A man died this week.
A man who, by all accounts, was a blessing to all who knew him… at least all who knew him during the twenty years that I knew him.
He had been my Sunday school teacher and neighbor during the early years of my marriage.
His wife is a Facebook friend of mine, and she made a post asking for stories about him to be emailed to her.
I thought and thought about what I should send her, because goodness, he was a good man… and in the end, sent her nothing.
Because even though I had quite a few memories of this guy from being in his Sunday school class and living a block away from him for twelve years, the story that kept coming to my mind of the time he influenced my life the most would be shallow and frivolous and meaningless to anyone but me.
But that one little story makes me tear up every time I think about it.
He said I was pretty.
I told you… shallow. Frivolous. Meaningless.
Except it wasn’t, to a girl who was feeling quite broken about her appearance.
I remember the exact moment, exactly where I was standing, exactly what I was wearing.
I was pregnant with my first baby, and had just reached the point in pregnancy that I had to break out the maternity clothes. It was a white linen dress that tended to wrinkle badly, with a faint floral pattern, and it tied behind my back.
I had also reached the point in pregnancy where my husband had started calling me fat ass. I mean, I had gained five or ten pounds by then, so clearly I deserved it.
I felt completely self-conscious in my white linen maternity dress.
That’s probably about the time I had taken to wearing only black clothes, because black is slimming. I still wear almost all black. The neural pathways that were carved into my brain during that marriage are deep, man.
Black makes you disappear.
I have sixteen solid black dresses hanging in my closet as we speak.
It might be a sickness.
But a white dress… a white linen dress… well, it draws attention, and makes you expand, visually, and it might have even been too short, I can remember worrying, and if it’s too short your fat legs show too much. But I didn’t have a lot of maternity clothes, maybe three or four things, so I wore what I had.
Such are the thoughts of a woman who has been called fat ass by the man who is supposed to love her the most.
It messes you up.
Years of therapy haven’t erased it.
You may get to the point where you can grasp that you’re not 100% the Elephant Man, but …
Looking in the mirror is hard.
Pictures are hard.
That was about the point that I started hating every single picture of myself.
Verbal abuse is possibly the most horrendous type of abuse because it stays with you forever.
But at church that night, I overheard him say to someone,
Melissa is so pretty.
For a girl who was feeling 100% like the Elephant Man, that was huge.
For a girl who was treated like a disgusting, obese, unattractive specimen at home, it was life.
I never thought of that man without always thinking, he thinks I’m pretty.
It was said in a way that a fatherly, Sunday school teacher type would say it, and nothing more, just to clarify.
And at moments when I was in the pit of divorce and despair and entertaining thoughts that maybe the world would be better off if I were dead because I was really garbage, and my husband was texting me that nobody was ever going to want me because I was fat and ugly, I hung onto those words.
Words ARE my love language.
Therefore, mean words are the worst weapon you can use against me.
The ex husband knows this.
The man, my Sunday school teacher, couldn’t have known it.
But he was the type to always go out of his way to be a blessing, to build up and not tear down, and to leave people feeling better than he found them.
I’m so sad that he’s gone.
You never know when the words you say are going to be hope and peace and strength to someone going through an excruciating time.
And if you think someone is pretty, you should say it. It might just mean more than you know.