Her Portrait of Me
During my twentieth year, I had gotten the remarkable ability to lose time. I could sit in my dorm room and watch the wall hoping that nothing would happen. And then my roommate would come in and ask me down to dinner, forcing me to look at my wall clock and see that over four hours of my life had gone missing. Sometimes I would find myself in a bathtub full of water staring at my razor blade at 3:30 in the morning, having no idea how I got there. It was like little green men had come and taken me, the essence of who I was, and left a shell which was too stupid to know to stop. And because I kept going through the motions, everyone thought I was fine.
By the time four months slipped away from me (according to the calendar) I was gone. Everything that was characteristic about me had vanished. I couldn’t even recognize my own body in a mirror. I had a diagnosis, which frankly may as well been in Japanese. I knew what it was called, I had read about it during AP Psychology in high school. I knew the literary context of it from English classes. I knew back then it only developed in extreme circumstances, back when I was eighteen I knew that I would never get it. Now I knew that logic was wrong. I knew all these facts, I just didn’t know what to do about it.
I ‘snapped out of it’ next to find myself lying down on the back pew at our campus church. I heard singing. I heard bongos. I pieced together that I was at our Thursday night worship service. It was Thursday. Huh, who knew? I stayed there staring up at the ceiling, too heavy to move. People walked out by me. Suddenly my friend Ashley came into my vision.
“I need you to pose nude for me this weekend.”
“I need you to pose nude for me this weekend. I’ve asked nearly every other one of my friends and nobody has the balls to do it. I have a painting due next week. So now I’m telling you. I need you to pose nude for me this weekend.” I don’t know what I was expecting Ashley to say, maybe ‘you look tired’ or ‘I’m worried about you.’ All I know is this wasn’t how most people climbed out of the depths of despair. But I agreed.
For most women, the idea off stripping of all clothes and letting someone sit there with an easel and study you is horrifying. Not for me. Body image is, unbelievably, one of the few struggles I have never had to deal with. Maybe it comes from the fact that my body is utterly uncooperative anyway. As a movement teacher in drama school once told me: “You can just tell, your brain says ‘do it’ and your body says ‘fuck you.’”
All of which was probably just as well at this point. I have no recollection of that Friday and when I ‘snapped out of it’ again I was lying on my side, Ashley readjusting my hair over my bare shoulder, my arm straining to reach the edge of sunlight. She looked at me with the eyes of an artist, selecting what to paint and highlight as a metaphysical recreation. Her eyes shifted back and forth from the canvas to my skin with the level of observation like a scientist. Her brown hair fell into her eyes every few minutes when she forgot herself.
To let someone paint you, see you without obstacles and barriers and then interpret it for an audience, means they know everything. Not simply every scar or mole, but she knows you from observation and study, much like a scientist would know his subject. And yet she deems you a worthy subject to reproduce. As I stared up at the ceiling, feeling the ruffles of the cloth underneath me, I felt at rest. For the first time in months I didn’t have to explain or excuse anything. She just spoke quietly about her own thoughts and reactions so I could gather my own.
It takes being naked and having nothing sometimes to regain something. That day I got the smallest part of myself and my pride back. This is me. I need nothing else. I am lovely. It’s okay to be naked and have no excuses. Within this feeble state you will be made perfect.
And I sat there, naked, aware of every moment. I still haven’t forgotten a second of those three hours in November.