Spring is here. The Lilac we planted 13 years ago blooms tall along the fencerow that separates the back yard from the hospital parking lot. With the sliding door open, the scent blows into the house on a light breeze. The dogs are on the chair behind me, snoring piggishly instead of licking each other’s privates–a new activity they have taken to with gusto. The sky is a deep and clear blue splotched with white puffy clouds. The tornado spotted a few days ago did not barrel through our tiny town and blow the roof off of this or any house.
It’s been almost three weeks since I had resurfacing work done on the left side of my face by way of a bottle (or two) of red wine and my sister’s patio. My sister and I laugh about it. “When are you going to have the other side done?” she says and then adds, “You had macrodermabrasion instead of microdermabrasion.” She’s a real card.
I am healing. Up close, you can see three swathes of pale pink skin where two weeks ago were scabs. With my fingers, I can trace the fresh patches if I’m looking in the mirror, but I can no longer feel my way around the wounds because the perimeter is smooth. Every day, I dot a drop of oil on each patch and then cover them with sunscreen to protect the new skin from the bright sun.
I’m not glad I fell down. I don’t believe the fall was some cosmic lesson handed out by a puppeteer God with a crazy sense of humor and a bullish way of teaching lessons, and I don’t believe there was a glitch with my vision board (I don’t have one), and I certainly don’t believe that it was bad karma for some past misdeed (if it were bad karma, I would have broken bones). I just lost my balance and fell.
I am glad for a few things. People were so kind. My sister applied a wet cloth to my face and dabbed and dabbed and dabbed at the blood and my tears while cooing, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” My daughter, Isky, a mother herself, pulled my pajamas over my head to protect my face, daubed antibiotic ointment on my skin with sheets of gauze, turned the fan on, and tucked me into bed with a warm towel for my head. Later that night, when I woke up at 3AM and saw anew the damage to my face, my husband wrapped his arms around me, while I wept into his arm pit, and murmured that it would be better in a week, and he was right.
I hate being vulnerable, folks. I hate it so much. I do not want sympathy, empathy, or pity. I don’t want you to look at me and say, “You poor thing.” I want you and everyone else to see strong Bridgett, impervious to hurt. I like to be a healer, not the healed. But healing is fucking hard. I didn’t like it at all, but when my right eye swelled shut, and the wounds on my face wept, I couldn’t hide. I couldn’t hide from kindness.
I was sad (and vain for sure). Every time I looked into a mirror and saw reflected back, my swollen beat-up face, I was sad, too sad to hide. So when someone reached out. When someone put her hand up to my face as if to touch it, I did the weirdest and most backward thing I could think of. I leaned in. If you asked me what happened; if you expressed empathy, I turned into Opposite Bridgett (anyone remember that episode of Seinfeld) breathed deeply, relaxed, and accepted whatever kindness was offered.
I couldn’t control how quickly I healed or how people perceived me, and I quit trying. Don’t get me wrong. It didn’t happen overnight. I considered other options–lying, staying hidden in a dark house with the blinds shut. I considered pretending to be a hothead who got into a major skirmish with a bully, but in the end, trying to control the story was too much work, so I just told the truth.
I realize that this incident, this injury isn’t on scale with the really bad shit people go through. There is so much suffering in this old world–war, poverty, severe and unremitting mental illness, cancer, a myriad of losses I cannot even imagine having to withstand–and still this is what I have this week, a story about healing from a couple of superficial but painful wounds.
Here’s the thing, I could let those comparisons shut me up. I could wallow in shame–shame that I fell down, shame that I am sad about my face when others have it so much worse. Or I could own it. I could own my story. I could stop trying to control this and maybe I’d stop trying to control 1000 other situations. I thought I had learned the big lesson on lack of control when my daughter, Peanut, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, but it turns out there was more to learn, dammit.
Healing is hard work, and I couldn’t go it alone. I couldn’t control the process, the time line, any of it. A week after I fell, I was in the computer lab with the fifth graders at the school where I work a couple of days a week. The kids were both appropriately grossed out by the injury and interested in my recovery. “How bad was it,” they asked when I told them it was much worse. I pulled up the pictures on my phone–my own documentation of the healing process–and was rewarded with lots of oohs and ahhs. One of my fifth grade buddies–a fellow with dark brown hair and the sweetest voice–asked me with genuine interest, “How bad did it hurt, Mrs. Jensen? Like did it feel like ten tasers were shocking you at the same time?”
I stopped and thought about it for a minute. How bad did it hurt that night and the days following? I told him that I’d never been shocked by a taser let alone ten, but that I imagined the ten tasers would have been much much worse. I asked him if he’d ever scraped all the skin from his knees, and he said yes. I told him that my face hurt like that–like a badly scraped knee.
My friend completely understood what I was getting at. After all, he has had millions of scraped knees. And he remains interested in the healing process. When I’m at school, he never fails to stop me, take a long look at my face, his eyes wrinkling as he assesses the still visible damage at which point he makes a pronouncement about how much better I look. Just yesterday, he waved me away, “Your face is so much better, Mrs. Jensen. You can hardly see where you were hurt.”
I want to remember that.
You see, I think the soft pink patches on my face will eventually fade away, but I hope I don’t forget that we all fall down.
Getting up is much easier when you take a hand.