Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Writing is both masking and unveiling."  ~  E.B. White


I've got a pimple on my elbow! My ELBOW! WHO gets a pimple on her elbow?

Now, pimples on my FACE, I had! Every time I looked into a mirror, there they were.  All I saw on this face of mine were those alien bumps, sprouting everywhere on my face. They were all I didn't ever see on anybody else, it seemed. Why me???

And they didn't go away even when I wasn't a teenager anymore. They kept busy like popcorn in the popper. Oh, eventually they would go away, one by one, but they'd leave pits in my skin as remembrances, and then there'd be more popping up. … never-ending… always there…  I had dates with some wonderful guys in high school and college, and they didn't seem to notice. Didn't matter, though. I saw every one of those nightmare bumps and their going-away gifts - perfect pits.

Now, when you study art, you study light, too. You must know where the light source is coming from to understand shadows and highlights when you draw or paint. For me, there was another reason to study light, and I still do it today. It's a fact that very few people look good sitting directly underneath an over-head light bulb. It creates strange shadows on every face under it. It also highlights things that shouldn't be in the spotlight. So, I've always checked the ceiling light fixtures before I sit down, wherever I sit down. Still do. Soft, quiet light, like moonlight, is best for hiding a pitted face, but for me sun light, or any other overhead light, is taboo!

Terry! You sound like an egomaniac! Maybe so, but I'm also telling the low-down, utter truth, as I've lived it.

Cosmetics are the answer, Terry, you twit! Maybe so, but cosmetics don't help when you're afraid to walk up to the cosmetic counter, itself, where those ladies with perfect skin are going to look closely at YOUR skin and try to match your skin color with some foundation they are selling. I think that's called a "double-bind," or something like that.

After years and years of living with that selfish fear, and even after getting married to a wonderful husband, I still tried to hide my face as best I could. But one day, somehow, someway, I realized that there are doctors who can "sand-paper" your face so the pits aren't so deep. Well, off I went to the office of a plastic surgeon who was recommended by my G.P.

I sat down in the darkest corner of the waiting room, after carefully studying the lay of the ceiling lights system, dreading the relentless eyes of a trained skin examiner. I nearly walked out of the office many times during that 30-minute wait for my examination.

The doctor was professional, curtly pleasant, with a discerning eye. He said, "This is going to be fun! Now, you can't expect a clear, smooth skin with what you're bringing me! I CAN smooth it somewhat, though. Boy, you have a face-full!" It was hard to believe he could say that to me, or even see me. You see, by this time I was crouched underneath the examining chair in his office!

"Your head will be fully bandaged for a week, of course."

"Ask the nurse for an appointment time. Now, don't expect a miracle, for heaven's sakes!" And off I went, expecting no miralces, and not much help, either.

The day came, finally. I was "sanded" and it was finally finished. My entire head was encased in bandages that wrapped around my head, up and over my head, and under my chin, too. It looked like he'd had to do a labotomy, not just a carpenter's sanding job.

Then the day came for the "unveiling." He unwrapped me, and my face was as red as a roasted beet! "I want you to come back in 4 days so I can see the healing."

"OK."

That day came. I slithered into the office, looking for the least light, but there was a brilliant flourescent tube on the ceiling with the only chair left in the waiting room underneath it. I sat my red-face down right under it. As I sneaked peeks at the others in the waiting room, I saw her…

She was younger than I was, still a teen-ager. Her skin was white, absolutely white like the sheet of paper I'm writing on right now! That thin white skin on her face was transparent, so thin that I could see the pattern of her blood veins, clearly blue, like a map all over that face. I looked at her hands. Her fingers had melted away so each one had only one knuckle left. These half-fingers tapered to soft curved points.

But it was the smoothness of her hands that I couldn't understand, either. The skin of each knuckle was stretched so tightly that none of her knuckles had wrinkles. It looked like those fingers might not even bend.

"Mrs. Waldron! Mrs. Waldron, the doctor is ready for you," said the nurse at the admittance door.

When I sat down and the doctor took a look at his handy-work, I got the courage up to ask him, "Doctor, I know you can't talk about your other patients, but that teen-aged girl in the waiting room… What happened to her?"

"She was lighting some fireworks in her hands, cherry bombs I think, and they all went off at once. She's had 11 surgeries, so far. It takes a while to get all that scar tissue off. Now let's look at you…"

ME? Yeah, me, and all my self-pity and the rest of it. That poor young girl, you mean!

And I'm ashamed to admit that it took me many more years to understand that the best thing your face can have on it is a smile… a REAL smile… a genuine smile that has no guile.

A simple upturn of your lips does not a smile make. That's called a sneer, and I've seen lots of those. What good are they? You can see right through them. In fact, have you ever seen a chimpanzee "smile?" They turn back their lips until their teeth all show and they "smile." It's a sign of fear and nervousness. I see more of those "chimpanzee smiles" today than ever the real deal.

I've learned one thing about real smiles. They start in the very heart of you, and then shine out through your eyes… that is IF they are REAL. Finally, they might spill out onto your mouth, but they don't have to. Those smiling eyes have already let the world know what you're feeling inside, you see.

And guess what? I make friends with cosmetic-counter ladies, now. They don't scream and run away when they see me. In fact, they are sooo happy to see another customer ready to buy their new mineral powder, guaranteed to hide all skin flaws.  And I just smile right back at 'em!

2 comments:

  1. You've done it again, Terry. This speaks to so many things about how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others--the twain shall never meet. When I was quite young, I had the singular opportunity to enjoy the friendship of an elder sage. One day when our conversation led to the process of aging, he left words in my heart that have lasted a lifetime. He said, "As age comes upon you one day, always remember that when you are gone, people will remember your smile, not your wrinkles." Pimples and wrinkles are cousins in our psyches. May a radiant smile erase them.from our consciousness.

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  2. Linda, you are not only a wonderful writer, but you are a sage! Thank you for that added truth.

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