I don’t think she knew the power of her words. She could never have predicted the length of time those simple words would stay with me. I know that I could not have.
It was night-time and we sat amongst an alcove of white blooming flowers, my mama’s night garden so it was called. She casually smoked her cigarette, her many phases of smoking ranged from outwardly doing so all the way to shunning it completely. Though I knew the reasons for abstaining in such a thing, I was glad she was at least out right with it. She didn’t hide it. I joined her outside because of her charisma, some people have that scent about them. And for the possibility of a good laugh, she tends to bring those out in people, and I needed one right about then. She made me smile incessantly, her confidence so spectacular its difficult not to want to follow suit.
I happened to be at quite a low in that whole confidence department so it seems. Many of us ladies are at one point or another I have found, particularly in the days of teenage angst. But, I will say this memory tells a tale that exudes in me both laughter and great sadness alike. You see, I had spent the previous three days covered in large movie star-esque sunglasses. Not because I was a trend setter by any means, but because I was hiding something. I was so intent on not taking these off, I even spent a few days in the office for refusing to remove them. A teacher had asked me to take them off for class, but I just bit down hard on my lip, and quietly shook my head. I could feel my face flush and tears well up in my shameful eyes. I wasn’t the type to cause trouble but I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.
The event leading up to this discouraging moment is petty but so real when you walk in the body of what appears to be a deeply scrutinized teenager. Whether I was or not is still completely up in the air. I would like to believe that we all felt this way to some extent, and that in fact I was my own worst enemy. I had gone to a new salon to see if they could do something about the hairy slug shaped lines I had above my eyes instead of petite shapely eyebrows like the rest of my friends. But, instead of shaping my non conforming brows they burnt them and the skin around them to a flaky, brown crisp, very similar to the skin of french fry I couldn’t help but notice. What was left was curled and singed, the distinct smell of burning hair following me wherever I went. Already quite low in the self-esteem department, I felt utterly disgusted with myself. My skin crawled with disappointment.
Regardless, this beauty of a woman and I sat next to one other in the cool night air chatting about this and that, with no real purpose. She was an adult yes, but she instilled a feeling of equality in me that any teenager aches for. I liked that about her. I didn’t feel like she was talking down to me, or teaching me, or laughing at me. It always seemed as though she just liked me. And when you are constantly in the face of authority, this is welcome. I am sure you can remember this feeling too.
At this point, I had decided enough was enough and took my glasses off. I couldn’t see a damn thing and it was dark out anyways. She politely skirted around the subject for a while. Then we stopped talking. Awkwardly for me I am sure, but for her it was like the dramatic pause in a motion picture. I am not sure if the silence was due to my unveiling of the beast, her thoughtfulness of words, or perhaps just coincidence. But for a few moments all I heard was the inhaling and exhaling of her cigarette.
And then she told me will all the sincerity in the world in her voice, “You know you don’t need to change a thing about you, Mariah. You are fine just like you are.” And for some reason, coming from her, I just believed it. She didn’t have to say that me. She didn’t have to believe that. But I truly felt that she did.
Surely, I continued to have my fair share of issues with my image. To some extent most of us have it seems, though I do believe my experience in my teenage years give me the obligation to return such words at some point, whenever that time comes about. Perhaps it already has? They were those kind of years for me. Marked in a world of secrecy and lies. No secret to those who know me it turns out. But that was a discovery for later on.
Those simple words combined with the humbling experience of giving birth, allowing my body to be a vessel for life (so much more than I ever expected), and also because of a line of inspirational friendships that stretches across this whole entire country, a new light has been shed on how I feel about the lady that you see on the outside. To be truthful, I just feel less about the whole situation. It is like the inside me has decided to be friends with the outside me, and she thinks she is pretty dandy after all. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that I have not lived two entirely separate lives.
I know she doesn’t remember the conversation like I do. In fact I think it was so minuscule to her that she remembers it not a lick. But I see it as a clear reminder that we all count for something greater than ourselves. That you never know when what you say or what you do will change the course of everything for someone. Just Everything.
I try to keep that in mind sometimes.