I’m in Florida licking my wounds. My divorce finalized last September and the ex remarried in June. I’m still healing from the relationship betrayals that ended the marriage. He appears, at least outwardly, to be happy: new wife, new house, new stepson, and successful in his work. And me? Not so much. I was diagnosed with breast cancer just prior to the divorce and spent last summer and fall recovering from two surgeries and radiation. Between the divorce and the cancer, I’m feeling unwanted, undesirable, and afraid. I retired prematurely from teaching when the stress of the marital problems became so great that I could no longer function at school. I’ve come to Florida to gain some perspective, to focus on who I am, what I want to do, and where I want to go.
I feel least confident about my body and whether or not I am attractive. The ex had a sinister way of publicly praising me and showering me with exquisite gifts while ignoring or rejecting me sexually. The wounds came from what he didn’t say and do as opposed to what he did. Any private compliments given felt like being damned by faint praise. These mixed signals confused me. While mostly a confident and assertive person, sexually I doubted my worth.
He fancied himself a photographer, was always taking pictures. I was rarely the subject. He took pictures of others and often asked me to take his picture but inevitably when film was developed there were few shots of me. I had gained weight during the marriage, soothing my hurt feelings and loneliness with food, and felt shame about my appearance. I definitely did not have the self-confidence to ask to have my picture taken, even though there were times I wanted a photo of myself in a particular location because the magic and beauty of it spoke to me.
Today I’m sitting on the patio of a restaurant on Siesta Key. Because it is beastly hot and humid by midmorning, I get up at six to walk the nearby shady bike path and then come here to have breakfast and journal. I love this spot, feel like I belong. I smile at everyone I meet and they smile right back. Today I did something that required courage. I asked the owner to take a picture of me with my journal and ice tea at my favorite table. He was happy to do it and even though I felt self-conscious and awkward I posed with a smile. I treasure this not-very-special photo. Even though my hair is plastered down from walking in the heat and I’m wearing a tee shirt and no make up or jewelry, I look beautiful. I’m learning that beauty comes from passion within. No one else decides if I am beautiful. I decide that. I create that. And I welcome and embrace those who see and recognize it. Starting with me. Starting today.
Judy Whelley is a writer living in Dayton, Ohio. You can blog with her at www.sensuouslysixty.blogspot.com.