you haven't changed a bit, she effuses, intuiting this wisdom from a superficial eight-second conversation in the grocery aisle amidst the turnips.
i swallow a flippant reply. i haven't seen her in, like, nineteen years, maybe since high school graduation. i recall the picture of she and i at prom, casual friends: in said photo, i am wearing a pastel floral puff-sleeved dress in which i resemble a large Laura Ashley sofa, and my hair is braided on top of my head like Heidi of the Swiss Alps. my shoes have bows on them and my eyebrows are as fluffy and thick as a caterpillar. haven't changed? haven't changed? oh god, old girl...shut your mouth, that's crazy talk.
i understand that my once-upon-an-acquaintance was merely being polite. she wasn't trying to suggest that i haven't grown, or grown up, or that i look like a refugee from 1989. but her comment still spawned in me a bizarre and powerful urge to strip my clothes off right there amongst the root vegetables and the happy shoppers and force her to see my scars, acknowledge them...all the years and the wrinkles and the sorrows, all that life has wrought on me and me on myself. i wanted to shake those raw, scabbed beauties in her placid face, shock her with them, own them. at least, erm, figuratively.
it's been a couple of months since i had that conversation. in the interim, i've wondered at the vehemence of my reaction. it most definitely stemmed from my grief, however far along the healing path i may think i am. and it reflects, i think, a process of integrating grief into my own identity. in the early months after Finn died, all i longed for - on those rare occasions that i subjected myself to random interactions at all - was to "pass" as normal. had some aged cheerleader told me then that i hadn't changed, i would have preened, i think, at a performance gone right...and then darted back to the sanctuary of home to nurse the raw wound that was my reality. later still, i just longed not to be reminded publicly of said wound at all; hated to be exposed in my grief in any circumstances not under my control (ie, any circumstances outside my own blog, basically).
but then i guess i internalized it. i accepted it, and came to terms with it, and became able to speak it, and became accustomed to it as a part of me. and that has been good. bringing my grief out into the light has, for the most part, shrivelled its power to wound me, and allowed me to become some version of whole again.
but i'm not the same as i was before. as i was not the same after any of the other great upheavals/sorrows/betrayals of fate that have sporadically marked me since that hideous prom picture was taken. as i was not the same after i fell in love for the first time, not the same after i brought home my living son and discovered the strange half-life joy of sleep deprivation. life changes us, the best and worst things the most deeply. i think that needs to be honoured, though not necessarily in grocery store aisles. and yet i wonder if i've integrated grief too much into my sense of self? if it's normal to react so fiercely to someone's passing comment that i haven't changed? if it's healthy to have integrated grief and scarring so much into my identity that i'm offended when someone - even innocently - tries to pretend it's not there?
i don't want to go back to the person i was before Finn. i'm not sure i ever did, even in the worst of it: hell, i was not so carefree even before, and in his short life he taught me and brought me things i will keep close to me all of my days. but as i've healed, i've become more attached to that not wanting to go back, more invested in my self-identity as this tempered vessel, this patch-ridden human being. i have become disdainful of attempts to present life as sunny and perfect, dismissive of easily-won happiness as naive, even banal. i have also become inclined to assume that things will go wrong, particularly around pregnancy and childbirth, because my experience has repeatedly borne this out in one way or another. i have succumbed to the hubris of believing that i am special, unlucky, marked...even though in this online world i have come to realize that i haven't lived the half of it.
i think part of this identification with loss has been a reaction designed to assert my right to space and existence in a world that often seeks to dismiss the sorrowing, bury them with their dead. but i wonder about going too far, holding so tightly to the fact of loss that the rest of me gets subordinated to that tragedy? is the fierce, fey compulsion to inflict my stretch marks on a bygone acquaintance at the Shop & Save an, erm, bad sign?
do you want to be told you haven't changed a bit?