Beyond Myself Jan Beiler


Do you feel nervous?” my friend Phyllis asked.

“Not especially,” I answered. “It’s probably nothing serious, but a person can’t help but think of the possibilities.”

“I know,” my other moral supporter, Naomi, said. “Life goes along but you know one day it could change, just like that.”

Bright Mexican sunlight slanted through the window in the doctor’s waiting room and lay in an oblong block on the white tile floor. I flipped through a magazine and thought about why I was here.

I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about myself until one morning while combing my hair. I had leaned in toward the bathroom mirror to examine a dark spot on the left side of my face. Whatever! I thought, it’s not a spot, it’s a shadow! Sure enough, there was just enough of an indentation for my cheekbone to cast a shadow on my visage.

We had a fellowship meal at the school that same week.

Esther, who sat across from me in the circle of chairs, said, “Did you get hurt?”

I looked at her blankly.

“I just thought it looked like you have a bruise on your cheek,” she explained.

I didn’t like the shadow but I was too busy to spend much time looking in the mirror or thinking about dents in cheeks. I had cinnamon rolls to bake for my village route, long lines of laundry to hang out and children to supervise.

The next time my Mom saw me, she noticed it right away. She kept casting worried glances in my direction and finally she said, “I wish you would get your face checked out. That dent could be cancer or something.”

“No, Mom,” I said. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious. I don’t have any signs of ill-health.”

“Well, I don’t like the looks of it,” she replied.

Mom can be a trifle dramatic and I suspect she had something to do with my generous brother Wes’s concern. “Look, Jan, I’ll pay your expenses if you’ll go to the doctor,” he said.

The indention was getting larger and deeper, and Mom was planning to come for another visit. And that is why we now sat on hard chairs in a sunshine yellow room, awaiting the results of the CAT scan.

In spite of myself, my heart thumped vigorously and my palms felt sweaty when I actually sat on the examining table. What if I have to take radiation? What if part of my cheek needs to be removed?

The dapper little doctor entered the room, picked up a sheaf of papers and smiled at me. I tried to read his smile. Was it sympathetic?

He studied my face critically for a moment and then rattled off a string of Spanish to Phyllis who had come along in to the examining room to interpret.

Phyllis studied my face and said, “Yes, I see it, too.”

I felt like the only one at the funeral who didn’t know who had died.

He says your left side is higher than the right – your chin, your cheekbone, your eyebrows. Even your nose.”

Am I evolving or what? That was the vague question I couldn’t think to formulate.

The doctor consulted his paper again. I watched his expression. He looked up at me and smiled. “It is not a problem,” he said in halting English.

“Your cheek is like a pillow,” Phyllis interpreted. “Sometimes the stuffing gets thin and mashed down in a pillow and that is what has happened to you. The normal fatty cushion has become compacted which makes a hollow in your cheek but there is no sign of any foreign matter except this small cyst.” The doctor showed me a tiny circle on the paper.

We will test it to see if it is malignant but I am quite sure it isn’t,” he said.

Relief washed over me and I realized I had been more concerned than I had acknowledged even to myself.

One would think, when the results of the test came back negative, I would have been so grateful for good health it would override any other emotion. In reality, the more time passed, the more self conscious I became of my dent. An imaginary sensation of heaviness tingled on the left side. I dreaded meeting strangers, especially attractive ones, and always found myself fingering my dent self consciously. After church when I visited with my friends, it seemed their eyes fastened on my dent. Unconsciously, I began to drop deprecatory allusions to my dent. Unconsciously that is, until my brother-in-law pointed it out.

You draw too much attention to it,” he said.

I realized he was right and began to swallow the comments that lurked at the edge of my voice box. I didn’t let them escape but that didn’t make them dissolve. I had to figure out a way to deal with it.

Thankfully Phil continued to assure me of his love, although even before the advent of the dent I hadn’t had any beauty to spare.

Company arrived in the community. At church on Sunday I kept sneaking fascinated glances at the visiting lady who radiated sunshine. I was drawn to her. Her smile was so infectious that it took me a moment to notice how badly pocked with acne her face was. Hmmm!

She’s so interested in others she doesn’t even think about herself, I decided. Maybe there’s something in this for me.

I took a deep breath and turned to shake hands with the lady’s beautiful daughter. “Hello!” I smiled my best smile. “Welcome to Mexico.”

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