November is National Blogging Month. The goal is to post every day in the month of November. I was hesitating to share what happened to me today, because it is very personal. However, if I am going to post every day, it has to be about something that I feel strongly about, so what the hell, here it is.
I went to the grocery store today to order a birthday cake for my mother in law. It was a simple errand and as I often do, I wore one of my husband’s t shirts. I also wore a pair of my own capris, so don’t panic.
I forgot what I was wearing when a young man with Downs Syndrome read my shirt to me. “The Sun is Trying to Kill me.” Then he said, ” I don’t understand.” It took me a moment to process, then I realized it was now my responsibility to explain it to him.
I , as I often do, said the first thing that popped into my head. ” It’s a joke. It’s my husband’s shirt. He plays a lot of video games and he is inside a lot.” (Don’t judge him. He works full time and has a life.)
The young man stared at me. I am pretty sure he did not get it. He continued to look at me and I waited to see what he said next. I was willing to try again, I was just waiting for the next question.
He completely surprised me by saying, “You look beautiful today, very beautiful.”
“Thank you.” I said.
He walked away.
I was completely uncomfortable. I would have been fine with a thirty minute conversation trying to explain the meaning of my shirt to him, but not this. He was nice to me. Well, what the hell was I going to do with that?
I’ll tell you what I did. I paid for my groceries and I felt uncomfortable as hell and tried to hide it. Then after putting my groceries in my car, I started driving home and I started crying.
No, I am not crazy. Well, you know, no more than anyone else. I am an introvert but I am comfortable talking with people and I can be outgoing at times.
The real problem , I realized, because I am analytical as fuck, is that although I have worked through an enormous amount of shit from my crazy, abusive childhood, I apparently still have a ways to go.
I realized if he had called me ugly, that I KNOW I am not ugly. I think I would have actually been more comfortable with that.
I recalled an incident from the summer before last. It was one of the best days ever. I was spending it with my teenage niece. She is beautiful and completely comfortable being called that as she should be. She is also smart, strong, funny, creative and so many good things.
We were at a picturesque Mountain lake for the day. It was one of those days where so many things go wrong, but they all end up being funny. It was a day you couldn’t plan or recreate even if you tried.
I was happy, truly happy and so was she. I was spending the day with someone I loved. My heart was filled with joy. On that day I went swimming in a lake in Pennsylvannia for the first time since I was a child. On that day I was 51 years old and it was the first time I had worn a swim suit in front of someone other than my husband for many, many years.
My niece did not know that. It was an act of bravery for me. I did it for myself but I also did it for her. She wanted to go to the lake so I told her we would go. I didn’t tell her that I had not worn a swim suit in public in years. I didn’t tell her that I was self conscious about it. I just decided to do it because having fun with her was more important to me than worrying about what other people thought.
Then it happened. I came out of the bathroom and as I walked down the steps, three teenage boys stared at me. One said to the other, “Take it all in.” It was the words and the tone of voice.
In that moment, my joy went away. For a brief moment, I was embarrassed, thinking of what they must be seeing. I had worked hard to lose weight over many months and even over the summer. I had been feeling good about my body although it was not a tiny, skinny one. I had found a swim suit that complimented my body and I felt comfortable in it. I had decided not to judge myself. Then they judged me.
The moment was brief. I had become stronger that summer. I was in take no shit mode and I stared back at all three boys while I tried to decide if I would give them the finger, tell them to fuck off, or give them a lecture on not saying rude things to people. I decided relatively quickly that I would not give them the finger or tell them to fuck off. I was tempted, however briefly, but as the “adult” in the situation, I decided it would just be wrong.
I stared at them. I just stared and they stared back and we went our separate ways. Then I walked to the towels where my niece waited and continued to have a beautiful day. I did not mention the incident to my niece. And I quickly forgot about it, at least for that day.
We swam, we ate, we talked and laughed. We made amazing memories at the lake that day.
Then today, this nice young man called me beautiful. I was more uncomfortable today than I was that summer day.
When I was about seven years old, I showed my mother an art project that I was really proud of. She looked at the art project. Then she fixed her eyes on me and in the coldest, meanest tone of voice she said, “Who do you think you are?”
I was shocked. I did not know what to say.
She had an answer for me. ” You are nobody.”
When she said it, in that cold, cruel voice, staring at me with her eyes, I knew it. I believed it. I was nobody.
That was not the last time I heard that or similar things. No, I am not comfortable being called beautiful. But I have a pretty good idea why and what I need to do.