It is very cold this morning; my hands are stiff. The pond is building a
cap of ice. Since the snow plow came a few days ago, I've been locked
in my garden. Even if I could get out, the feed buckets are buried. So
the garden is quiet -- no squirrels, few birds.
I am eighteen. Gary B. and I are at the Dairy Queen on Higgins Avenue. This is one of our favorite places. We walk from the car to the order window, and there is a boy.
Nine, or ten, and brilliant. The most beautiful child I've seen, before or since. He is tanned, hair whitened by summer, and he glows with some magical moment of childhood. I don't recall anything special about his features, just this intense grace. He is oblivious to the magic he is making, to the glow that stuns everyone around him; this brief spell.
I look at Gary in astonishment, in question -- and yes, he sees it, too.
I am in my twenties, in a favorite and famous diner in Olympia that serves chili and burgers. It's packed. It's autumn, perhaps; everyone shedding coats as they come in. It's noisy and friendly and very local.
A couple enters, hand in hand. They are obviously and madly in love with each other. They sit at the counter, and even when they don't touch, they touch. Silence fills the room as we all react in shock, but this young couple seems not to notice.
They are the homeliest people imaginable. If you saw one of them on the street, you would think: that's the homeliest person I've ever seen. But here are two! One would assume they were siblings -- how could two such homely people occur otherwise? -- but they are lovers. And new lovers, too -- they carry with them that aura of passion and discovery that only new lovers have.
All the rest of us try hard not to stare. We slide our eyes, to watch them from the corners.
I've know one other couple that makes me think of these two, similar and totally different. This couple was, together or apart, beautiful. Red haired, with the pale freckled skin these beauties often have.
Again, one would assume that they were siblings, so alike, so uniquely lovely. But again, a couple -- again, that aura. It's not so unusual to see two beautiful people in love, even similar people -- my cousin Brad and his wife were both attractive blue-eyed blonds -- but it is unusual to see two redheads together, in this country.
Perhaps because they are so taunted as children -- carrot-head, freckles -- that they begin to dislike their own looks. But these two, they loved each other, so they must have loved themselves. They must have looked into mirrors with pleasure.
N's daughter L is, has always been, a stunning beauty. It's not just features -- dark eyes, black hair, creamy skin -- it's carriage, it's grace.
I was once in the local shopping mall when she walked through, and everyone paused, everyone stared, overtly or covertly, as this sixteen-year-old goddess walked the hall.
Now in her twenties, in Africa, she struggles with this remarkable beauty; with how to transcend it. With how to be her brilliant self inside her gorgeous self. With how to be seen.
I have been, in my life, beautiful and invisible; and fat (in this time, in this place -- ugly) and invisible. Old and invisible. Female and not beautiful, and invisible. Female and beautiful, and invisible. So many of us are looked at, but not seen. So many of us look, but do not see.
And so we live our secret, invisible lives.
When I try to imagine how others see me, I give up in despair. I am always likely to reach the worst conclusions -- occasionally confirmed by experience -- that I am seen as fat, ugly, old, and uninteresting. Fat and stupid -- synonyms in our language. Old and boring -- the same.
But I know that I am not stupid; I know that I am not boring. I know that, in fact, I am sometimes -- often, even -- seen as scary. I take up too much space, in every sense. I am large. My mind is large. My body is large. And my self is large.
Better had I been male -- but this is not something I've ever wanted. The room, the space, the freedom that men have -- that I've wanted. The freedom to look at a man straight-on, instead of, attentively, up -- that -- I've wanted.
[ This is a NaNoWriMo excerpt from November 2007 ]