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In my lifetime, I have walked for hundreds of hours down the crowded, mistreated streets of Manhattan. If there is one thing I’ve learned from these walks, it is this simple yet disgusting fact: people stare. Not just at me, at anyone that’s seemingly different or abnormal. The business man stares incredulously at the girl with the pink hair and piercings. The Upper East Side brat stares emotionlessly at the homeless beggars. The middle aged single woman stares enviously at the passing young couple. But most of all, people stare at me. They stare at my bald head and frail bones with pity, sometimes with a gleam of recognition. When they stare they see a girl that came inches to death, a leukemia patient, a teenaged cancer survivor…but they never really see me.
This fact is the source of all my anger, for I have made my feelings perfectly clear. The way I see it, I don’t need their compassion, their pity, their small smiles… To me it’s all worthless, because that’s not what I’m all about. Frankly, I just don’t understand. How can they not recognize the amazing feat I have accomplished? How do they not see the agonizing labor, the hours and tears that went into my masterpiece? That novel was the most intricate piece of art, the most accurate description of an everyday girl’s life... I wrote about an everyday girl because that is what I am, and I promise you that the words “cancer”, “leukemia”, or “chemotherapy” do not exist within those 341 pages.
Unfortunately, the ignorance of humankind still remains.
Flashback to September 27, 2010. I appeared on an episode of Oprah, excited to talk about my dream. My dream that had recently become a reality… my dream that I had strived so hard for... My dream that I had undoubtedly acquired simply due to the fact that I had been through a so called “miracle” The audience that day was not interested in my literary talents, but rather the details of my illness. Oprah herself repeatedly asked “Why is your novel not about your cancer?” and even went as far to ask me if I did not understand the rarity of my survival.
Rewind eight months, December 5, 2009. Lying on a hospital bed, just having received what would be my second to last dose of chemotherapy, I furiously scribbled in the beat up notebook I had been creating a masterpiece in for the past three years. The nurse, seeing my passionate motions, remarked that “my leukemia would make a very good story.” A good story? It took all I could not to scoff directly back at her. A good writer writes of who they are, what they find important. My cancer was merely a small detour in the road of my life, but it was not a detour my character needed to take.
I then explained quite politely to the nurse that my novel was entirely separate from my current situation. Her response was a small smile, a quaint nod, a mumbled “Good luck with that…” I couldn’t believe it. Evidently, she thought it was an idiotic idea, a trivial pursuit. Ever since then I have wanted nothing more than to prove her, and many, many others, wrong.
And that’s exactly what I thought I did when, at the age of 16, my novel was published.
Ignorance, disgusting, horrendous, incomprehensible amounts of ignorance... Is it ambiguous that my name is the youngest to appear on the New York Times Bestseller list? Is it not known that teenagers across the country read my novel?
The ones who fully appreciate my story are the ones that do not recognize my name. They have not seen me sarcastically snap at Oprah, or walk out on a live studio audience. They see only the photograph of me on the inside back cover, taken pre-cancer days, when my vibrant brown hair was so long I could sit on it. They haven’t seen photographs of me on a hospital bed, surrounded by teddy bears and flowers given to me by people whose names I can barely recognize. My readers only know the smiling girl they see in pixels, the description that follows just 21 words. “Abigail Johnson is a sixteen year old, native to Manhattan. She has always dreamed of seeing her name in a print.”
Those who love my writing don’t expect a story of cancer, illness, or miracles. They are not surprised by the absence of hospital beds, and instead embrace the gargantuan amounts of tears and teenage angst that exist within those pages.
My true readers don’t judge, they simply appreciate. They appreciate the story of boy meets girl, of New York humor, of countless novels read… They revel in the simplicity of chipped nail polish, nights out, first kisses, concerts and dates, the way it feels to have that person by your side.
To those who are too ignorant to look past the bald head and medical records, I highly recommend they learn to appreciate the art of simplicity. Oh and, while you’re at it, please avert your eyes. Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to stare?