I guess sometimes it takes a few good men to get a strong woman to talk about her feelings. First, one male reader of this blog suggested I write more about my feelings from these experiences. Within days, a second male reader suggested the same thing. Sheesh. They certainly picked up on one of my Achilles heels — feelings are not my favorite category. Here’s why: My mind took over and my feelings froze. My memory is that as I burned on that stove, there was a moment when it no longer hurt and I accepted that I was going to die. I could think clearly but didn’t feel anything anymore. Intellect first, feelings sometime later. Even now, when pain or emotional distress come my way, the pattern returns and I freeze. It makes me adept at “compartmentalizing” those pesky feelings. If and when I’m ready to make sense of the feelings part, I find I can go back hours, days, weeks or months later to open that emotional valise and address it. Or not. There are a lot of theories on delayed reactions like these and I have to work harder-than-the-average bear to connect hurt-to-feel. Anyone else experience something similar?
My cousin Tom has become an unofficial advisor to this blog, responding to my request to him about which on topic ideas would be interesting. With characteristic aplomb, he suggested I post on dating. As you might expect for someone in my situation, dating in cold weather months was always my preference if only because my legs were covered.
Seriously, I always felt some mixture of anxiety/trepidation/vulnerability about “disclosing” my potential defect of a leg and probably spent more time than I needed to thinking about the timing of if or when to say something. At a certain point, I had to realize that either my burned leg was controlling me or I was controlling it. Like so many other things in life, secrets are powerful because they can control you. The only way to be free of a burned leg is to essentially admit that it’s there. What I found is that usually after over-analyzing when/where/how to say something about it, when I did mention it, it was — ta da — a non-event. I think most people understand that nothing is perfect. As they say, that’s why pencils have erasers. Or as William Safire put it, “Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.”
If someone thought my burned leg was so god-awfully ugly they weren’t interested in me, it wasn’t mentioned. For those who were interested in me, it was something that came with the package. Telling a potential date about my leg eventually became a routine disclosure as in, “Hey, did I mention that I was in an accident as a kid?” or some variation of that line. No matter how you try to cover up a secret, it won’t won’t stay under wraps a long time. For me, it was better and easier to say something sooner rather than later. As my mother used to say, “You get used to hanging if you hang long enough.” In the same way, I got used to providing my disclosure. I would be interested though to hear from others what they thought when they first knew of my burned leg and how it may have affected them. Thoughts anyone?
When I met my husband many years ago, I will confess I liked the fact that he had a big ole gouge on his head from a surgery. Trust me, it was a conversation starter. To my way of thinking, it made him immediately interesting because I was sure he had a relatable story. And he did. It’s easy to develop a soft spot for physical imperfection in others when it is looming large in yourself.
Over the years, I’ve taken a number of classes from Sonia Choquette (www.soniachoquette.com) and one of the things she’s said that has always stayed with me is this: “The physical is the least interesting part of a person.” This is, of course a belief that develops over a lifetime. I wish I had that thought in my arsenal years ago.