I was listening to my student report on Alice Walker’s life when tears rushed into my eyes. I dipped my head, shielding my face with my hand, as I felt sorrow and compassion for the little girl that I had been. My student was telling the class about Walker’s brother wounding her as a little girl–he had shot a BB into her eye by accident–and Walker changing from a bouncy and bright self-assured little girl to a silent and ashamed shy one. I too had changed when little. No wonder I feel such a deep connection to Alice Walker and always have–we were both wounded early on and our lives changed. For me though I had barely begun to be in this world. As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, I was three-weeks-old.
In Alice Walker’s famous essay , “Beauty–When the Other Dancer is the Self,” in which she tells the story of her her brother’s maiming her, Walker often repeats these words in italics: You did not change. These are the words her family uttered years later when she questioned them about whether they noticed a shift in her attitude and behavior. The BB caused her to go blind in that eye and, in time, a big blob of white congealed over the wound. She had a visible scar, much different than my hidden one. To live with a visible scar is to be reminded every day, if not every moment, of one’s loss of beauty, desirability and normalcy. She remembers rarely looking up. I, too was constantly aware of my difference, but it was my dirty little secret. I felt like a freak but could pass for normal and appear like everyone else.
When the tears came in the classroom, I saw me as a five-year-old in kindergarten, hovering at the edge of a crowd of classmates who were pushing toy cars and trucks to the rhythms of jolly music played on a 78. Later, the teacher, Miss Anderson, called my mother in to find out why I was having trouble mingling with the other students. After my mother told her about my early operation, Miss Anderson knew exactly what to do.
At snack time, she sat me down with others to drink our milk and eat our cookies so that I would not sit alone at the far end of the table. She offered me the apron and paint brush so that I would enjoy painting along with the others. She complimented my lavender-framed eyeglasses the first day I wore them to school, so I would not feel more different than I already felt. She handed me an instrument during music circle even if I hadn’t raised my hand asking for one.
What was amazing though about being struck by emotion in class was that I had never felt such strong compassion for myself before. I literally saw myself–a little girl with baloney curls wearing a black velvet jumper and white cotton short-sleeved shirt–and my heart went out to me. I’m so sorry, I said to her, and she heard me. I heard me.
I looked up. The faces of the students were still fixed on the report-giver. Inside me though the world had shifted on its axis. At the end of Walker’s essay, her daughter notices the “blue crater” left from the blob’s removal when Walker was twelve and in awe says to her, “You have a world in your eye.” Walker sees her wounding in a new light and that night dreams of a joyful reunion with self. And for me in that moment in the classroom, I reunited with a part of myself and am now that much more whole.