“You look so beautiful tonight,” my mom says to me, out of nowhere, in her soft, gentle voice, her eyes sparkling and glistening. Shy and disbelieving, I shiver, turn away and laugh – uncomfortable in my inability to accept her compliment.
“You always looked good in blue,” she adds. And this dropped-in detail propels my legs to stand up, walk away and make a joke, as her voice rings out like a bell tolling against the sides of my head.
Busying myself in the kitchen, I gingerly touch the side of my face, glad she hasn’t noticed its purplish tint in the fluorescent light…doesn’t perceive the slight swelling on the opposite side of my profile…can’t see the bruises hidden beneath the long sleeves I wear on this warm day in July.
It’s embarrassing to wear these marks but it feels even worse to hear my body spoken of in terms of beauty. My flesh radiates a heat I know is palpable; a sprawling burn I’m positive everyone can see.
It drags me down long corridors of memories filled with blacked out moments. Dishes breaking against the bright white of the wall, voices shouting in cries that I recognize as my own, hair being ripped out in bunches that wither as flowers spread across the carpeted floor. My psyche crashes in an attempt to reconcile the innocent beauty my mother describes in her vision of me, against the knowledge of the worthlessness I have allowed myself to become.
Some days I’m present enough to remember what happened. On others I clamp it down in a dark, shaded part of my forced non-memory. But more often than not I escape from my body, looking down upon what is happening – hovering, distant and disinterested, waiting to return to a less painful existence.
I’ve been hit often enough to know by the size and location of the bruise, which appendage inflicted the damage. And I’ve loved enough to remember what it feels like to greet these boy-men in the morning and make them breakfast. I’ve denied reality enough to tell myself that it was all my fault. And I’ve learned to swallow the blame and shame I wear upon my marked skin.
And somehow “beauty,” in a strange, baffling way, is a word I hear often in relation to my being. Amid the confusion I experience as to how that term could possibly apply to me, I’ve learned to smile and pretendingly accept the gift of its presence. Yet in all honesty, upon its utterance, my ears waver in puzzled awareness – seeking to understand what the use of this word actually means and how it applies to “us”…to this splintered version of myself.
Lost in an eddy of wordless pondering, I’m brought back to the warm respite of the four walls I once called home, listening to my mother’s breath dragging in and out. I feel her gaze upon me as I stir pasta in a pot; as I witness the depth of her love.
And as I breathe in the same damp, humid air, I feel the wave of my mom’s words trickling over my skin. It builds until my hands clench tightly, and I finally push away the blaming of my body for its worn out, marked on, raised up flesh.
I resolutely refuse to punish myself any longer – to treat myself with the same derogatory disrespect that directs others to do the same.
So today I choose to tell myself that I am beautiful. Today I repeat the words “I look good in blue.” And in this finite, yet all important moment, I hear my mother’s breath gushing out as she tells me that I take her breath away.
In all these moments, I choose to believe these words are true.
Even though my own breath has been stolen away in kicks and punches, in insults and slaps…and even though I’ve turned myself over to violent, dark figures in masks…and even though it takes a heaving gasp to re-enter my body, I decide today to reclaim my worth:
I whisper into the wind and I catch the tails of laughter.
I flick my tongue toward fire and I taste truth.
I fling myself into the water and I am cleansed.
I dig deep into the earth and I find strength.
I put my hands on every inch of my body and promise I will only ever be touched again in love. And as I re-join my mom on the couch, two steaming bowls of spaghetti in my hands, I vow to see myself forever more through the eyes of my own truth and beauty.