Last week a family member died. When I got my sister’s call at 1 AM telling me about the death, I was not completely shocked. Age and illness dictated that it was just a matter of time.
I hung up the phone and tried to register what I felt. Initially, I felt nothing. Which some people would consider strange because I lived with this family member during the early years of my life – from new born until ten. But the relationship was troubled, to put it mildly; abusive to be blunt.
As a small child, I constantly endured verbal tirades and uncensored displays of brutality. I wasn’t sure what was harder, the unprovoked beatings or the public embarrassment. This was back in the days when people turned their heads when adults hit children. It wasn’t any of their business.
I remember two nice men in a grocery store trying to intervene on separate occasions. Once I’d been slapped so hard in a grocery store that I flew across the room, hitting a display of cans that fell and rolled in every direction. I was five. This was not an isolated event. And it was far worse in private. Chokings, threats with knives and discussions on how stupid/ugly I was were my constant fears. It’s a lot for a small child to endure.
As an adult, I made genuine efforts to be around this woman, who was still a difficult person to accept. In my 20s I thought that was forgiveness. As I matured and realized I could forgive without putting myself in mental anguish, I stopped dealing with her altogether.
When another family member needed to gather up the belongings of the deceased, no one was there to help. This woman had left a legacy of meanness. I volunteered to help simply for the sake of the other person. I didn’t want her stuck with the chore. We boxed up the usual dish towels, knick knacks and clothes. It’s strange to go through someone’s personal things in their absence. I didn’t know how to shake the feeling that I was invading her space somehow.
During the final few minutes of packing, I stumbled onto a cabinet with family photos. Pulling them out, I smiled at the vast differences in skin tones and facial features that are a part of my family. Some, like me, have more African features with just a wink here and there to the Native American and Dutch, while others are obviously more European looking.
I’m not sure where my mom gets her beautiful, almond shaped eyes. The baby pictures of my sister (who is now in her 20s) took me back to the days when she’d stand by the screen door in her Pamper and cry to go with me and my teen friends.
I figured someone in the family would want these shots so I gathered them neatly into a pile to place in a box marked, “Keep.” That’s when I saw it. Mixed in with the others was a framed photo of me. It was obviously one of those “professional” school photos that children are tortured with on a yearly basis.
I was about seven in the photo. I looked a little bit nervous, but otherwise, there was no trace of the abuse I was enduring at home. I almost looked hopeful. I held the photo for the longest, studying this child who seemed so removed from my adult self. It was a strange moment. I’ve kept no pictures from the early years in my life.
The pain of that time mixed with the notion that I was an ugly child (I heard it often) left me with absolutely no desire for photos of my childhood.
Years later, as a teen, I tackled my perceived ugliness with makeup and the latest fashion. With these additions, I felt pretty. I have lots of pictures from my teens.
I didn’t keep the framed picture of my younger self. My mother has it. But I took a copy of it with my cell phone. I’ve pulled it out and looked at it a few times over the past week. Now I don’t see an ugly little girl who deserves to be beaten. I see a little girl who was strong and hopeful, a survivor.
Note: I love talking makeup, but I'd like to approach a broader subject matter with this blog. How we look outwardly doesn't always coincide with how we view ourselves inwardly. Early life influences, childhood development and lifestyle issues affect us in profound ways. Hardships show on our faces and bodies as we sometimes seek solace in things that aren't healthful.
I'd like to have an open discussion with you about such things. Beauty is more than what we put on top. Please feel free to share your thoughts. Unfortunately, Anonymous comments are disabled for the time being. I've gotten ugly, cowardly comments from people not willing to admit who they are. But if you have a Google account, you are able to comment.