Did you ever do that experiment as a kid with the vinegar and an egg? You know, the one where you put an egg in a clear glass, pour white vinegar over it and wait to see what happens? The vinegar, a harmless looking substance, closely resembling water, slowly erodes the shell. Rather it dissolves the hard calcium exterior leaving the membrane. That “harmless” looking substance is an acid. Yet, we put many forms of it in our salads and cook with it. We also use it to disinfect, de-lime and de-grime our homes. Because it is an acid. Harmless though it appears it will leave that egg naked. Bare. Its hard exterior gone, it’s white and yolk are laid bare, naked. Raw for all to see.
Bare. Naked. Raw. For all to see.
A few weeks ago I put up a little album on my Facebook page called “those moments in Life” and went to bed. A few weeks later, my loving Aunt, found the picture, liked and commented. My heart warmed. I woke up one morning and to my immediate horror the whole world had seen one that picture of me, I was on the fence about. and what was worse, people LIKED the picture. Then the comments flooded in… And I did not know what to say.
I had always suffered with a facial palsy. In my younger years, you know those so-called harmless words children say that cut deep? Yeah, those words were “J-mouth”, “why is your mouth like this?”. Cutting my young soul to the quick. Deeply wounding. So much so I retreated into myself. Indoors at break time, reading a book, afraid to look up, just in case someone saw. In case someone saw my Achilles heel, all over my face. Everyday.
One day, some silly little boy had the nerve to comment and I snapped. “You with your J-mouth”, to which I quickly retorted ” And you with your flat-head!”. Breathing fire, eyes blazing, I finally stood up for myself. In that moment, I learned the “comeback”. And the fine art of sarcasm along the way.
Fast-forward to college days. Lots of insecurities: my already shy personality retracted even more. When you wear your Achilles heel on your face, it’s harder to make eye contact.
One summer, on the continent (in Belgium, actually), I was surrounded by these women. You know francophone women. All sexy, disheveled, devil-may-care, sultry. In all different shapes and sizes. All walks of life, all socio-economic classes. Just women. The kind who by the mere possession of their gender, carried their femininity as one who held a much coveted secret weapon. You would think it was their fashion. Nope. The red wine? The red lippy? Nope.
Exuded from every pore. Oozing, all around them. Surrounding them like an aura.
Fake it till you make it, girlfriend.
As any young woman, I learned to dress myself, to apply make-up. But never lipstick. Even as I looked at my reflection in the changing room mirrors, I never could meet my own eyes.
Always unsolicited advice. Some well-meaning advice. But always unwanted advice. “no put this on”, “let your hair down”. Always standing back. Then, an unconvincing smile, “see, you look beautiful”. I would look into their eyes. Sometimes it was kind, sometimes resigned, sometimes… But I knew they could not hide it. Nothing could hide it.
And when I closed my eyes to dream, I saw myself as a whole, smiling bright, laughing, chin-up doing nothing in particular. Probably something mundane people with full-smiles took for granted.
I never made it.
But I could fake it.
College life changed. I got new friends, better friends. The kind that are really good people. The kind who you could be real with. The kind who guarded your chrysalis until you emerged as the Adult you would one day become…
It took me 30 years in that chrysalis.
With shaky hands, one day, I put on that forbidden red lippy and looked at myself in the mirror. Sweating, I stared and my face with my Achilles heel highlighted for the world to see. If staring wasn’t enough, I smiled. And I saw myself for the first time.
You see, I was Jeni. Not a Bell’s Palsy. FULLSTOP.
You see when I put that picture up, I was not making a statement. I mean, I put pictures on Facebook all the time.My posts are buried in there like everyone else’s. I mean who paid any attention to what I had to say? to my story? Who even looks at my photos, anyways?
But someone did. Some people did. They saw me naked, Raw. Vulnerable.
I saw that pink elephant in the room, I stroked it’s trunk and fiercely, dared anyone in the room to criticize.
So you see, how could I respond to any of your comments?
I was embarrassed. It took me 3 days to show Babycakes. To see if he had seen, to see if he was embarrassed too, that his wife had made a public show of herself.
He wasn’t. He shrugged’ “Of course, Jeni. You’re beautiful. You always have been to me. You just finally see you, the way I see you.”
With every comment of love, support and acknowledgment of the struggle, the battle I had finally won, I for the first time ACCEPTED the compliments. For their face value. No second guessing.
And with every comment acknowledging my battle scars, I cried. I shed real tears, of joy, and victory over the broken little girl I had always been inside.
THANK YOU ALL. THANK YOU.