Open Letter to Patti Smith, Day 3
I like to be told I’m pretty. It doesn’t go to my head, it goes to my heart.
My mother told me once, decades ago, on a sunny summer day, as my younger sister stood helplessly by, that she didn’t care if it hurt my feelings to be told that I was ugly. That was cruel, but what was crueler still was when I understood that she couldn’t understand why that pronouncement turned me into a shaking sob of a girl standing on the front lawn.
I like to be told I’m pretty so that I know I exist. It is a shock every time I look in the mirror–oh, yes, there I am. There’s the proof. I am.
I’m not saying that no one saw me as a child or that in the last 46 years I’ve never been seen until now. But the people who could actually see me as a discrete clump of whatever little girls are made of, distinct from themselves, were not the everyday people, and even when they became my everyday people who could be sure what they saw wasn’t just a trick of light?
What I mean to say is selfie after selfie I search my face for reminders that I was eventually made flesh. I faithfully measure the length and width and height of me. I turn on all the lights, or stand in front of the window to double-check my shadow.
Do you think it’s vain or foolish or self-obsessed that I want to keep looking? I promise you that I know I exist now but, still, to be sure, I’m watching for that moment, the exact one, when I earn one of those beautiful crepey faces that reek of perseverance and courage and persistence. That face that you can’t help but see. That face that you can’t look away from.