Ugly Girl

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Last night I packed my suitcase once again.  I’m leaving this afternoon to attend another conference.  While I am looking forward to spending time with my friends, I don’t find myself very excited at the prospect of leaving the peace and safety of my home.  Home seems to be the only place where I don’t doubt myself.  It’s the only place where I feel like ME anymore.

As I looked through my clothes, I couldn’t find one thing that I really wanted to pack.  It’s not that I don’t have a closet full of nice clothes, the problem is that I don’t think I look good in any of them.  There is a formal awards dinner tomorrow night.  Instead of thinking about the award I SOOOO want to win, I found myself more concerned about what to wear for that event.  Everything I looked at, I decided against once I imagined it on me.  “No.  This will make me look frumpy.”  “No.  This will make me look like I am trying to be too young.”  “No.  My arms don’t look good in that.”  “No.  This makes my breasts look non-existent.” “I look fat in that.”   “I look ugly.  Period.”  The voices in my head were not being kind.

I once enjoyed these conferences.  I enjoyed the company.  I enjoyed new ideas and learning new things.  Now, all I can think about is not acting like there is something wrong with me.  I wonder if friends that I have not seen in months will take me aside (again) and ask me what’s wrong.  Will they wonder if I have been/am sick?  Will they talk behind my back at how dramatically Pam has changed?  I can put on the most lovely clothes in the world, but clothes can never cover up the things that I would like to hide.  My hair can be perfect.  My makeup can look great, but nothing can put the sparkle back in my eyes.  That’s why I feel ugly now.  The way I look hasn’t changed all that much, but what is on the inside of me has been altered dramatically.

When I am home, I can feel the me I once was beginning to emerge.  I feel safe at home, and I am able to take things at my own pace.  I don’t have to be “on.”  I feel supported by my family.  Healing can take place at home.  It is these times out on my own that shake me up and fill me with doubt and fear.  I am afraid to be alone with my thoughts.  I’m afraid to be without the distraction of my daughters.  I miss having my cat curled up on my lap.

Rebuilding my self-confidence is a monumental task.  It doesn’t take much to shatter the delicate beginnings.  Rebuilding who I once was is much more difficult than it was getting there the first time around.  I suppose part of that is because I blame myself for ever letting anything, anyone, or any situation undermine what was such an essential and important of myself.

As I’ve thought about what the next few days will bring,  I have decided to just accept feeling ugly.  What I look like does NOT matter.  What is important is who I am on the inside.  I will go, and I will learn.  I will catch up with old friends.  I will direct my care and concern outward instead of keeping my focus on ME.  I will stop caring so much about the ugly girl on the OUTSIDE, and concentrate more on on nurturing the beautiful woman on the INSIDE.

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I live in a house that is over 100 years old.  Closet space apparently wasn’t a top priority in the olden days.  Although, from what I understand, the room that is my bedroom was once the maid’s quarters.  Kind of fitting, I think!  😉  My closet is very small.  T doesn’t even get to use it at all.  He keeps his clothes in another, far-off location.

Tonight I was in the midst of my bi-annual, change of season, clothes swap.  Out with the light summer clothes, and in with the warmer fall and winter wardrobe.  I actually enjoy this.  I sort through everything.  I bag up what I won’t wear again.  T knows a family who is always happy to take our  cast-offs.  Other items are greeted like an old friend.  I love to dig out my ratty gray sweaters each fall.  I love to wear the ugly, old gray sweaters on the weekends, and I have an impressive collection.

This year, I came across something that made me suck in my breath and rock back on my heals.  I was bending over a box, and I had to sit down on the floor.  It was my yellow skirt.  I once loved that skirt.  I purchased it online at J Crew.  It’s soft corduroy, a lovely goldenrod color, and it looks great with my tall black boots.  As much as I loved that skirt, my hand recoiled when I grabbed it out of the box.  I dropped it like it was a white-hot flame.  I almost shoved it into the give-away bag to get it out of my sight.  I haven’t worn it in almost a year.  I can remember every single, excruciating moment of that day, the day I last wore that skirt.  I remember my nervousness, nervousness turned to fear.  I remember the pacing for what seemed like hours.  I remember the phone call I eventually got the nerve up to make.  I remember the disbelief.  I remember the betrayal.  Yes, but all of that is another story.

Tonight, I sat looking at the skirt and remembering.  I held it close to me, and I was grateful that it was tonight and not that night almost a year ago.  Tonight I was safe.  The boys are happily away at school.  The girls, T and I had just finished dinner along with happy conversation.  The girls were doing homework.  T was watching football.  I was cleaning.  Most importantly, I was feeling  calm and content.  At least I had been in those moments before discovering the skirt.

As I held the yellow skirt, I thought of the other things that I hang onto that remind me of other life traumas.  I have the green Peridot earrings that I wore the day baby Adam lost his life.  They are his birthstone, and I had bought them to welcome my new baby.   Sometimes I pick them up, and I remember.  I have the dangly amber earrings that I was wearing on the day of Andrew’s accident.  I put them on each year on that date, April 21.  I wear them as a talisman and a symbol of the victory we had over tragedy.  There are many more things, other things that I have kept for years, all of them with personal meaning.  None of them represent lies and betrayal, though.  Some of these other things represent loss, yes, but they also represent love and great meaning in my life.  I held the skirt, and wondered what to do.  It’s just a skirt, and I like it.  I put it on a hanger and smoothed it out.  I’m keeping it.  It can’t hurt me now, and it represents nothing worth keeping in my life.  It’s just a skirt.

There will be other things in my life that, in the future,  will suddenly, irrevocably become triggers of memory and deep emotion.  I wonder what they will be?

Hey, You! Over Here!

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Something strange happened to me  one day last week, and it got me to thinking.  Strange things are always happening to me.  I am a magnet for the world’s oddities.  I happen to believe that it’s because I am open to new experiences.  I am always waiting for meaning in my life.  I keep the lines of communication open to the world beyond.  I have a lot of friends there.  They might want to get in touch with me!

I started, what has now become a tradition, a few years ago.  Souper Sundays.  I love to make big batches of soup in the winter.  I love to have people over for Sunday dinner.  And thus, Souper Sundays were born.  If you like soup, and it’s Sunday, then c’mon over!  The kids always knew that friends could be invited for Sunday dinner.  My parents often came, too.  Through the years, we have had regulars Sunday guests.  Some still come for dinner on Sundays.  Others, not as frequently, but always they know that they’re welcome.  Out of Souper Sundays, another tradition has grown, too.  In the summertime, Cheeseburger Sundays have replaced Souper Sundays.  We don’t just serve cheeseburgers.  Last Sunday, we had hot dogs and brats, too, but you get the drift.

When I told my (former) therapist about Souper Sundays, she claimed that I “collect strays.”  I had never thought of it in such terms, but she was right.  I hate for people to be alone or lonely.  I want those around me to feel welcome and cared for.  I want to trust that people are basically good.  Oh, and have I mentioned that trusting and welcoming people into my life has bit me in the butt a time or two? 😦   For the most part, collecting strays, as my therapist called it, has been one of the most rewarding things in my life.  I have an eclectic group of friends.  I cherish the hell out of them.  I’ve met some of the best people in the world, because I have been willing to take that chance and reach out to them.

Tonight as I drove home from work, my phone rang.  It was one of my best friends, a 70-year-old man.  He frequently comes over for Souper Sundays.  Yes, he was a person that I brought home and made a part of our lives.  He also became one of the most influential people in my life.  He became my mentor and my shoulder to cry on.  He became a friend to T, who loves to fish with him, and he became like a grandpa to the kids.  I was so thankful to hear his voice tonight, to talk and laugh with him, and to hear the smile in his voice as we caught up on each other’s lives.  I felt so thankful as I drove along talking to him that I had to burst out and tell him how much I loved him.  He laughed so genuinely and said, “I love you, too.”  Good friendships are priceless!

Back to the incident last week.  After meeting T for a quick lunch, I stopped by Target to pick up a few household items.  I was browsing around in the women’s clothing department, when a woman stopped me.  She said, “Can I ask you a question?”  I said she could, but instead of asking me anything,  she stood there scrolling through pictures on her phone.  I waited, but was a little freaked out.  What kind of picture was she going to show me?  Did I look like someone she knew?  Once she found the picture she had been looking for, she flipped her phone around for me to see.  “Do you think this dress is appropriate to wear to a funeral?”

Oh, my.  No.  It most certainly was NOT something that I would wear to a funeral.  It was the kind of dress that I would see someone else wearing in such a situation and wonder what in the hell they were thinking!  It had spaghetti straps and was a maxi dress.  I LOVE the new maxi dresses that are out this year.  Too bad I will never get a chance to wear one!  I’m so short that it would look like I was playing dress up in my mother’s clothes.  Even if I hemmed a maxi dress, it would still never look right on me.  Maxi dresses are for beautiful, tall, stately women.  To pull of a maxi dress, you must be lanky and elegant.  That is NOT me!   Hey, accept what you have.  I love the dresses, just not for ME.

This poor woman asking for my advice obviously owned the maxi dress that she had pictured.  Uh oh…  I didn’t know what to do.  First of all, it was definitely NOT appropriate to wear to a funeral.  I felt bad, though, when I looked up at her.  She looked so hopeful!  She said,  “What if I wear a white shawl with it?”  (Oh, boy…..yuck!)  Also, she didn’t look like she had a great deal of money to spend.  I don’t mean to be judgmental here.  Been there, done that, recognize the look.  So, I went against my fantastic fashion sense, and gave her some practical advice.  I suggested that a white shawl may look a little too perky for a funeral.  Yeah, I think I used the word perky.  I suggested that maybe she could use a lightweight, short-sleeved flyaway cardigan.  I told her that it was such a versatile piece of clothing to own.  You could pair it with so many things, and it just so happened that I had seen one a few moments ago that would be just perfect.  (Perfect if you HAD to wear a maxi dress to a funeral.)  This woman and I took off across the department to check out the cardigans.  When she saw it, her eyes lit up.  YES!

We were both so happy about this fashion find, that I forgot that she was outfitting herself for a funeral.  Heck, I think we almost hugged.  I quickly apologized for her loss.  She reassured me that it was no big deal.  Very old person, more like a family reunion.  Well, OK…

You would think the story would end there, just a tale to tell, but no.  Yesterday, I was in kind of a cruddy, sad mood.  I was driving down a busy street on my way to lunch.  I was feeling kind of (no, VERY) lonely.  As I drove along, I glanced up.  There she was.  Wow.  I was shocked.  There was the maxi dress woman walking along on the sidewalk.  It looked like she was just out taking a walk on a beautiful summer day.  She looked up just as I looked over at her.  In the moment that I recognized her, she also recognized me.  Her face lit up, and she waved like we were old friends.  There.  That is why I keep on trusting and believing in the goodness of people.   Most people…just not all of them.