This is Part Five of Face, A Memoir. When I was five years old I was hit by a car and lost my left cheek and eyelid. It was the beginning of nearly two dozen surgeries over fifteen years. In this section, I decide to see a therapist when, as an adult, my life seems to be falling apart.
I am sitting on a white overstuffed couch in the Santa Barbara office of a therapist a friend recommended. South-facing windows let in filtered light from the late morning sun. Japanese paintings hang on the cream-colored walls, creating a sense of serenity and intimacy. A box of tissues is tucked behind the lamp on the side table, within easy reach. Michael sits in a straight chair in front of me, his long legs tucked under. His square, tanned face framed by waves of blond curls. We are talking about self-esteem.
“I don’t have a problem with self-esteem.”
“Yes, you do,” Michael says.
I am stunned. “No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do,” he repeats, more emphatically.
I look out the window at the jacarandas in bloom, their graceful purple flowers nudged by a gentle offshore breeze.
I’d always thought of myself as confident, secure in my self-image, strong and independent. I was a successful journalist – had been editor of the editorial pages of a medium-sized daily newspaper and a recognized leader in the community. I did not lack confidence in my abilities.
But that wasn’t what he was talking about.
When I first went to Michael for help, it was because I suspected – and feared – my marriage of twenty-four years was over. After a month of weekly meetings, he suggested joint counseling with my husband. But after nearly six months, we were making little, if any, progress. So we stopped, and I returned to individual sessions with Michael.
Now here I was, sitting in Michael’s office wondering what had gone wrong. With my marriage. With my career. With my life.
“Talk to me about your scars,” Michael said.
“What do you mean?”
“How did you get them?”
I shrugged. Gave the rote response, something I had spent years perfecting: “I was hit by a car when I was five. I was nearly killed and lost my cheek and my eyelid. I underwent twenty surgeries over the next fifteen years.”
“How do you feel about that?”
How did I feel? I didn’t feel. I hadn’t felt about it in years. I hadn’t thought about it in years. But the more Michael and I talked, the more the memories flooded back. Then I remembered a folder my father had given me just before I got married.
My mom and dad were visiting me in Redding, where I was a reporter for the newspaper, and I was sorting through clothes in my bedroom when my dad knocked on my open bedroom door.
“Hi, Dad. Hot enough for you?” It had to be 102 already, and it was midmorning.
He smiled. “I have something for you.”
He sat down on the bed and patted the spot next to him. I plopped down.
“I am so proud of you,” he started. “Now you’re getting married, I guess it’s time I gave you this.”
He held out a thick, faded, dark-blue folder.
“What is it?”
I opened the folder and was surprised to see dozens of hospital invoices, insurance documents and doctors’ bills, all dated from the 1960s and ’70s and all carefully marked “paid” in his distinctive hand.
“Oh my gosh, Dad.”
He had saved and noted each bill, each surgical procedure, each hospital stay. As I leafed through, I came across a yellowed photo envelope and opened it. That was when I saw the photographs for the first time. I looked for only a moment, then shoved them back into the envelope and put it back into the blue folder.
There was an awkward silence.
I didn’t know what to say. Why had he saved all these things? And why did he feel it was important to give them to me now?
Finally, I mumbled, “Thanks, Dad.”
He patted my leg again, and stood to go.
“I think your mom’s waiting to go shopping,” he said as he walked out of my room.
I sat alone for a few minutes. I felt confused and overwhelmed, as if he had shown me a film clip from my childhood, one I hadn’t expected and didn’t want to see.
Then I walked over to the dresser and put the folder in the bottom drawer, under some old jeans. I gathered my purse and my shopping list for the wedding and walked out to the kitchen where Mom was just finishing putting away the breakfast dishes.
“Ready to go?” she asked. I nodded, and as we left, I put the folder out of my mind.
(To be continued...)