The summer after I sat my leaving cert was one of the most carefree times of my life. I wasn’t going to college and I had not one clue as to what I wanted to do. I had studied but it was too little too late. I was one of those students that the likes of Finland recognized a long time ago; if it didn’t interest me, I’d daydream the class away, follow the progress of a blue bottle around the classroom and wonder how everyone else seemed to know what was going on. If it did interest me, I’d delve further and further into the more fascinating parts and move further and further away from what was on the actual curriculum. I sat next to the same girl from second to sixth year. She had an uncanny ability to jump from listening to the latest happenings in my world to a sudden “Sorry Emer, I don’t want to miss this part” and within seconds she’d have her hand up to answer a question. How did she do that? I wasn’t even sure what subject it was. If I hadn’t loved her so much I would have hated her for it. I’d narrow my eyes at her and call her a swot out of the side of my mouth. And I’d plod along, my teachers missing me missing out. They let me down, according to my friend, even today she gets annoyed on my behalf; they didn’t see my potential and they let me slip through the rungs of success. Perhaps. Well, actually, yes, she’s right. But if I had been encouraged to work harder and become that Botanist, or that Montessori teacher, would that have been the right path for me? Would the beautiful things in my life have come to me anyway?
One carefree summer morning, as my friends and I sat over a late breakfast after a late night, smoking and drinking coffee and listening to the radio, my mother announced that she had booked me into a secretarial, or a communications course, as she called it. I opened my mouth to protest and realized I hadn’t any comeback whatsoever. I couldn’t laze in my kitchen for the rest of my life. I shrugged my shoulders, lit up another cigarette and stood up to put on the kettle. One of the girls suddenly laughed loudly and pointed at my bare feet.
“Jesus, look at your feet!”
“What’s wrong with my feet?”
“It’s like the roadmap of France!” And she laughed again as I looked down and saw for the first time, the intricate network of veins across otherwise smooth skin. I suppose my feet were warm, I don’t know. They had never seemed so freakish before.
“You’re actually right.” I said.
I went from loving my feet to hating them in that moment.
A few years ago, I was away on a girlie weekend. As we walked together towards the spa, we discussed what beauty treatment we would each go for. I was going for a pedicure. I had decided that I needed to start loving my feet. That years of hating them had actually made them ugly; my psoriasis, which flared up only occasionally on my elbows and knees, had taken up a permanent position on the roadmap of France. I had scarring that my dermatologist had called ‘odd’ as it came from nowhere and I’d had trouble with an ingrown toenail. Since I was opening up about it, I told my friends about that morning in my kitchen all those years ago, and about the girl who laughed.
“And where is she now, Emer? Do you ever see her?” someone asked.
“I haven’t seen her for maybe twenty years or more.” I said as we walked into the refreshments room, where another group of ladies were lounging. And there, amongst them, she sat: the girl who had destroyed my feet all those years ago. There followed the most awkward of introductions and small talk and when she left, one of my friends turned to me.
“Emer, you really did not like that girl. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you not like someone before.”
There were six of us on that trip. Six varying opinions on what makes something a coincidence, is there such a thing as fate and what defines downright freakiness. Let us say we were all in alignment this time. And we were in agreement about something else: I really needed to start loving my feet.
Of course I didn’t. I went right on hating them. I won’t say I didn’t try. I made so many attempts to love them. It’s an ongoing battle that surges in importance every summer. This very morning in fact, they were of significance in my meditation.
Meditation is a sporadic affair for me; everything in my life goes better when I make it a daily practice and I’m grateful to the person that has recently encouraged me to do just that. I guarantee you I have read every self help book there is and I know from years of practice that to forgive someone is a gift to yourself. I forgave the roadmap of France years ago, by the way, so that’s not where I’m going with this, but sometimes we can know something so well, that we forget it. Two weeks ago I forgave someone in a guided meditation. It had a powerful effect; physical pain that I’ve been suffering for years suddenly disappeared, and the only thing I did was forgive. It has had a profound effect on me and I can’t stop thinking about the power of, in the end, such a simple thing. So it occurred to me this morning, I need to forgive someone else; the manifestation of my feet trouble has to stem from somewhere. It’s like pain that I push down as far as it will go; my feet are the last stop, but they still have to carry me and help me to stand strong. Who, though? In this instance, I thought, who am I to forgive?
And I’m already ahead of you: you think I want to forgive myself for giving my child up. I don’t. I look back and I look back and still I know I would do it. If there is one thing I know I did right, it was to go through with the adoption.
No. Not that.
I have never felt guilt for giving him up. But I have felt a constant stream of miserable self-flagellation for having gotten myself in the position where I had to make that decision. I have called myself a wild and selfish girl back then, and that I didn’t care about anything other than my nights out and my clothes and how I looked and who looked at me.
First; that’s ok. I was nineteen. I see that now that I’m fifty.
Second; I wasn’t actually all that bad. I had pangs of stabbing love for my own parents even as I shouted at them to leave me alone. I even had spiritual considerations. I was just trying to work it all out. I’m still trying to work it all out, but I have the advantage of looking backwards at a pile of life-stuff that I managed to survive. I guess that pile gets bigger the older you get.
It was extraordinarily easy to forgive myself. Later, In the bathroom mirror I stared, not at the allergic reaction I’m currently having on my face, but deep into my own eyes and I saw her, the girl I was before I spent years giving myself such a hard time. The girl I was before it even occurred to me that a road map of veins on my own feet could be construed as ugly.
We smiled at each other because we knew…I have the most adorable feet.