No Amount of Makeup Can Cover these Scars

“Now, girls, there is no way that this mascara is ever going to fully coat your lashes if you just put it on one side. You have to paint both sides of your lashes, like this. Close your eyes, dear.”

My friends and I looked at each other in shock and horror. “I never even thought of that!” I said, and was greeted with a murmured chorus of me neithers. We were thirteen and fourteen years old and we had been bravely, even boldly making up our faces before school, at lunch, after PE, in the bathroom before classes for which we dared to show up tardy. Just a month before, in fact, I had been re-applying my makeup in the bathroom before fourth period because I wanted to feel confident before our quiz; when the bell rang, I tossed my compact and brushes into my purse–yes, I carried a purse at all times–and ran to class, falling down the stairs and ripping all the tendons in my left ankle in the process. But my make up looked great.

The presenter continued and we leaned in to listen from our seats in the multi-purpose room. All 8th grade girls were seated in rows, surrounded by teachers and staff, as we were given instruction on how to apply our makeup and pick the most flattering clothes for our “season.” The guest speaker was from Nordstrom, an upper-end retailer most of us never entered. She had talked to us already about how to select our best colors and how to flatter our various body types.

“Now, you’re going to need to line your lips or you might as well not even wear lipstick.” This statement triggered my first negative thought of the hour. ‘I don’t have time for some of this,’ I thought. ‘Maybe I could do this just for special occasions like school dances,’ I decided.

I was an honors student, a spelling bee champion, a student of the month, and a tiny little girl living below the poverty line, walking more than two and a half miles to Shumway Junior High so that I could still walk to school and see my friends from my old neighborhood. And I wasn’t bothered by the presumption that fashion and makeup were not a luxury but a necessity, nor by the notion that it was deemed appropriate by the principal (whose name I never knew) to take time from our instruction to “learn” these things. I was bothered by the fact that I might not be able to live up to the standard being set in this assembly.

Applying my makeup this morning before even stepping out to get my coffee and the paper, I am reminded of that moment in junior high when I felt not demeaned, but motivated. I increasingly improved in my make up and hair and fashion skills. I grew to love getting ready in the morning. I found cheap ways to emulate the look I was supposed to create. I studied the styles of the likes of Whitney Houston and Madonna and Susanna Hoffs to develop my own look–that, we had been told, was very important. I convinced my mom to help me buy Seventeen and Young Miss magazines so I could research the latest trends and learn more fashion tips each month. And, in our home of liberal political activists, no one questioned this or felt it inappropriate not just for society to set such standards, but for my school to have done so.

I had actually been told, since my first day of kindergarten, to hold in my stomach, stand up straight, and smile whenever I entered a room. It’s funny how it never occurred to me to share this advice with the children I later nannied or raised. But I still think of it ever time I enter a room, just like I know to apply my makeup and fix my hair before leaving the house–to go to the supermarket, even.

As a high school principal, I  rarely found girls in the bathrooms applying make up or fixing their hair. They’d be late because they were standing in one of those circles all fiends make when sharing stories and gossip, but  never because of hair or makeup. I wonder what they would think of my friends and I. Were we more vain, more superficial? Was it just the 80’s? I don’t know. But, even at 42, I hear the voice of the stunning fashionista telling me, each morning, to make sure I coat both lashes fully with mascara.

Even today, I recall that day I sat listening and learning how to make my lips look properly pouty and my eyes to look sufficiently sultry. I should have been listening about how to report the acts that I was being put through by a trusted adult male each week, or how to feel strong enough to run away, or how to study for the SAT so I could get the education I so desired so I could escape from the life I feared I was being sucked into. But I wasn’t taught these things. And I wasn’t questioning why. I was just worried about my makeup.

I’ve come a long way since junior high. But I still have the scars. And, try though I might, I can never cover them all with makeup.

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To Be…

My love extends beyond my soul

and through the smiles

I see in the children laughing around me.

My heart is more than my love,

radiating in in the eyes of my

Lover nestled beside me.

My life is more than moments

of joy and sorrow and sharing

Hope for a better tomorrow.

My journey is still being formed

all maps tossed aside,

replaced by unseen forces guiding me home

to you

to me

to be…

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More than Love…

On preparing remarks to open our Suicide Prevention Town Hall event this week…

As I reflect on the momentous gravity of our upcoming Suicide Prevention Town Hall, I am flooded with feelings and memories. My world has been impacted by many beautiful and sensitive souls who have struggled to find peace in this world. Some have turned to drugs, some to seclusion from others, and even some to suicide attempts. My grandfather told me once, when I was bemoaning my inability to do more for one of these precious people in my life, “all you can do is love them, Sarah. Just let therm know you are there and love them.”

Those words brought me comfort at the time. None of us can be “fixed” or made to feel as others would have us feel. We each live in our own internal worlds and in our shared external world.

I do believe now, however, more than love is needed, even more than presence. We must be aware and watchful and empowered by both love and knowledge. As I prepare my remarks I am in awe of all of the knowledge and resources out there to support me as I interact with those I love and as I work as an advocate in my school district for meeting the needs of all of our youth. This includes suicide prevention, community mental health resources, and a community who cares enough to come together to share our love, concern, and knowledge to protect and empower those in our lives.

Yes, love is not enough, but it is a start. It will take more than love to prevent suicide, to empower a community to face the difficult realities of mental illness, depression, anxiety, and our own limitations. But love is a start. That love inspires us to action and to learning tonight.

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There is a Chinese proverb that has always resonated with me: “a flower cannot blossom without sunshine, nor a garden without love.” I think of this often as an educator, a mom, and a member of this community. This is our garden. And sometime our garden needs extra attention. We have to compensate for insufficient light or sandy soil. The time and effort needed for most gardens takes more than love–it takes commitment. And each of you is here because you love someone, someone matters to you, and you are committed to making sure that they are able to live the kind of life that brings them joy. We know that there will be challenges and sorrow–and you have chosen to be here tonight because you want them to know that you will be there with them through it all, no matter what.

We are honored tonight with experts and with those who will teach us to be aware and to be empowered to act if we see signs that someone in our lives is struggling.

Although I am not one of those experts, but am here to learn as you are, I do know that what we are here for tonight is important. My life has been touched by loved ones who suffer with depression and anxiety. People close to me have attempted suicide. I have had friends and family directly impacted by suicide and loss. I am thankful that I can be here tonight to do my part to ensure I can be an ally for them now and in the future.

This is scary stuff and we are all worried we won’t do the right thing. We all know that we cannot control how someone else is feeling. We can control how we respond though. We can also control the knowledge we gain. It’s my hope that, after tonight, we will each be a little more comfortable asking for help–talking to our school counselors, the social workers in our schools and community, the case managers in our buildings, our principals, and each of those advocates who have chosen to give their time to be here. Look around. None of us is alone in this.

With that in mind, thank you for joining us. A special thanks to our experts, our volunteers, and all in our community who have made this night possible.