This piece is made up of two stories from two different times in my life, but together they give one larger lesson about self-acceptance and beauty. Both stories examine beauty as in "physical" or "surface" beauty of humans that we often work for, but this concept is juxtaposed with the examination of the universal idea of the natural beauty of the earth.
A cool July night. Our familiar backyard painted in shades of navy and grey: the blue spruces in two lines bordering the property, our natural fence to keep out nosy neighbors; the dark green plastic deck chairs and tables circling the fire pit; the fire ring stuck in the middle of a cement star-shape, the star speckled with large stones I helped pick out from Lake Michigan; a little farther back from the fire pit was the gazebo, easily accessible at night if you followed the path of pink, cement, yeti-sized feet leading to the entrance. I stubbed my toe on the sharp edges of the stepping stones enough to avoid them.
The sounds of our rural area were more evident as the darkness obscured the familiar world. The clang of the flag pole pulley system echoed ethereally on the sweeping hills nearby. The buzz and hum of the light on the outside of the garage and its electric zap each time a moth or June bug flew too close to the bulb. The crackle and collapse of firewood in the fire pit, slowly being consumed with the blinding orange blaze.
And then: the snapping of a lighter.
A second, smaller flame floating in the air by my father, an orange hue playing over the side of his face as he flashed an eager grin. He held up a thin stick, offered it to my younger sister, and instructed her to hold it away from her face. Then, he touched the lighter’s flame to the end of the stick and a glorious staccato popping sound chipped at the quiet night. The end of the stick spat the smallest flames imaginable, which burned up in midair. A sparkler.
I wanted one, too!
My dad handed me my own sparkler. I anxiously waited for the flame to start sputtering, to burn holes in the dense night. His thumb rolled over the edge of the lighter and a flame popped up. He tapped the end of the sparkler with the flame, and CRACK!
The fizzle of the sparkler was louder when I held it than when I watched my sister with hers. The hissing fire danced in my hands, sputtering and coughing out embers in all directions. I wanted to see what it looked like if I moved. I ran. I jumped, I laughed, I swooped the sparkler up and down and around like the fairy godmother making Cinderella beautiful and prince-worthy. I drew hearts, smiley faces, and stars in the air, but the grey smoke was only a whisper that dissipated in the wind. I didn’t care. My sister joined me in my sparkler dance, attempting to imitate my wild movements.
FLASH! Bright white on my right. Searing flash with a slash across my cheek. I squealed, tried sobbing out words and pain as I pushed my right hand against my cheek. The flesh was warm like the feeling of a fever on your forehead. But it didn’t make sense because it was my cheek. My mom led me by the hand up to the hose on our patio. Most of the water ran onto the grass, chilling my feet and staining the concrete dark grey under the sick yellow outdoor garage light. My mom patted water onto my cheek for a few minutes, eventually leading me back to the fire pit.
My sister babbled apologies while I was still unsure what exactly happened. She asked to see it to “see how bad it is.” We walked under the illumination of the garage light. She leaned in close to my face, squinting at my cheek. She commented that it wasn’t that big of a scar. And it was shaped like a crescent moon.
A scar?! I didn’t want a scar! I was deformed! I’d never be beautiful! I couldn’t believe that she could do so much damage to me and expect me to forgive her for it. I yelled to my mom that there was a scar on my cheek. My sister tried screaming louder that it still wasn’t her fault, and the scar really wasn’t that big anyway, and it was shaped like a moon.
My mom assured me with the words, “It was only an accident.”
Night in the city was a canvas of indigo with sporadic squares of diffused yellow light. The rumble and subsequent ascending pitch of airplane motors lifting into the sky was continuous and made more distinct in the darkness. At first, each uproar of the engine would startle me, but they eventually melted into the background as I made a game of searching the area for the blinking dots of light soaring from one shade of night into another more ethereal one. My family was in Texas in the middle of our summer road trip. A friend of my father’s, Lucia, drove my mom, my sister, and me to the Houston airport to admire the hundreds of airplanes taking off and landing.
BLINK…BLINK. A red light barely discernible in the distance. Then the successive sound of the plane taking off echoed in our ears. It was a harsh sort of music. Lucia pointed us to a tower viewer we could use to see the planes closer. I positioned myself in front of the giant metal binoculars, pressing my temples into the sides and shifting around until I could see the blinking lights of the planes. Through the viewer, the pinpricks of lights bled over the entire scene, creating an orange haze around everything. Even so, it was amazing to see so close to a plane and then take one step back and see it from a great distance away.
I instructed my sister to look through the binoculars so I could snap some photos on my new favorite Nikon digital camera. I always stayed behind the camera. On this road trip in particular, I wish I could have remained more hidden, but a family road trip needed evidence of the entire family being present (at least physically). In most of the photos, I hold an uncomfortable grimace or half-smile, my body curling in on itself like a wilted flower. My cheekbones straining against the sides of my face create small hollows under my eyes. My clavicles like budding wings from my shoulders were usually noticeable under the light tank tops I wore to survive the dry Texas heat.
Hiding can only take you so far when someone else is looking for you.
I wish I would have known more about change, about how to do it right. I didn’t have a direction, so I got lost. I lost the fat—the baby fat, the extra padding, the whatever you want to call it—wrong. I ate—and didn’t eat—the wrong things. I was living—with a stubborn, sullen head and heart—wrong. I barely found joy in life on that road trip amongst the tumultuous thoughts and expectations rattling in my mind, but in the moment at the airport, I was engrossed in something other than myself. I was caught off guard. I looked once again through the viewer at a plane speeding down the runway, nothing but a blur of red and white lights burning through the navy sea of night. I angled the binoculars upward and was shocked to see a full moon taking up nearly the entire scene through the lenses. I angled my digital camera lens behind one of the lenses of the binoculars and took a few photographs of the silver sphere floating at the perfect moment at the perfect angle.
I forgot my nagging thoughts of imperfection and wasting time. My mind was blinded by the beauty of a strange city at night under a full moon. I was too busy taking photographs of that beauty to care about trying to be something “beautiful” myself. No one could compete with the moon and the stars and once-in-a-lifetime places and times.
The pure beauty of nature will cover my scars.