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She’d Say

Not too long ago there was a “flawed” theme for Half Nekkid Thursday, or HNT, where some of my fellow sex-bloggers chose to highlight their physical flaws. I sat that week out, not because I didn’t want to reveal my physical flaws, but because I was sick as shit and couldn’t get out of bed to take a picture.

But, it got me thinking. Would I have? Had I not been ill that week, would I have participated in the “flaws” theme?

I think the answer is no.

First of all, I don’t have a ton of physical things that I consider flaws. I have some spider veins, a smattering of stretch marks, a C-section scar and I battle acne every month. But, I am pretty secure in how I look, even though I haven’t always been. I used to pick apart my appearance and fuss over every little detail that didn’t meet the societal standard of beautiful.

And then I decided to stop.

Here’s why.

I once had a step sister. She was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known. I used to call her my hero … and she truly was. Her name was Sarah and she was diagnosed at age three with encephalopathy, a brain disease that takes many forms. In Sarah’s case, it manifested as a formation of malignant tumors.

The doctors predicted she’d be dead by age six.

But when my father married her mother when I was nineteen, Sarah was fifteen … and she was still alive and kicking ass. She was a born survivor. She had, by then, undergone fifteen surgeries on her brain (one for each year of her life) in order to remove various tumors that had rooted deeply inside her skull, attempting to strike her down and steal her sprit. Each of the fifteen operations ravaged her cranium; the removal of these toxic masses extracted with them pieces of her emotional intelligence, measurements of her physical strength, and parts of her cognitive abilities.

But her spirit always survived.

In the following fifteen years that Sarah was my sister, I learned much from her. She walked with a distinct limp, pulling her left leg behind her, which was always wrapped in an ankle-to-hip brace for support. Her left arm curled up, fetal-like, against her breast. You see, she had woken up one night, on an evening when most girls her age would have been on a date with a boy from school, because she had to pee. But when she tried to get up, she fell to the ground alongside her bed. She had had a stroke.

Years later, when she would recall the story of her stroke, she’d laugh at the irony.

All I wanted to do was pee! She’d say with a chuckle.

And we’d laugh along with her because, well, what else could we do?

Over the years, Sarah continued to have more surgeries as the tumors reappeared, relentless in their attacks. And each time that she arrived home from the hospital following the operation, it was evident that the doctors’ knives had excised more than just the malignant monsters who were so barbarically invading my sister’s brain. Each surgery left her speech more slurred, her memory less acute, and her ability to communicate clearly restricted. By then her skull was so annihilated that if I were to make a fist with both of my hands, I would have been able to fit them into either side of her hairless, desecrated head. She literally had two massive holes in her head. And so Sarah always wore a hat. She had hundreds of them.

I wish I had a hat for every day of the year, she’d say.

I remember a sunny California day when the two of us were in Napa Valley, perusing the wares of a winery gift shop. She was holding on to me for support when she removed her hat, handing it to me for safe-keeping, so that she could try on one that she fancied; one with the winery’s logo atop the brim. In the moments that her head was exposed I noticed, without even trying, the horror on the faces of the people assembled nearby. I was overcome by a fierce need to protect her from the stares of disbelief and expressions of pity. But that was transcended by a more resolute feeling of awe and inspiration. I realized how much I loved Sarah and her willful strength and her unabashed self-confidence. And as I stood there, I was utterly moved by her total lack of interest in what anyone, anyone, thought of her … or her crushed skull, or her partially immobile body, or her slurred speech, or the fact that she needed assistance walking. This was a woman who went to bed each night uncertain as to whether or not she would wake up the next morning. Sarah literally didn’t have time to give a sailor’s shit about what anyone thought of her physical appearance. And so she didn’t.

Sarah used to tell me that I was pretty.

You are pretty, Sadie. I don’t really need to be pretty, she’d say.

But she did have one regret.

And this little piece of information she confessed to me one evening after dinner. As she confided in me, I watched a flicker of sadness descend across the shadows of her big brown eyes, an expression that I had never seen grace her face; even through all of the adversity she had abided. This was a new, and decidedly resigned, expression.

I just wish that I could have known what it’s like to be in love, she said.

I wish you could have too, Sarah.

She died not long after that. She was thirty years old.

But I like to think that perhaps Sarah is smiling, a big, blithe, gorgeous smile at me from wherever she resides up (or down, or beside) in the happy-place spirit-land of amazing people. And I like to think that maybe she is cheering me on, encouraging me in my adventures to keep up the good lovin’.

I hope so.

Because I know she’d admonish me from here to fucking Napa Valley if I was spending my time grumbling about any perceived physical flaws I may have.

She’d say, Quit your bitching, Sadie. You’ve got love. You really can’t complain.

And she’d be right.

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