“To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.” —Elizabeth Gilbert
Last week, I felt like I was ready to look at myself as I was before I was sexually assaulted. I decided to look for a picture. I knew I was inching toward this, but feeling ready—being really ready—is a lot like baking a cake. It’s not ready until the moment it’s done. A wise friend once told me that you can prepare for the cake by getting out the cooling rack and the toothpicks to test it, setting out your pretty plates, silverware, and such, but this won’t speed up the process. In fact, opening the oven too often might even cause the cake to deflate. The same goes for leaving a bad relationship or an unfulfilling job, or starting a new career. It will happen the minute you’re ready to change, not a second earlier.
It will be five years since that fateful night: April 25th, 2014. Five is the magic number for me–when my internal clock goes off and tugs me to a different phase of healing. Feeling ready for new relationships, more engaged in life, more confident, and even wanting to look at that picture before it all happened, without emotionally capsizing meant I must be ready to write about it! I had to go way back in my emails to search for a photo and ran across an old email. I remembered the gal—let’s call her Summer— that I had hired to do some personal photography work for me. I had asked her to take some pictures in February 2014 when I first made my inquiry. Then, she asked me to send her one of me so she could see what I looked like.
Here is one of them.
I recognize the sweater. It’s from Anthropologie. It’s wool and a little itchy, but I loved it nonetheless. I say loved, past tense, because it’s been in storage in Michigan for what seems like an eternity. For a girl who loves clothes and fashion, I do feel a bit like I have been in purgatory, because for many of us, fashion is self-expression.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, and think of two important questions: 1) What day is it? and 2) Did I pay for this month’s storage dues?
When I’m not sure, I think about the protocol of storage rules that I have learned over time. Like knowing I have until the 12th of each month before I am doled out a hefty late fee (I have only done this once), not gaining access to my belongings, and the one I shudder about the most: strangers opening my two units, rummaging through them and donating my belongings to Goodwill, God forbid.
Each unit is filled with boxes meticulously packed with antiques I inherited from my mother when she passed on, and pictures she painted that I never thought much of until I had the house in Michigan and decided to reframe them all, which really brought out their glory! I spent a small fortune on that, and on refinishing the rare rosewood antique desk handed down from her aunt, and now down to me. But I digress. Back to the wool sweater.
The navy blue and cream sweater has wooden buttons, and the sleeve shows the tip of my elbow because it’s been lovingly worn through on one side where I bend my arm. I still can’t part with it. It’s not common to find herringbone pattern in a sweater, and it’s a pattern I have always loved.
After viewing my website, Summer felt a forest location would work really well for me. She found this pin as inspiration for an outfit and felt it matched the painting on my website http://www.pinterest.com/pin/169518373448262614/ , adding in a floral crown for me.
I sent her my inspiration (I don’t know what I was thinking) before I opened hers. Diplomatically, she points out that this is very different from the forest we talked about, so it would be a down-the-road portrait session.
I liked her idea far better than mine of the mysterious woman in a white bathing suit with a white hat covering her head like a lampshade. The idea about the floral crown had been in my head from the beginning—and forests mean everything to me. We agreed it was fate to find something on Pinterest that resembles my bio picture. I remarked how remarkably spot-on the outfit was, and gorgeous, especially with the necklace. Was the necklace really worn backwards? “How amazing is that?” I remarked.
We agreed to meet in March, in the afternoon at her place to get ready, and do the photographs just before the sun set. It snowed the first day, so we postponed it to another. The nice thing about colder weather would be that there shouldn’t be many people and dogs milling about. Summer was just the way I pictured her to be: blond and petite with blue eyes. She handed me a tulle skirt she had made, and I got my outfit together after my makeup was applied and hair done, before my crown was put it on. I liked every single person who helped me that day.
I really felt I was sending myself off into the world in a good way. There was a sense of accomplishment inside. My manuscript was a completion of many years of looking inside. My husband did not know my plans, or at least take them seriously even though I told him a hundred times.
(I will be weaving in and out of this story…writing is helping me process.)