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When a Little Boy at Macy’s Asked About My Feeding Tube

I had been struggling with severe anorexia nervosa for months, going in and out of hospitals on medical floors and psych floors. When I went out in public the condition of my body was shocking to people. I felt ostracized, ugly and different anywhere I went.

This was a good week. I was out of the hospital and thanks to a nasogastric feeding tube, had enough energy to get out of bed and walk around a bit. It was wonderful to get outside and away from the repetitive thoughts of my eating disorder, even for a few minutes. But it didn’t last for long. The stares snapped me back into reality and I heard whispers I knew were about me. As I walked into a craft store, a mom loudly commented to her son about how “gross” I looked. She didn’t even lower her voice to whisper.

I realized my disorder made other people so uncomfortable, they forgot I was actually a person like them. I was a person with feelings and eyes and ears. A person who eight years later can still remember this moment perfectly and how it made me feel like I deserved to be belittled because of my mental illness. I heard the comments, saw the stares and lowered my head a bit further as I moved on with my day. I pulled my hood over my face in the 80 degree weather so that I would feel a little less like a public spectacle or remnant of a circus freak show.

At Macy’s I shopped in the kids’ section because that was what fit me. I was by the fitting rooms where a mom and her son were shopping. He must have been 3 years old. He looked up at me and with a great curiosity said, “Hi, I’m Riley.” I smiled. “Why do you have a tube in your nose?” he asked. I smiled again. In this interaction with a toddler I didn’t feel judgment; I felt connection. I was a person, he was a person and he had a simple question for me. He asked politely. He looked me in the eyes. He asked my name.

I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer. No one had asked me that before. 

The boy’s mom jumped in and told him that some people just need help eating. He nodded, seemed satisfied with her answer and showed me a t-shirt he was getting. I looked up and simply said, “Thank you,” before we went our separate ways.

Why was a young child one of the few people who treated me like a person? At what stage in life does curiosity and acceptance turn into judgment? What this world needs is less judgment and more Rileys.