I look like a monster. During a routine root canal last week, the dentist accidentally tore a blood vessel in my face, and the result is that the left side of my face is black and purple and swollen from eyebrow to throat.
While painful, the worst part of this mishap is the deep embarrassment at having my face looking so monstrous. I hadn’t realized the shock of my bruises until my neighbor dropped by and literally jumped off my porch at the sight of my face, clutching at her heart and shrieking involuntarily.
“It’s not even a good story,” I told her and explained about the dentist and the torn blood vessel. After a brief visit I said goodbye to her, knowing she had never paid attention to our conversation because my face was so distracting. I was disheartened and embarrassed.
The embarrassment grew more deeply rooted when I took my son to kindergarten the next day. Upon seeing my face, (which I thought was cleverly concealed by my hair swept over my face and the sunglasses I wore indoors) Noah’s teacher gasped and expletives spewed forth, causing me to laugh and she to slap a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she apologized for her involuntary cursing, “You look like someone beat the life out of you!” I explained what had happened and literally ran to my car, heading home to hide from all human contact.
For several days I avoided contact with people other than my family and my first foray into public in search of a video led to new humiliation and had me determined not to leave home again.
“Mommy, look at that lady’s face!” I heard the little boy’s voice behind me and the heat rose in my cheeks as I instantly knew I was the freak show he pointed at. “Don’t stare,” I heard the mother whisper as she yanked the boy out of the video store so he wouldn’t have to see the scary-faced woman. I drove home, crawled into bed and pulled the covers over my head, intending to stay there until I looked human again.
A couple of days later, I looked in the mirror and tried to view my face from a stranger’s perspective. The perfect circle of purple around my eye lent me the look of that dog on “Little Rascals”. The huge, swollen black and purple splotches along my cheek and jaw and the streaks of blue and green down my throat were colorful and distracted from the fact that I wore no makeup, which was too painful to apply. I couldn’t have felt more insecure.
Sighing, I told myself that if my own children accepted this temporary ugliness, then what did I care what strangers thought. It’s just my face, after all – not who I am. It’s what’s on the inside that matters, I told myself. I put on my sunglasses and headed to the book store in search of more boredom busters.
As I locked up my car and shook my hair down to cover my cheek, I realized my hands were shaking. “This is ridiculous!” I scolded myself. “It’s just a bunch of bruises!”
Trying to be invisible, I headed to the kid’s section to look for something my kids might like.
“Mommy, look at that lady’s face!” The words again brought the blush of embarrassment and I wished the floor would magically swallow me up. I wasn’t prepared for the mother’s reaction.
“I know honey, she looks like Shaley!” The woman actually sounded happy about this, almost like I did when I saw another deaf child like my youngest.
I turned to see who was so excited about my disfigurement and saw a woman, a little girl and another little girl in a wheelchair, all staring at me. The little girl in the wheelchair had a facial deformity that made my heart ache for her. I don’t know what it’s called, but I knew she had a disease that made her life expectancy not very good. I knew she was Shaley and I also knew there was a lesson for me here.
“Hi!” I bent down and touched the side of Shaley’s face gently, fingers shaking. She had huge sparkly brown eyes and they shined with inner beauty that made me forget the face so obvious at first glance.
She reached a tiny hand up to me, past my bruises up to grab a handful of my red hair in her gnarled hand. Her touch was gentle, sweet and careful.
“Pretty,” she said simply.
Tears stung my eyes as all at once I felt shame at myself and admiration for this little brave angel. She could see beauty in a place where others saw ugliness. A miracle in one so young and challenged herself.
I grinned at her and said “Thank you, Shaley.”
“Pretty,” she said again and touched my cheeks, by now I was fighting to keep the tears from spilling. I look at this tiny doll, trapped by an oxygen tank, a wheelchair. I knew she was freer than most people ever were. She knew what really mattered and she had the courage to speak up and just say it. She made me feel special, as if she looked into my soul with those huge brown eyes and deemed me pretty on the inside.
We said our goodbyes and I watched her mother wheel her away. I wanted to thank her, but stood rooted in silence and tears. I watched her until she was gone and then I headed to my car and home. Shaley touched a complete stranger and puts things neatly in perspective. My battered outside would eventually heal. Hers would not. But she showed me that what is true, what lasts, what is really important has nothing to do with our outside packaging. It’s on the inside.
Susan Farr Fahncke copyright 2003 [email protected]
I am the founder of 2TheHeart and Angels2TheaHeart and I love my job! I am the author of “Angel’s Legacy” and the co-author and contributor to many of books and magazines. To see more of my work, visit my page at 2theheart: www.2theheart.com/susan_fahncke