Updated: Jan 28
By Lee James
"Is this you?"
She stared at the picture held out to her. The young woman had her round cheeks and full lips. The eyebrows curved heavy over dark eyes that looked back at her with the impunity of one who hadn't been touched by defeat. She knew that face well. A different version of it looked back at her from the bathroom mirror every morning. The knee jerk reaction was to prefer the one she saw now. Younger. Softer.
But this younger version existed before truth revealed itself. This was before Mama died. Before Daddy got sick and the weight of the world fell onto this younger version's shoulders. This was before life started throwing lessons at her with all of the softness of a brick smashing through a china shop window. The lessons varied but were all important. Love was never as easy as it was in the movies. Just because you worked your tail off for it, didn't mean you were going to get it the first go round. Why? Because it's not just a cliché, life really is not fair.
This was before she'd spent long nights, curled up in a fetal position on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, crying until she was out of breath and her chest burned. Crying for everything she'd lost and sometimes for no reason at all. Crying just because it was Mama's birthday. Or it was Father's day and she'd seen that display in the hardware store that told her this is what Daddy would want and knowing, ironically, it was exactly what he would have wanted.
Daddy loved tools. His collection of drills, socket wrenches, and vise grips rivaled none other. He kept them all in the shed in the back yard. The overflow, for some reason, was always in the trunk of his car. Never mind the fact that he rarely used them. He preferred to spend his time fishing, or playing with his dogs, Bear and Bobby. Two American Eskimos, snow white except for their dark eyes and a wet patch of a nose. Friendly and mischievous, they were his constant companions. It seemed that having those tools were a safe reminder that he could fix anything should the situation call for it.
But he couldn't fix being sick. Watching him mowing the grass in the nearly one hundred degree heat, she fumed inwardly. Begging him to stop wouldn't help. He could no longer drive. She'd long since taken over the burden of running the household. This was one of the few things he still had control over. So she watched him from the safety of the screen door, praying the heat and the exertion wouldn't exacerbate his already failing system. It didn't help. Nothing helped.
Worry hunched her shoulders and shrouded her mind in fear. Always. It kept her awake at night, forcing her to stare wide eyed at the ceiling, gritting her teeth and clenching her hands against the tightness in her stomach. She didn't notice then, the fine lines it was etching into her forehead. When the inevitable came, she should have been prepared. She wasn't. She watched, her eyes blurred with heavy tears as they lowered him next to Mama. When she turned away, when she looked once more in the mirror, it was her face looking back at her, but it had changed.
Not all of life was cruel. Some of its lessons were a balm, smoothing out the grooves left by grief dragging its nails over her heart. Happy times with friends and family left memories that filled in some of the worry lines. Recollections of the journeys she'd taken and new places she'd discovered burned so bright, she forgot some of the angst and so it lost its power over her.
She took another look in the mirror and saw the same eyes looking back at her. She'd grappled with loss of hope, and loss of love, but it wasn't defeat reflected there. Today, the eyes held a challenge. This younger version had been an open book, waiting to be written on, but now, she was the writer. A seasoned warrior who knew when to sprint and when to dodge.
So yes. She took another look at the picture and smiled.
"Yes that's me. From a lifetime ago."