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Dear Stranger

by Dessa Harris 2 years ago in coping
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Lady at the grocery store

Dear Stranger
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I suffer from a lot of mental and physical illnesses. I am used to getting looked at in public when people see me using things that are obviously meant for disabled people. I know I am young, but that doesn't mean that I am not disabled. I have severe anxiety and depression, as well as PTSD and bipolar, and some other issues that I am sure I will get into later. I hate going out in public, because I am always afraid of what people think of me, or say about me. Honestly, compared to the lady today, I am starting to be grateful they say it behind my back. After an awful experience at the grocery store today, I felt the need to write this in hopes that if she didn't see it, someone with her mindset might.

Dear lady at the grocery store today,

I saw you in front of me, staring back at me like I couldn't see you doing it. I wanted to be invisible in that moment, because the way you stared me down, made me feel like you were staring into my soul. I pretended to not notice and when you saw that I saw you, I just smiled and looked away. You started talking to an obviously uncomfortable cashier. She heard you, even though she couldn't say anything back. She stood there with her lips pursed, quietly nodding while she scanned your items, and listened to your ranting. She looked at me apologetically waiting in line at the next checkout lane. Her eyes said I am sorry, but it's not her fault. I smiled and looked away, trying to ignore the crude words coming out of the customer's mouth. Even though you attempted to whisper, I don't think you cared whether or not I did hear you, but I did.

I heard you loud and clear as if I was the cashier who was trying to rush you out of her checkout lane, by scanning your items with lightning speed. Poor thing was still nodding while scanning and staying quiet. I heard you though. I may look complacent and quiet, but I am in fact the opposite. Had this been a couple years ago, I would have said whatever I wanted back to you. I would not have smiled and pretended I didn't hear you. I probably would have cursed you, called you out of your name, or even gone as far as beating the crap out of you, and God knows you would have deserved it. However, lucky for you, Im trying to be a better person and I've learned to control my temper. Im not perfect, but im definitely better than I used to be. With that being said I wanted you to know a couple things, but you already embarrassed me and I didn't want to do the same to you.

Yes, I look healthy even though I was in an electronic cart. Yes they are meant for people who need them, and I don't look like I do. Yes, I was using food stamps, and I probably did look like the typical 'welfare mom' ,as you put it, in my sweats and shirt with my slip on shoes and hair thrown up in a very messy bun. I probably did look as though I didn't finish high school and have a million kids at home. You're right I probably looked as though I deserved your criticism. But I don't.

What you didn't see is that twice a week I attend physical therapy because I broke my back and neck and walking more than ten minutes is a chore for me. It used to be five, but I've been pushing myself, because in November I have to prove I can be determined enough to keep going after they burn the nerve endings in my spine so I can walk without pain. I was in the cart because of this. Truth be told Im embarrassed I even need a cart. Yes food stamps are welfare, but what you didn't know is I have two households in my house and my daughter and three nephews need that to eat because Covid-19 left my husband unemployed. And without those food stamps we would starve.

We are drowning in unpaid bills and without them i dont know what we would do. I do look like a bum because I am severely depressed and getting out of bed every day is a chore when I know I have reasons to live but my brain tries to tell me otherwise. Im not dressed but im out of bed today and that's a hard obstacle for me. I wish I had a million kids at home, but what you dont know is we have one because we have tried for three years to have another one and were told to stop trying because after 10+ miscarriages my body is damaged. And i did finish high school as a teenage single mom and even went to college twice and am still enrolled. No life hasn't been the kindest to me but I wear my accomplishments with pride and people like you make me feel like I have nothing to be proud of. But i do.

Im still alive and still going even when my mind and body tell me not to be. I fight myself to get up in the morning but i still do. I'm sorry that you feel i am taking advantage of an already broken system but the truth is i was born into a life that wanted me to fail from the beginning and despite everything I've been through i made it to 28 years when i never thought i would. I found love and created a home for my daughter when I didn't think I deserved it or was worthy of either.

I don't blame you for your ignorance I just want you and everyone else with your mindset to know that just because you don't face the world I face or struggle with what I struggle with doesn't mean you have the right to judge me or anyone else walking down a similar path. Some of us just hide our scars better than others. That's what it means to not judge a book by its cover, and to not look down on others. You may think were perfectly fine, but some of us fight battles in silence everyday. You never know what someone is going through. I hope one day you see this and I hope the next 'welfare mom' receives kind words from you instead of harsh criticism.


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Dessa Harris

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