This is a hard one. We all have insecurities. Mine happens to be smack in the middle of my face.
When I was younger, I was a bit of a daredevil. My favorite bike had no brakes. It was the fastest. I would tear down hills with the excitement of having to ride out the speed. We lived within a golf community and the paths were steep. One morning my friend and I rode down the largest and longest that ended near the marina. I looked back at her for one second. I remember seeing pinestraw when I looked back around, then that was it.
I came to once in the Greensboro hospital. I was in a wheelchair and I remember the nurse jerking my head around trying to get x-rays. It went black shortly after. When I woke up again I was in a bed, watching my father turn a corner into my room. He had his briefcase in his hand, but only for seconds. It hit the floor when he saw me for the first time. Again, I blacked out.
The next time I would wake up was maybe a day or two later, in a different hospital. The first was unable to help, so I was transported forty five minutes away to the Athens hospital. I woke up after my surgeries to learn that I had hit a tree head on with no helmet. I had undergone complete facial reconstruction. When I hit, I had wiped my face clean of most of my facial features – nose, lips, knocked out a tooth, disconnected my gums from the rest of my mouth, bark was lodged high into my cheek bones. I left the plastic surgeon with an impossible task to complete. My mom would tell me later that the doctors asked her to say goodbye to me before surgery. They were unsure if I would make it out, I had lost so much blood.
I did wake up, and when I did I was wrapped like a mummy, but I wouldn’t know that. I was seven and scared to death. I wouldn’t look in a mirror for months. I was only allowed to eat ice chips. Then ginger ale. Then popsicles. No salt for months upon months. I recall the smell of a bag of ranch Doritos tempting me as soon as I was told that.
The nurse told me to come back one day when I was a teenager so she could see how beautiful I turned out. I don’t remember her name. But that’s where the kindness ended.
When the accident happened, we lived in a small town in Georgia. Everyone knew it had happened. There were no questions, no stares. That all changed when I switched schools and towns halfway through middle school.
It was February of the eighth grade when I walked into science class late. Everyone turned to look at me in a way that was unsettling. There were snickers, and laughs. As I made my way to my desk a boy handed me a crumbled piece of computer paper. I carefully and quietly unfolded it to uncover a poem. I don’t recall all of the words, I actually have spent years trying to forget them. But it attacked my looks in the most hurtful way. The feelings I felt within that science class – I didn’t think sadness could get any deeper. That was until the next morning when I learned who had ‘IM’d’ (remember those days?) the poem to the majority of the eighth grade. It was the girl who sat next to me as a cried in that science class – my best friend.
When I got home I begged and pleaded with my father to not make me go back there. We were already set to move to Greenville, just let me go early. But I would return to Hilton Head Middle, and walk the hallways for three more months. I watched the floor as I changed classes, ate lunch, and waited on my sister to pick me up. That was the first time I can clearly remember the feeling of loneliness. It wouldn’t be the last.
When I reached the College of Charleston, I thought I was in the clear. In college my peers wouldn’t stoop to the level of belittling others. Wrong, Paula. So incredibly wrong. Along came a website that you could anonymously write about other people that went to your same college. For months my name never appeared, but then one day it did. And all of those feelings came rushing back. Comments like, “does she NOT see what her face looks like?” “Her nose is so crooked, why doesn’t she just get it fixed? ” “Is she Jewish?!” “I think you would have to put a paper bag over her head to..” I’ll stop there. The worst part is, I probably knew the author of all those comments. It wouldn’t shock me if those were all women, most sitting near me at Chapter meetings for my sorority. When my friends learned how upset I was over the comments, two of them were taken down.
Yes, I see what my nose looks like. I also have seven scars on my face that you might not notice right away but they stick out to me like a sore thumb every time I look in the mirror. My lips are also uneven, because there wasn’t much left of them for the surgeon to try and piece back together. I know. It’s MY face.
When I was sixteen I would undergo another surgery to try and correct the shape of my nose. But there was so much scar tissue there was a limitation on what could be done. I cried after the stitches were taken out to leave me with three weeks of pain and no visible changes.
So yes, I’ve tried to fix it. And while this is not how I looked when I was born, it’s how I look now. The feelings will come back every so often, actually as often as two days ago. I caught an acquaintance looking me up and down. Twice. As I was speaking with her. What is it?! Don’t like my shoes? Don’t worry, I won’t make you wear them. Like my jeans? Awesome, I’ll tell you where they’re from. Anything else? Then try to keep it to yourself. I will never look you up and down, because I know the pain of how it feels a hundred times over. If I stare at you for longer than necessary it’s because I see something beautiful in you. And a second later it will come out of my mouth – I will tell you all about how I am obsessed with your outfit, your hair, etc.
There’s a special place in hell for women that don’t help other women. But if you still need to stand on me to make yourself feel taller, then go ahead. At this point, I assure you I can take it.
All photos by Bekah Wriedt