Lately when I look at you, I fixate on those lines around your eyes.
I see how they bunch up in folds like the tiniest of ocean waves, perfectly spaced. Even though the waves of grief that have crested and fallen across the ocean of your skin—the waves that helped carve these lines over the past 12 years—have been anything but perfectly spaced. Anything but tiny.
I see how the skin is creased, like the pages of a well-loved book, tucked at the corners for easy remembrance. Except there are not enough folds to contain the stories in these pages.
I flip a page open.
I see you there, curled in a ball on the floor of the ICU conference room. You are alone, rocking like a ship with your face pressed into the carpet with the realization that your dad isn’t going to leave the hospital alive.
I see you curled up beside his comatose body in the hospital bed, stroking his paint flecked hand, remembering how they had moved gracefully days before while you painted outside together. I see you playing your guitar and singing to him, bending over the instrument in waves while he lays in stillness. I see you, face contorted in agony as you watch him struggle to die after the last tube is removed. Several pages were etched those days in the skin around your eyes.
I flip open another.
You are grinning, in love, but it is a Band-aid over the gaping wound of losing your dad. You know this, but you need him. You need something happy, something redemptive, to come of this loss. You are traumatized, desperate not to lose another person you love, so you cling hard. And of course, you do lose him eventually when he walks away, ripping your heart wide open again. A fold, a page, is added to your face.
I flip open another.
You are in the bathtub the morning of your wedding, sobbing in pain. A torn achilles—you can’t walk. You make the best of the day, but the night brings a different kind of pain: rejection. This haunts you for eight years of marriage, etching story lines into your flesh. You become proficient in turning crumbs into a meal. You don’t know if you’ll live through the vows you have taken upon yourself, but you do live, and you eventually set yourself free. Several more pages are written around your eyes.
I flip another and another.
As I read these lines—the ones our culture tells me to soften, to erase—I am the one who softens. It is as if I’ve been reading with a prescription lens that was never mine, and when I finally take off the glasses, my sight is perfect. Every word comes into focus. There is no room for shame, embarrassment, or smallness in these creased pages around the eyes. Only truth.
In the pages here, I see you as you are. And I can only stare with eyes now blurred by tears of deepest knowing.
I see a daughter who loved her dad and stayed by his side until he drew his last thin breath. Who allowed all the grief she’d held in for years, now split open, to remake her. A daughter who looked at the rubble of her life and chose to piece it back together in a different way, something more true and beautiful than it was before. A daughter who continues to love her dad, to feel the ache of his absence, 12 years later.
I see a woman who now understands how to fill her own wounds with love. A woman who is open to love from unexpected places, but will not beg for it when it is retreating from her—when it is withheld.
I see a woman who was no longer willing to die in her efforts to bend the arc of her marriage’s narrative toward redemption. A woman who found, in those haunted years, that she was the companion she’d always been yearning for. The one who would never leave her, who would love her until the end. And this love is what finally compelled her to walk away from what was never hers to begin with.
I see a woman who is coming to know that she is neither too much nor less than enough, who owns her wholeness.
I see a woman whose body has begged for her love for decades and no longer has to, because she sees now without those glasses—and she loves what she sees.
What she sees is what I see: perfection. Courage. Resilience. Honor. Humor. Grit. Gentleness. Compassion. Steel. Endurance.
These tiny folds hold entire worlds and redefine beauty.
I won’t ever try to erase them.
With all my love,