As I hurriedly tossed clothes in a suitcase, I wondered what I thought I was doing, rushing off at the last minute with my girlfriend to her business conference across the state. She had insisted it would be good for me to get away and loosen up a bit, relax around the pool while she attended her meetings, and who knows? Maybe we would run into some “interesting” people.
My life had been in a state of confusion for a couple of years, having finally divorced myself from my emotionally abusive husband and the guilt-based religion I’d been raised with. I was trying to take care of my four kids and work long hours for not much money, recovering from being dumped by the guy I had been dating and thought I was in love with, and wondering if I was capable of involvement in a healthy relationship, whatever that was.
I was in “transition”, my friend explained knowingly as we hopped the bars and shopped for clothes I couldn’t afford. It would pass, she assured me. “You’ll see.”
After spending two days reading novels around the pool at the Holiday Inn, eating continental breakfasts and mass-produced buffet lunches in banquet rooms with people I didn’t know, I was looking forward to going home the next day. Once again I realized I had allowed my friend to talk me into being somewhere I really didn’t want to be. I only had to get through the grand finale , a cocktail hour and sit-down dinner, and then I’d be done with this.
Alone in the room, as I mechanically went through the motions of getting ready – showering, curling my hair, applying make-up and jewelry – I looked at the black dress hanging in the closet. I had never owned a cocktail dress; had never had the occasion or inclination to wear one. It was selected for me by my friend on one of our shopping sprees. I had tried it on at her insistence, my jeans and socks poking out underneath, my bra showing out the back of this backless dress.
“It’s you!” she and the sales lady unanimously chirped, The next thing I knew it was on lay-away.
Hair brushed and sprayed, perfume spritzed, earrings inserted and lipstick applied, I took the dress off the hanger and stepped into it. I put on my heels, and turned to the mirror check myself before I went downstairs for the cocktail hour.
For an instant I was startled at the stranger in the room. Then, as I gazed in the full length mirror, I realized that the woman in the mirror was me. Tall, hair lightened and skin darkened by the sun, the image staring back at me was a knock-out in the simple, jet-black dress.
Slowly, panic set in. I began to shake and my breath came fast. This wasn’t me. This woman was beautiful and confident-looking. I was ordinary and nondescript looking. I couldn’t possibly go out in public looking like this. I frantically moved to the closet and searched for something – anything – else to wear. There was nothing suitable for a dress-up dinner. I sat down on the edge of the bed and tried to get a grip on myself. My girlfriend was waiting for me downstairs. I would just stay in the room and read. I didn’t really want to go to the dinner anyway.
After awhile I got up and stood in front of the mirror again. I breathed slowly and deeply. I looked hard at the woman in the mirror. I recognized the nose, the eyes, the legs, the hair. It was me, but I had never seen myself as beautiful before. I turned, this way and that. I looked from behind. I lingered, working at chasing the panic away and coming to terms with what I saw, looking for some connection with the person inside.
Eventually my nerves settled some, and with that came a daring decision. Inhaling sharply, I opened the door and stepped into the hall. I held my shoulders straight and chin high. With heart thumping, I walked towards the elevator.
NOTE: This one was hard to write. Totally a true story. This was about 20 years ago, I had lost weight being depressed, was a recent dumpee, and I didn’t like myself very much.
Essay – Observation about how I viewed my physical self.