When I was young, beauty for me existed in Seventeen magazines and Delia’s catalogues. It was long-legged girls with concave midriffs adorned with belly button rings, gazelle-like creatures who somehow looked elegant in wide leg jeans and camo prints.
I feel my way down the dark hallway, knowingly step over where I know the dog is sleeping. We have both been through this routine so many times; she doesn’t even lift her head when I pass. I silently open the door —turn, turn, click— with the dexterity of a safe cracker.
I don’t tan. “All I get is more freckles and skin cancer,” I joke whenever someone asks me why I am putting sunscreen on for the fifth time that day. This inability is slightly unfortunate when you are a pasty teenager trying desperately to be cool. For years I hated my freckles because they weren’t held up on a pillar of beauty. And therefore I wasn’t either.
The moment I step into her room, she quiets. See? The logical part of me says. She’s just playing with you. The illogical part scoops up my daughter like a flour sack and, in one fluid motion, positions her in the crook of my arm where she instantly falls into a deep sleep. Magic. She nuzzles further into my embrace, her nose leaving a snail-like trail of snot on my shirt and across my arm. Her hand reaches out and grabs my upper arm, the fatty part, the part I am most self-conscious about. And I look into the mirror across her room and see my face in the moonlight. Even in the dimness I can sense my exhaustion, my blotchy skin, my freckles.
I am beyond tired, covered in snot, and someone is pinching my arm fat, reminding me that I am not perfect. And there it is. I see it. It’s not glossy or neat or attractive or smiling. It’s the opposite of pretty and definitely isn’t magazine worthy. But it is authentic and true, consisting of love and a desire to comfort. It is full of goodness. I don’t see it all the time. I don’t see it every night. But tonight I see it. Tonight, under the consuming fatigue, I feel it: Beauty.
A squeeze of the hand.
A snot-nosed kiss.
A cry for you.