Healing from any wound isn't a pretty process, and it certainly doesn't happen overnight. After the initial insult, a good cut usually bleeds for a time. Hemostasis, or ceasing the flow of blood, is best achieved by directing attention to the wound and applying direct pressure. Most of us would then apply a clean bandage to a cut until it heals, not giving a second thought to the miraculous process occurring underneath the sterile dressing.
In my own opinion, my grieving has been similar. There was the initial wound afflicted by a panel of genetic experts in a stuffy examination room filled with ancient toys at a children's hospital. There were some tears that found their way through a thick fog of shock on the drive home, and I pretty much bled saltwater for months after that. I learned to care for my wound, hiding it from the outside world and keeping it protected from words or situations that would inflame or reopen it, disrupting the healing. Slowly but surely, healing occurred, but I had to care for my wound daily. Ignoring it only made it more infected eventually, even if it seemed fine for a few days. It is still a little tender at times, and, although my skin is much thicker than it used to be, I still avoid situations that may cause irritation. Am I afraid of pain? No. Taking a detour now and then to avoid it just makes life easier for me, and I choose not to torture myself by doing something that causes me more stress. As time passes, I find myself more able and ready to attempt things I once avoided.
I knew the initial stage of the healing process was complete the day I came out of early intervention parent group without tears on my face or acid in my stomach. Instead, I found myself walking calmly out into the fresh air holding two phone numbers -- one for a local salon that did pedicures and one for a spa where I could get my eyebrows waxed.
Oh, yes. I was going to be just fine.
I have always been half tomboy, half girly-girl. The tomboy half of me likes to have dirty, scarred hands for practical purposes and shrinks from the thought of having my ivory flesh kneaded like bread dough on a massage table or having my toenails painted with high-gloss polish. The girly-girl half of me desperately desires these things but has settled for whatever she can sneak by the tomboy half, which isn't much. My fingernails are painted occasionally, and I now almost always wear crimson toenail polish. Since I had Erik, I was coaxed into having my very first full-body massage, which was a little disturbing but something I would definitely do again. I take more bubble baths now in the giant, jetted tub that sat collecting dust for months after we moved into this house. The tomboy half of me has been my boot camp instructor. She has screamed at me to get up and face my fears when I felt like lying down and giving up. Now that I have gotten up, it's the girly-girl half who is just as persistent, telling me it's time to shine. She was the one who applied my lipstick every day, despite the fact the rest of me looked like death, as my tomboy half shoved me out the door to appointments with a basket full of unhappy baby. I need both halves, but these days, the tomboy side of me has relaxed a bit and let girly-girl take over.
This month I suddenly decided my eyebrows make me resemble Abe Vigoda. I dug the phone number I had scored from parent group out of the bowels of my purse and set up an appointment with Judy, another special needs mother who has her own business at her home. If my memory serves me correctly, I was told in parent group that her 16-year-old daughter has lissencephaly, a malformation of the brain that causes its surface to be smooth instead of convoluted. This often results in severe mental retardation, seizures, and poor control of movement. Her daughter lives in a hospital facility almost three hours away and apparently will be there for the remainder of her life. Judy spends half of her time in a rented room in the city near her daughter and half of her time here in town, tending to her son and her flourishing waxing/facial business.
The day of my appointment I dropped Erik at school, ran home to print out some correspondence I had transcribed for the ophthalmology offices, and printed out directions to find this little salon. It ended up being located in one of my favorite older neighborhoods in town filled with beautiful ranch-style homes and towering pine trees with ancient, fat trunks. I located the house but was early, so I drove to a nearby park, sat in my Jeep, and watched the leaves fall from the trees, spiraling through the morning sunlight. They were as big as my hand and slapped wetly against the hood of my vehicle. The ones that fell to the asphalt became almost transparent, like damp tissue paper. I glanced at my cell phone for the time and drove slowly back to the house, finding my way up the long driveway and parking in front of the garage. I followed a politely-worded sign and walked around the corner to find a tiny cottage with filmy, white curtains covering windows and French doors. Judy was making her way to the door at the same time, and we introduced ourselves. She ushered me in and showed me where to set my things on a wooden chair in the corner. She already knew I was a special needs mother, and she asked me about Erik's condition. She was familiar with WS but was surprised to learn about the intense anxiety that often accompanies it and Erik's own difficulties being in groups of other children. Most people tend to assume that kids with WS are always friendly and unafraid, as the social aspect of the syndrome is the focus of most articles. From what I understand, the social needs of people with WS stem from anxiety and the need to connect with others to calm themselves and gain acceptance.
She placed a thick towel at the foot of the bed in the small room for my feet and instructed me to lie down. The bed was heated and seemed to hug the contours of my back, and I instantly felt my muscles relax. There was only the sound of our voices in the small room. I was surrounded by the light filtering through the sheer curtains and romantic decor, including vases of dried flowers and shelves of skin treatments in pretty packaging. She began to talk about her daughter, and it was apparent to me that although she was open to voicing her opinion on this subject, she was likely being more honest than usual with me. She told me of women who couldn't understand why she tortured herself by spending time at the hospital every other week and how it would be best to "let go" of her daughter, as if she had passed away. I sensed the anger in her voice as she explained these same woman had children and were in the middle of activities such as happily carting them off to soccer practice at the same time they gave her this advice. Another mother once responded to her fears that people would never accept from her daughter by telling her that her child would always be accepted in her surroundings if she was dressed in cute clothing and was clean. As this was something she could control, she made it her mission to travel to the hospital, lay out her clothing for the days she was not there to dress her, and assured that her hygiene was taken care of. She explained that this was something she could do as a mother and felt it was important. I marveled out loud at how strong she was. Growing up here, I knew how limited services must have been at the time that she and her daughter needed them. She sat in parent group, too, but it was much smaller, as there were only seven families enrolled in early intervention just over 10 years ago.
She painted smurf-colored wax around my brows and began the hair removal process. I was told to shut my eyes to prevent my eyelashes from becoming trapped in the hardening goo. I listened to her voice as the anger in it subsided. I heard a hint of exhaustion take its place, and I caught the faint scent of nicotine on her breath. She affixed strips of muslin to my brow over the wax and efficiently yanked them off. The girly-girl half of me nodded knowingly and smiled while the tomboy half of me yelled "Hoorah!" I was allowed to grip a hand-held mirror to inspect the beautiful damage. Instead of Abe Vigoda, I saw myself--only with movie star eyebrows. She then took a tiny, plastic comb that looked like something Barbie would use on her glossy nylon locks and combed my brows straight up.
Oh. My. Gawd.
It was at this point I squealed out loud. Abe Vigoda was back. Please, lady, DO SOMETHING! After marveling at how thick and luscious my facial hair was, something I hope to never hear again, she expertly trimmed my long-neglected brows and I was back to looking like a movie star again (and not of the Planet of the Apes variety).
She told me to sit up slowly and fluff my hair back into its usual style. She called me gorgeous, and I tipped her, telling her I'd see her again in a couple of months.
Unfortunately, by the time Brian got home from work, both of my eyelids were bruised, and I resembled George Foreman after a nasty fight. However, by the next morning, I was back to looking more like Marlene Dietrich again. Although I'll probably stick to mostly pedicures from here on out, I have no doubt girly-girl will lead me back to that little cottage for some tender, loving hair removal from time to time.
At this point, I'm a freaking healing expert.
Labels: beauty, grief, healing, spa, Williams syndrome