Expose Yourself: Unconditional Friendship
Women make judgments as quickly and with as much passion as they make connections. The power of both can shape a women’s life forever. I was a big city girl, landing a job in advertising sales with a play on big words and a low cut shirt, sitting fluffed with pride in an outdoor lounge chair surrounded by new co-workers that I was sure, this time around, would adore me because I would finally be able to hide the craziness hidden within. I’d moved from the city to a rural Iowa community, leaving behind mountains but not stilettos. I basked, or should I say, slowly got drunk, on the new attention of country folk eager to know my story.
It was that moment I chose to decide I would be calm, cool, and graceful. I would be the very woman each of them saw on first glance. I would fight to keep her new image, no matter what it took. I loved being her.
And then there she was. Oozing and bubbling over with energy and personality, a short bobbed cut in dazzling reds and brown’s, against a tiny size three frame … stealing my stage as she easily plopped down onto the eager lap of our creative director. All eyes on Turner. She demanded attention. I hated her instantly.
She was one of them, but none of them – the lead actress in a play they merely spoke words to so that she could breathe life into them. I had not found my way out, after all. To add salt to my wounds, she was a media buyer and I just a mere sales rep. This fueled my drive to out-sell the veteran’s and slowly I worked up the ladder of sales. No matter the money I made … I couldn’t seem to break into her “group.” Despite being the mysterious, beautiful, new city gone country girl with a fabulous sales record … they continued to turn heads to her.
Finally, my opportunity came … our advertising company would enter a short film contest and by 6 pm one evening we were all gathered in a bar to dole out ideas and roles. I was an actress! Born and bred, and had held roles on large stages – okay, albeit community theatre roles … I knew I had this one!
Only several hours passed, as only ideas were handed out … I was growing bored from lack of creative thought and refusal of others to hear me. When I noticed, she had been gone for quite some time.
I found her friends, outside the women’s restroom. “She’s in there, she won’t come out.” At first I thought they were kidding, “Well, go in there and get her!” I was laughing. But then they turned serious, “We tried. She’s locked herself in a stall … she’s crying. She won’t let us in.” I’d been there. On her side. Locked in a stall with my knees red on the hard tile floor in front of a toilet begging for the end. I’d turned away friends, refused to unlock the door. Wanted to die. I knew where she was. I also knew … she needed someone to get her out. Pushing her friends aside, I entered the bathroom and crawled under the door.
That was the night Heather and I became friends.
When we realized that the reasons we hated one another at first were the very reason’s we often hated ourselves. The show of it, the pretending – the ache and desire to own a stage that on our own, we would never have the courage to claim. We faked a lot of who we were. Main characters and applause winner’s during curtain call … but in the dark … we were alone, we drank, and we cried and we grieved. We were on the outside the epitome of what every woman wanted to be … on the inside, we were fueled by vodka and Prozac.
That night, Heather lifted her head from the toilet as I stroked her hair away from her face, after she threw up all the truths of her real pain … “If you really knew me … this is what you would see.” And she was more beautiful in that moment than I’d ever seen her in days before.
Many years later …. I finally had the courage to do the same. “I need you to bring your camera and come take a picture of me.” I told her. She’d started to dream out-loud about becoming a professional photographer and I had thought of hundreds of ways to help her but in the end, had only come up with one. I would expose myself to my best friend. An avid and new photographer, she was thrilled with the idea and assured me she was on her way.
I thought for sure, “This is the moment I will lose her forever. She’s going to know I’m crazy.”
From that night in the bar bathroom, Heather had given me the greatest gift of all. She’d shown me that even in what we perceive as our weakest of moments … there is true strength in allowing our true selves to be known. To paint ourselves on a canvas that we think no one else can or should see … and then, to show it. Just to show it. For no other reason than to feed that tiny hope that who we are exists.
So, I took her out to the river, and dressed in thigh high black leather stiletto’s, wearing a black negligee’ and black fiberglass wings. I made my way to the middle of the fast-flowing water, and climbed up onto a long log that was stuck … and I perched. I posed … like a Raven. And she took the shot.
I was a grown woman with three children and I was dressed like a vaudeville character in the middle of a raging river on a log that could give any minute … but it wasn’t ridiculous at all. She, in her own reasons, knew why I needed her to take that picture. And she did. And because she did, I saw myself. And I was real. And someone saw me back.
We go on with our everyday lives, and we work at our jobs and we love the men we love, and we have lives that are good enough to plan for great enough … we have girls night out, and we have hobbies, and we have dreams.
But for Heather and I … the foundation for the living we have the courage to do is often times settled on the vulnerable truth of sanctuary … the guarded walls of friendship that bind us and often free us, if but for a moment’s rest and breathe ; where we are seen for who we truly are and allowed to be.
As the years passed, our friendship tossed and heaved like a tiny boat on a massive ocean as if to test the very fate’s of the God’s. We weaved in and out of turmoil, often times separated for months, even years, without a single word. The hard part about being vulnerable with someone is facing the reality of her when the choice is to throw the only life vest you have. And with Heather and I … we both needed the life vest.
Once you expose yourself for who you truly are, without fear, you become real. Like a photograph that stops time and doubt and irrelevance, one single second of truth. Captured. If only to remind you of who you are when you had the courage to show it.
Heather has since become a successful free lance photographer and jewerly designer and her work can be found at www.sassyhat.net, and this story is one of the many in my new upcoming non-fiction book titled, "In Plain Sight."
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