Tonight is week four of the six week Expressive Arts workshop I’m attending for my friend’s internship and certification. We were not given a writing prompt for last week’s picture, and there was no homework.
And yet… I find myself reluctant to leave this girl… the one in the third photo. Her image was taken at the junior prom in high school. She is alone in the picture, though she did have a date. That’s a part of the holding.
Two friends who had not been asked by someone exciting had decided to go together. That’s not an insult to her date, to say that he wasn’t exciting… for she was not exciting to him, either. You see… she would have loved being there with someone who wanted to be there with her – another boy. While he would have loved being there with someone who wanted to be there with him – also another boy.
I think about how far we’ve come, and wish that he could go back and have that special prom date. The one who made him want to dance into the night. I wish that for her, too.
When I look back on 17, I see mostly darkness. Which is why when my friend prepared for last week’s event by asking us for the photo we would use and a color that represents how the photo made us feel, the color I chose was… BLACK.
We arrived to our sacred space that night to find the work tables set with enlarged photos of our then-faces and styrofoam heads painted in various colors. Not to give away what happened in circle, but mine was not the only one in black. This was my first clue that these years were difficult for many.
We were instructed to walk around the room and collect random decorative supplies with which we would adorn our heads. And then, the music began, and we moved through the room and followed our inner guidance for the act of adornment.
This girl was seventeen. It was the year after her first and only high school relationship came to a melodramatic end. It was the mid-point of three years of torture and taunting by said ex-boyfriend’s friends. To be clear, their words were unkind, and she felt unsafe.
This was the year that a friend had lied to and betrayed this girl, and when she said she no longer trusted her and needed time apart, retaliation came in the form of her home being vandalized horribly by that friend, and others, which included a boy she had known nearly every day of her life. She knew nothing for some time, as her mother cleaned it all up without even telling her father. (It would be 23 years before that boy would find her to apologize and share his deep regret – he knew he had lost the best friend he had known. None of the others ever bothered.)
This girl wore a beautiful gown, hand-sewn by her mother, who wished for her every dream fulfilled… especially those she never found for herself. Her mother admitted to living vicariously, but boundaries were borderless back then, and every betrayal suffered by the daughter, also pained the mother. So much that the daughter learned not to share with the mother, to spare her the anger and bitterness that would follow. It was hard for the daughter to move forward, when the mother was still holding on to the past.
This girl was once told that ‘no man wants to marry a fat woman’, and since she believed she was fat… she knew there would be no fairy tale ending for her. This girl, with all of her sorrows, surrounded by bullies, chose not to go to college because school made her feel unsafe. It was where the mean people were, after all.
You’re probably wondering how that head-in-darkness turned out once decorated with random findings. Well, she is quite interesting. She makes me feel fascinated, sad and a little disturbed, all at once. She wears a mask (with one eye from the portrait revealed) and one eye covered with a star (she never stopped dreaming of something more). Her smile (also from the portrait) is literally pinned on. Letters around her neck spell out U N W O R T H Y. She has a circlet of flowers at her crown, which show how she wanted to feel or maybe how she actually felt… if you consider Ophelia’s end. She has butterflies for ears, because she allowed the unkind words of others to transform how she felt about herself. She has warm fuzzies to represent how she wanted to make others feel, while further down she wears stones, which she threw at her own reflection. She has patchwork and buttons to represent how she tried on different styles and personas, hoping to find one that would be accepted by others. She has the words LOVE ME in red glitter, because that is all she has ever wanted… for someone to find her worthy of such goodness.
I wrote a book last year that has not been published. It opens with a dedication to my grandniece. My book is about overcoming self-loathing. While I could not fathom how this beautiful girl before me (barely 15) could be struggling with her very will to live at such a young age, I was able to recall that life in high school was indeed difficult for me, as well. I looked at my own reflection and found only flaws.
The review of this girl’s world at 17 reminds me of just how dark that time felt, and it leads me to wonder how many others felt that way, when I was certain I was suffering alone. I guess I’ll never know. I mean, when I look at that photo, I’m pretty sure I am the only one who sees the darkness within. I guess we are pretty fucking magickal when we are teenagers. Thank the gods. This is where the warrior path begins… surviving high school.
So, tonight the story continues… the photo will be of a 20-something Melissa. I can’t wait to witness and honor her truth. This process may not be a path paved in pleasure, but it is certainly one I am grateful for taking. Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so glad you are here.