This is Part Six of my memoir, Face. I was hit by a car and severely injured as a child--my left cheek and eyelid were scraped away, and I endured fifteen years of surgeries after. Many years later, as I was getting ready to be married, my dad gives me a folder containing photos that force me to confront a time I had stuffed deeply away...(Read Part Five here.)
Twenty-four years later, as I sat on the concrete floor of a rented storage space and once again leafed through the files, I was instantly transported back to childhood, to when I was five. My hands shook as I sifted through the papers. And then I saw them. The photos. They were close-ups, taken a few months after the accident.
The left side of my face was red and raw, with ridges of skin built up in the middle of the left cheek like the spine of a mountain range. A piece of thick skin bisected the left eye, connecting the top and lower lids. I wondered if my dad had looked at the photos before he gave me the folder. Certainly he had seen them before, but did he consider how it would make me feel to look at them now? Or had he just put them out of his mind and not realized the impact they would have on me? Or perhaps this was his way of giving me back a part of my life that he felt belonged only to me, that I had to be the keeper now, of the story and all its attendant heartaches. Today, I believe he was giving me a gift, the gift of a past that I didn’t want to look at then, didn’t intend to look at ever. In a way, it was a gift of great love. Though I wouldn’t realize it until after he was gone.
As I sat on the concrete floor, I stared at that face, and let the tears come. Great heaving sobs pulled at my lungs and shook my ribcage. It was as if those pictures had the power to hold me hostage—that they had held me hostage for forty-five years. And I was reduced to a quivering, fearful child once again.
A few days later I took the photos out again. I could barely stand to look at them. They represented all the hurt, all the taunts, all the pain I had spent years stuffing away, convinced if I didn’t think about the accident and how it made me look, it couldn’t hurt me anymore.
I lowered myself to the floor. I wanted to be as close to the ground as possible; I feared I might collapse if I wasn’t. I peered at the first photo. It was taken from the front, and that little girl was staring straight at the photographer. Her eyes appeared to be the eyes of an old soul, someone who has suffered and survived. There was something in the eyes of that child, that five-year-old, that was way beyond her years. Way beyond the pain and suffering, beyond the here and now, planted firmly in the Divine. Sure of herself and sure she would survive, no matter what. The second photo, taken from the left side, was entirely different. It was of a small child afraid, terrified of being hurt, of being abandoned to the nurses and doctors once again, of being left in the hands of people who didn’t care, or didn’t seem to. That child’s eyes reflected such a deep sadness, a grief so profound I wanted to hold her, reach out to her across the years and make her safe. But I couldn’t. Not yet.