Hard to believe there was a time when getting through the day seemed almost like a miracle. And yet it was. I dreaded doing things that others saw as normal – getting on a bus, walking through the streets of Cork, even going to work. I just hated the thought of people seeing me because I would feel their eyes scanning my face and reacting in horror. I could feel the stares, knowing that once someone passed me in the street, even if they didn’t initially react, they would think horrible thoughts about me once they were out of my line of vision.
Occasionally, people would double back – as in when they first spotted my face they couldn’t quite take it in, so they dashed back so they could have a second look. This was not a rare occurrence, by the way. You came to feel like you were some kind of exhibit in a human zoo. People pointing and laughing at me at the same time was also a hazard, and I cringed when that happened. Inside I was bruised by every encounter, every bad experience gnawing away at my own self worth. I wanted to scream at people to stop their offensive reactions, only I couldn’t bring myself to say anything in my own defence.
It was hard to avoid going out, of course. Whether it was school or work, there was always a reason to step out into an uncaring world. Alone, unable to deal with the inhumanity of people, I learned not to trust others, only myself and family members and a couple of friends; but even then I never poured my heart out to them, to let them know I was bleeding inside. Instead I kept largely to myself, trying to be my own analyst, to ‘heal’ myself. I was doing my best to live in a world I grew to hate, and hoping my face would vanish and I could have a proper one. Hopeless, of course. You can’t be your own best friend, you just become a prisoner and a jailer at the same time. You look around for someone to blame – anyone. You start fantasising about your future.
And the word ‘if’ starts to haunt you every moment of your day – ‘If’ I hadn’t been burned all my troubles would be over. My whole existence revolved around my imagining a world where my face would be different to the one I had. ‘If’ I had a normal face then girls would go out with me; ‘if’ it was normal I would not have to endure the staring, the whispered comments about me, the gestures or sniggers. ‘If’ I didn’t have this face the name calling would stop. How happy I’d be then. Only nothing changed.
I found it extremely difficult to walk the streets alone, even well into my twenties. If someone accompanied me then I felt a lot better. And if my companion was a female, then I would imagine people thinking I was her boyfriend. Delusional. But I felt less threatened and intimidated by the world having someone by my side.
I wanted so much to be accepted – to be like you – but I always stumbled home unhappy, disillusioned, bitter. I thought no one cared, but wallowing in your own self pity makes the world a darker place. Mine was darker still, but only because I chose to make it so. I allowed pessimism to displace optimism, negativity to replace positivity and despair to oust hope. I never considered that perhaps I was lucky to have survived such a dreadful accident as a child, I only knew I had this face that I wanted with all my heart to change.
I still have that face. It doesn’t look much different now from the one that scared me all those years ago, but I am a much better person now, less pessimistic, more content and at ease with myself. It’s about time, you might say. You wouldn’t be far wrong.