The man in the picture is not a pirate.
It's my husband, Curtis, who underwent Mohs surgery for the removal of a small basal cell carcinoma along and near his lower eyelid.
Though the skin cancer wasn't much by itself — "It won't kill you," the doctor said — the reconstruction proved a challenge. A skin graft, taken from his other eyelid, was necessary, and for six weeks his eye was sewn shut to allow time for the graft to work its magic.
My husband felt more comfortable wearing an eye patch when we left the house. We were prepared that people would ask questions, but not for the uniform reaction.
"AAARRRGGHHH!" said a neighbor as we walked our dog.
"A bottle of rum, perhaps?" asked the waiter who took our drink order.
"Ahoy, Cap'n," saluted the Buddhist monk when my husband showed up for his dharma class.
It got old.
Admittedly, every comment was usually followed by a concerned "What did you do to yourself?" (unless, of course, it was followed by "Shiver me timbers!"). We knew people weren't purposely being insensitive. My husband coolly took it in stride, and I kept my head down.
But we often asked ourselves, especially after the greeting from the monk, "Where's the compassion?"
Crutches, canes and casts all convey the same wordless message: Something bad happened. What about an eye patch makes the conversation go in a whole other direction?
It's not that we couldn't laugh at our situation. "Do I look like the overgrown fly in the movie?" my husband asked as he put on giant sunglasses, a parting gift from the ophthalmology surgeon.
There were some welcome exceptions. "Curtis, what happened?" a friend's teenage son inquired as he stopped short on his skateboard while we unloaded groceries. "You're going to be OK, right?"
My husband explained it all.
"Bummer. Stay cool," the kid said, and rode away down the alley.
It was. We did.
Smithwick-Driver is a writer living in Manhattan Beach. She is putting the final touches on her memoir, "No One to Ask."
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