University of Baltimore Asst. Prof. and Bohemian Rhapsody Columnist Marion Winik wants to accept one of the biggest compliments of her life. So what’s stopping her?
The other day I received an email from a woman named Marjorie, who’d just read a short memoir I wrote, set in Austin back in 1981. She, too, had vivid recollections of the period and people described — a serious flood, a piano in a tree, a dog the size of a pony, a jazz musician the size of a Volkswagen, a suicide. Her letter was a surprise to receive and interesting to read, but there were two sentences in particular that knocked me over.
Once Mark and I were talking about women and weight and body types and he told me that you had a twenty-inch waist and that he found you so beautiful. I remember that you looked like the Shaktis in my Far Eastern Art History book.
This was like getting 32-year-old news from Mars. I could not take it in. I don’t mean the 20-inch waist, I know I had a decent waist, though this number sounds like it was rounded down somewhere along the way.
The impossible thing, the radioactive space rock, was the idea that at some point in history two people sat around talking about the beauty of women’s bodies and I was the example.
That the dark, ethereal boy, who was my good friend’s neglected boyfriend, who took me in his arms one night in the car, who with the terrible shortsight of youth and torment hung himself with the rope from a hammock later that spring, said he found me so beautiful.
That Marjorie, who rode her bike from Minnesota and lived in the big house with Mark and the others for four months and of whom I have no memory at all, said I looked like the Shaktis in her Far Eastern art history book. I picture them as concupiscent hourglasses: bounteous bosoms and tapered waists, brimming hips and jingling ankles, their third eyes radiating tantric allure into the hypnotized cosmos.
Just like me!
There are two kinds of praise. The kind you take lightly because you already know it is true, and the kind you ignore because it cannot get through your resistance to this information. For example, my friend Kim, a doe-eyed Italian beauty, is also very bright. You tell her she’s beautiful and she just smiles: she’s heard it before. Then you tell her, after she’s beaten you once again at Scrabble, that she is smart. She snorts. Come on, I’m a hairdresser.
Are we all impermeable to the thing we most need to know?
Some ancient turning away, some shrug, some no that still echoes off the walls of your skull. Your heart. What you wouldn’t have done to make them see. Who, you don’t even know, it was so long ago. These days almost everyone is very kind and complimentary. They love your smile. You look great in those pants. Your jokes! Hilarious. You are quick as quicksilver. You kill at Scrabble. The biggest bully left is the one in your own head.
The other day, in my mid-50s, I got an email. Mark said he found me so beautiful. Marjorie saw me on the wall of a Hindu temple. Is it too late to be a Shakti, do you think? What if my waist is 28 inches now, or 30, what if I wear bright blue reading glasses that make my daughter laugh, what if some sort of farm implement has rolled a trail over my skin?
So beautiful. I have been carrying those words around like pebbles, like chips of the rock from Mars. I keep them in the pocket of my Shakti pantaloons. What I want to do is hand them out to everyone.
Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.