Today’s post is a continuation of an essay written as a university assignment. Every detail is true, except for the name change of my then fiancé, known here as Frank.
The Woman in the Wallpaper––Part Two
Months later, while roaming the aisles of Target Stores, I note a young boy of about 14 years stalking me. I am decked out in all my protective, full-body compression garments, that includes a clear facial mask. (This is medically required that I wear these twenty-three hours a day. The purpose is to help compress the scars from raising, and to reduce bumps and ridges.)
It isn’t a sophisticated style of stalking but spawned by curiosity. I am bone-weary of these encounters. I turn the corner and hide behind the end-cap of bottles of Arrowhead water. I hear the smush-smush of tennis shoes approaching. I jump out and yell BOO. The gloriousness of his terror pervaded, faded, then a squawk, the voice of shame in my ear like a parrot belting out mimicry. Yet I laugh as the boy runs his 100-yard dash. I wonder at my maturity.
Burns scars are external––I can’t hide them– yet they leave a different kind of scar. I see it in the eyes of others. I detect it in the eyes of misogynists especially, who think a woman’s only purpose in life is to provide beauty and slave to their every need. I see it in the soul’s window of other women: a thankful gleam for their retained beauty and a twinkle of superiority. Other times, it is pity that reflects back to me.
They proffer a shiny-gold, gift-wrapped box tied with a pretty pink bow: take this gift and accept the shame enclosed. They say things like “People can tell you used to be a beautiful woman” and “If I were you, I wouldn’t go out in public, I’d be a recluse.”
I accept the gift of shame at my appearance. It is a mill-stone weighted necklace causing my head to hang. I think this talisman will protect me, but I deceive myself. I attempt to return it and rid myself of the weight. We play the you take it––no, you take it–– game.
* * * *
I sit across from Jim at his gray, metal desk, a desk piled with paper; coffee-stained and tinged with pale yellow. Jim, my trainer, is teaching me to box like a butterfly and sting like a bee. He drones on about something––I am multitasking, listening with one ear (my good one) while composing a text message on my gold, iPhone 5. Then he gains my full attention.
“You know, my father-in-law is a burn survivor. I remind him when he is down that this is only something that happened to him. It is not who he is: it doesn’t define him as a person.”
I stare back into the dark, brown eyes, a brown so dark they are nearly black. Images come of an encounter the day before when a fellow burn survivor reproved me for hiding my left hand behind my back. I look down at the now-still fingers of my right hand and think about the mismatched set I now own. The sight of my “lucky fin” fills me with shame.
Yet I sit silent. I don’t tell Jim my mother said God had done this to me because I wasn’t going to church and was living in sin with Frank. I don’t mention how our blue eyes locked––I had my mother’s eyes–– how my own blues eyes were filled with venomous fury at her accusation, nor of my fiery retort.
The internal dialogue runs through my mind like a Dow Jones’ ticker tape: “No, Mom, he didn’t. I’m his child. Would you do this to your child –– would you do this to me?”
But I sit silent remembering the slammed doors, gravel spewing, how I varoomed my black Dodge Ram away.