, 13-year-old hell.
The man today, who looked like a really nice man—short gray hair, no beard or moustache, clean-smelling clothes—asked if I was sporting a "chemo cut".
I was wearing one of my homemade calico headscarves (note: scarves? don't hide the fact that I'm bald.) "Yes, I am," I replied.
"Can I give you a hug?" the man asked.
"Sure," I said. As he hugged me, I felt care, and yes, love in his energy.
"How far along in your treatments are you?" he asked, stepping back.
"Um," I said, "that's a little complicated." I gave him a 30-second run down of my summer, and ended with "I'm doing really well, but I have no idea how much longer this will be going on."
"Do you need any help, any help at all?" he asked. "Someone to mow the lawn or walk dogs or anything?"
"I don't," I said, smiling at him, "nothing at all. I've got a really great support system and everything is well taken care of. Why do you ask?"
"Well," he said, "I lost someone very dear to me."
I said I was very sorry, and thanked him for his offer and kindness, and we parted ways. And then I spent the next ten minutes misty-eyed, carrying my underpants around Fred Meyer. I eventually remembered what I was looking for, but I didn't find either item.