I stand in the elevator and they glance at me, the other people riding up or down with me, but they avoid all eye contact. At first it’s a quick glance, then they catch my eye and look away. I look up above the elevator doors, watching but not really paying attention to the numbers changing on the lit display above the sliding doors. This gives them time to look at me, without being self conscious about it. I feel them staring out of the corner of their eye, trying to figure it out. Where is it coming from? Why do I have it? I let them try to discover, and I smile quietly to my self. I take a deep breath and I feel them squirm. I feel their dread, their worry of their own mortality, their confusion. Then the doors open, I step out, and walk away briskly. I feel their eyes on my back. I know they can’t understand, and I walk away content that I have played another game with the strangers that have just come in and out of my life.
I walk through the mall, in the grocery, the streets, and I watch into the eyes of strangers. They glance and look away nonchalantly, but I see their eyes swing back quickly to confirm what they just saw. They see what it is, get a micro expression of confusion, shock, bewilderment, and look away. Some are bold and continue to stare.
Still I enjoy the game. I love to read micro expressions, body language, human response. And what better way than to be the subject of query, looking out at the those inquisitive eyes?
The game gets even more interesting with those that are older than me, but what they have is different. They look at me at first with the confusion that the others have, but they they quickly recognize but can’t identify. They try to look around at my side, my back, somewhere to identify the source. They are more curious than those younger and my age because they live with it. And they ask. They seek to know just where a 49 year old man (that has been told he looks 35) hides his oxygen.
When I started to wear my oxygen on a regular basis, I was very self conscious of the glances and the stares from people. For safety, I don’t let the nasal cannulae hang. I snake it up through my jacket in winter, or in the warmer months, up through my shirt. My oxygen pack is small and fits in a small ventilated back pack, so nothing is noticeable until you are close to me. And all you see is the cannulae on my face.
So when people see me, firstly most only encounter very old women in a wheel chair or a little push chair with a large green oxygen tank, with what seems like miles of plastic tubing snaking from the canister to their nose, their walk slow, their breathing labored. To see what appears on all outward appearances, a healthy man with oxygen, they get confused. Once someone stopped me and asked if that was some new fancy training gadget for athletes. That was the funniest question to date.
But, I have learned to take my oxygen with me all the time. I still do get a little self conscious at times, but I inhale deeply and remember that that little pack of liquid oxygen on my back is helping my organs to live a little longer, and so I breathe, and I breathe and I continue to smile and enjoy my game of watching the “What the?” expressions on people’s faces.