It's not too often that I like the way I look in pictures. However, there is this one picture of me—an old picture—that I love. I'm about 12 years old, and in the middle of the woods near the house I grew up in. I am wearing overalls, a blue undershirt with flowers, and black wading boots that come up to my knees. My long hair is pulled back in a ponytail that touches the small of my back, and I have a thick white headband holding back the whispy strands up top. I'm standing on the bank of the creek, notebook and pen in hand, totally absorbed in whatever I'm writing. It's obviously a candid shot my mom took—I am completely in my own world.
I don't know why I love this picture so much. It really is nothing special. 11-14 was a really awkward phase for me (and really…who ISN'T awkward at that age?). I don't know if overalls were "in," or if I just thought they were, but I wore them A LOT. I'm not smiling or looking at the camera, but if I were, you would see braces and teeth set at wonky angles (probably orange and black as this picture was taken around October or November). The kid in the picture is normally self-conscious and shy. She gets picked on by others because she's smart, because she's different…lots of reasons she doesn't understand, and her journal is full of lists of things she could change about herself, should change about herself, to be better, look better, act better. There were full page lists of what was "wrong" with her…but in the picture, she's not thinking about any of those things. In that moment in the picture, that kid is at home in her skin and her awkward overalls and waders, and she knows it. She's feeling it. I can tell. When I look at that picture now, I want to tell the 12 year old me how beautiful she is. I can see the soul of me in that picture, and I want the little me to know how beautiful that is. I wish I could say that the 12 year old me would have believed it.
I woke up this morning, remembered everything I told myself I would do today, and decided to take a walk with the dog. But I didn't just want to take a walk. I wanted to take a LONG walk. I wanted to be in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to walk until I felt like I couldn't walk anymore. I get like that sometimes…I just need to be alone and try to find myself again. Sometimes, I need to walk a really, really long way.
Normally, when I leave the house I have to put makeup on. I have to make sure I pass some sort of standard (what that standard is, I'm not really sure, I just have to be sure to pass it). If I don't do that, I'm just too uncomfortable. There are too many voices going off, too many alarms sounding in my head. But, this morning, I woke up, brushed my teeth, changed my shirt, grabbed a bandana and a hair tie, and I was out the door. In the same shorts I slept in. With no makeup, no time in the mirror, no nothing. Just out the door, like that.
I thought about it while I was driving, and started to feel uncomfortable—almost turned around, even, but no. Why did it even matter? The goal was to find me, not a soul mate. The purpose of this trip was to reconnect with myself through the Earth. I convinced myself I didn't need mascara or clean shorts to connect with the Earth Goddess energy I was trying to find. I pulled into the parking lot, slathered myself with sunscreen, grabbed the dog, and started walking.
My body falls into a rhythm when I'm in the woods that I can't really explain. When I'm angry, or sad, or searching or frustrated or overwhelmed, I want to be in the woods. It's the only place that feels big enough to hold it all, sometimes. It's the only place where I can stop thinking, and sometimes it's the only place I can think. When I'm walking in my neighborhood or at the park, my mind is still reeling: wondering what people are thinking about me as they walk by, feeling exposed and like they are probably judging me, thinking about what I need to do later, what I'm going to make for dinner, worrying about global warming or human sex trafficking, thinking about that one time I forgot to put yeast in the bread I was making, and wondering what homework I should be doing instead. When I really go into nature, all of that stops. I can't tell you what I am thinking—it's just there. I'm there, in my body, and there is nothing else.
It's perhaps not a good thing, but I'm not scared to walk alone in the woods. Other places? You bet'cha. But not there. I feel more at home, more protected, stronger, when I am in nature than when I am anywhere else. It's where I used to go as a kid, too: there was never any place private at my house, and emotions weren't meant to be expressed. When I was overwhelmed or angry or tired or scared or just needed a break from it all, I could go for a walk, go sit in my "fort," or go wade in the creek. Although I couldn't put words to it (I can barely put words to it now), it just felt like, for 10 minutes, the world was lifted off my shoulders.
When I was sexually assaulted a year ago, I was told repeatedly how unattractive I am. How no one will ever love me. He told me exactly what was wrong with every part of my body. At one point, I convinced my drunk friend to go to the bathroom with me and told her we had to go, that he was an asshole. When she wouldn't buy that, I told her that I was tired and had to work the next day. She told me not to be so stupid: a handsome guy that was totally out of my league wanted to make out with me and take me home—I should go for it because I would wake up in the morning feeling so beautiful, I wouldn't even realize I was tired. Something must be wrong with me, she told me, that made me want to leave. Something was wrong with me that I didn't want him.
It's been over a year, and I'm just starting to get to the point where I look in the mirror and see more than the flaws he enumerated. Over a year later, I'm still waiting to wake up feeling beautiful.
But today, as I was walking, I stopped and put my feet in the creek. I was slightly out of breath, sweaty, and grimy from the mixture of sunscreen, dirt, spider webs, and dog fur. I was wearing shorts I had slept in, a bright yellow t-shirt that is at least 8 years old and has letters half on and half falling off. My shoes were caked with mud, and mud had splashed up the back of my legs while I was walking. My t-shirt was wet from picking up my wet dog after he scared himself in the creek and refused to walk back across the water. My hair was frizzy from the heat, wavy in all the wrong places, and pulled back in a wrinkled, blue bandana. I had on no make-up, hadn't even washed my face before leaving, and could feel my cheeks flashing pink. I looked up at the sky and felt my arms raise out to my side and above my head, and I just felt so comfortable, I smiled. Giggled, even. Closed my eyes and breathed deeply of the damp earth smell that feels more like home to me than home ever could. For a moment, there was nothing else in the world: there was me, and my dog, and a presence that might have been Love and Truth filling the air. I stood there, grime and all, savoring the moment and trying to figure out "what is this weird thing I feel?"
It's hard to write it. Something about it is difficult to admit, even. But, I think, I might have felt "beautiful."