As a rule, I don’t like pictures of myself. I always think I look fat and my smile looks forced. I am not now, nor have I ever been a photogenic person.
So it may seem odd that I would choose a picture of myself to write about.
This is one of the few pictures of me that I actually like, because of the smile I’m wearing. For once, my smile doesn’t look forced and camera-fake; I look genuinely, eye-sparkling, on-the-brink-of-joyous-tears happy.
Of course, there’s a story.
With me, there’s always a story.
When I came home from the hospital after my car accident, my hair was red. Not by choice; it had been an over-processed, porous blonde that became stained by blood from my head injury. The ER nurse shaved an inch-wide swath across the top so the doctor could stitch my scalp, and someone else shaved from the nape up to my occipital so the surgeon had room to rebuild my shattered neck. Three other round spots were shaved to make room for what we later referred to as “corncob holders” – metal pieces attached to my skull to keep me from moving during the surgery.
Afterward, they strapped me into a metal and plastic contraption that immobilized everything from the waist up. It pushed my double chins up into my eyeballs; I think it forced cleavage into my earlobes and backfat up my nose. Then they stood me up with a walker and sent me on my way.
It was not a good look for me.
I am not a vain person, but I like to do my hair and make-up. As a cosmetologist, it was always important for me to look finished: hair styled, make-up applied, jewelry in all of the appropriate orifices. But in those first weeks, I couldn’t do any of those things. No contact lenses, no make-up. I couldn’t shower, and those “dry shampoos” didn’t do anything about the oil and caked blood in what was left of my poor, tufty hair. I wore wrinkled hospital gowns or baggy clothes that fit around the brace, going barefoot or in worn flip flops. Jewelry was out of the question; even my wedding ring had been removed at the hospital, and there was no suggestion of trying to force it back onto my numb left hand.
For seven weeks, I had to look at that. I had to smell that. In the face of people telling me how lucky I was to be alive, I had to deal with the guilt of feeling like an ungrateful brat for being depressed about my appearance. I hated myself, my pain-wracked body, my lost career, the hot weather. Everything. Especially that damned brace.
I felt shallow and ugly and stupid.
When the brace came off, my former co-workers at DGist Salon took care of me. They cut and colored my hair, shaped my brows, applied my make-up. They pampered me and made me human again.
And they took that picture with my phone.
What was I thinking? I’m pretty! I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be okay. There’s more than joy in my eyes in that picture; I see hope, gratitude, love. . . and a little spark that I thought I had lost somewhere in the twisted metal and broken glass.
What happened next? Good days, bad days, everything in between.