When I was growing up I was frequently reminded that, “God ain’t no Sears & Roebuck catalog”. I understood from an early age that wishing was wrong and wanting was a sign of weak moral character.
“Be happy with what you got.”
“Bloom where you are planted.”
“Money is the root of all evil.”
I knew that I wasn’t allowed to want anything good for myself so I did what I think so many of us often do: I settled for mediocrity without even realizing that was what I was doing. For me, suffering and doing without meant that I was somehow doing right and in trying to do right in this misguided way, I found no joy.
As I sat in a salon a day or two ago waiting for the lady who does my nails, I was feeling ashamed of myself for spending the money on something so frivolous when I knew good and well there are other things, better things, that bit of money could accomplish. Getting my nails done is an indulgence I have only recently begun to allow myself and the entire reason I started this practice in the first place was to make an effort to break these old records that have been playing in my head for more than forty years.
I decided a few months ago that if I am ever to achieve any of the dreams I have secretly kept, I will have to find a way to make myself believe that it’s OK. That I’m not going to take anything away from anyone else if I want more than what I have.
Wallowing around in my guilt as I waited and wondering whether I could come up with an excuse that would pass for truth as to why I had to leave before my appointment, I noticed an elderly couple come in the front door.
She was frail to the point of looking breakable and her tiny body was bent toward the ground. I could tell by what she was wearing and how her snowy hair was done just so that she was a woman who had always cared about her appearance.
At her side was her husband, tall and strong looking despite his years. He held onto her as she shuffled and they found a seat right across from where I sat pretending to read a magazine rather than plotting my escape from what I was feeling was reprehensible decadence.
“Hey there, Miss,” the old man called to one of the girls who worked there. “Kin I ask you a question right quick? How much would it cost me to git my wife’s fangers fixed?”
He held up her tiny hand as if it were a glass slipper.
“See there? Her fangers hurt her and she can’t do ‘em no more. She always liked to have ‘em all painted and fixed up, but now they’re cracked and she gits embarrassed of ‘em.” As he spoke, he was rubbing her hand as if it was the most valuable thing he’d ever held. I imagine if I’d asked him, he would have told me it was.
“I been a telling ‘er we need to git somebody to fix ‘em for ‘er but she’s always worried it cost too much money. I told her today I didn’t keer what it cost, we wuz gonna make it so she didn’t have to be embarrassed no more. I don’t like to see her upset over nuthin.”
Her eyes had been on the floor while he spoke, but on hearing this, she smiled what I thought was an awfully big smile for such a tiny person and looked up to meet her husband’s gaze. He was clearly her hero and although I was trying not to stare, I couldn’t help myself.
The tech carefully looked over the delicate fingers and told the couple what it would cost. “It’s a little more if we were going to polish them, but I’m sure you don’t want that anyway.”
He wouldn’t hear of it. “Oh yes. She needs to have ‘em painted up. It don’t make no differnse how much more it is. She’s worth ever penny.”
It hit me, as they say, like a ton of bricks. I would imagine when this woman was young she had been taught many of the same things about life and about herself as I had been. She knew the disgrace of hope and the sin of wishes and so she had lived a life without ever having given the desires of her heart, or herself, any value. Still, as she was approaching the end of her life, she was holding onto the notion that she didn’t deserve good things. I could only guess the number of years wasted suffering under this self imposed law.
But he knew her value. And I believe when she looked into his eyes, she could know it, too… even if only for a few seconds at a time. That’s why she smiled. That’s why he was her hero. While it has never been OK for her to want something good for herself, she could occasionally allow him to give it to her.
Are most women this way? We hope that while we can’t utter what we want or need aloud, somebody will see inside us and know it. Imagine the time we waste waiting for our mind reader. Imagine the hurt we inflict upon our spirits by feeling so unworthy, so valueless.
So like me.
Copyright © 2004-2007, Sherri Bailey
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