Yes, the casts came off and the wobbly teeth settled. But the stitches left a jagged scar and most of my face was covered with what looked like a port wine stain birthmark. Although the emergency room doctors had done their best to pick all the gravel out of my face, my skin had been abraded so badly, that there was just not that much of it left. In fact, during my time in the hospital, I was not allowed to look in the mirror until the last day. When I finally peered into that looking glass, I saw that I had disappeared and been replaced by someone else.
Unable to care for myself and with my hands in casts, I went to the people whom I knew could look after me best - my parents. When my mother saw me in the airport, all broken and oozing, she hugged me gingerly and told me how happy she was that I had come home. She said nothing about the way I looked; she's not unkind. But that night I heard her crying quietly in the kitchen, whispering to my father that she feared that no one would ever marry me. And so it began, My Year of Living Ugly.
My Year of Living Ugly taught me many things, both about myself and about others. I saw how I had changed in people's eyes. Young children looked at me with a sort of fascinated curiousity. Young men didn't look at me at all - or if they did, it was with disdain. My value on the open market had plummeted. Always slim, I began to view the very fat woman differently; we shared something in common now - we were both outcasts. I made an effort to smile at my fellow outcasts in the supermarket checkout line. But it didn't just stop there. I worked harder at being kind. I tried to be funnier, more engaging. I always remembered birthdays. I offered a good shoulder to cry on.
I worked on the inside - that was all I had left.
It took a long time -- months -- to heal. But then, slowly, I started to look like my old self again. The scars faded, my skin returned to as it once was. It seemed like my foisted-upon sociology experiment was coming to a close. The data was in, the tabulations had been done, the conclusions had been drawn. It was time to lock the laboratory door and throw away the key. But I slipped the key into my pocket instead and there it has remained. Every morning when I look in the mirror, I still see some of that girl that I met during My Year of Living Ugly. And you know what? I still always smile at everyone in the supermarket checkout line. And if you tell me your birthday, I will send you a card.