But You Have Such a Pretty Face

Last year, I was gifted a place in a 5 week writing program called The Summer Academy of Writing which was hosted by the publisher, Marc Allen who is a pretty big deal. There were also 4 award winning, bestselling authors participating. I feel extremely honored to have been gifted this program. There was a lot of synchronicity involved because I had just recommitted myself to my writing the night before while on a call with my diabetes lifestyle coach. The next day I received the email telling me that I was enrolled in the program. I am not a good receiver of gifts, compliments, etc…, but I did receive this graciously and gratefully. I had wanted to enroll but with everything that’s going on at the time, I was trying to be more financially responsible because no one knew what was going to happen with COVID-19. I had enough sick and vacation time to cover me for a little over 2 weeks if there were a shut down but that wouldn’t have been enough. So, I basically said that in a comment on the post and moved on. I didn’t ask for it or even hint at it…I just commented on it. But I did think about it…a lot. So, maybe I did manifest it without even realizing it. How ever it happened, I’m extremely grateful.

Now, about the title of this blog…the author that spoke on one of the evenings, Nancy Aronie, really made an impression on me. She’s a former NPR commentator on All Things Considered, an author, a writing professor, the founder of several writing workshops, and is hilarious and relatable. So, I bought her book…Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice. At the end of each chapter there is an exercise so this blog is me doing the 1st exercise. I will probably continue to do the exercises as blogs so hopefully you’ll find something about them that you can relate to. The first exercise is to write the thing that someone said to you a long time ago that still hurts.

When I was younger, I was a little taller for my age than most girls and slender. I was a pretty little girl. I had dark brown hair with a little bit of red in it and dark brown eyes. My skin had an olive cast to it, which I got from my dad, and, because I was always outside, I had a dark tan. There were a few times that people mistook me for a Latina. I thought that was awesome because it felt more exotic that being a little white girl. I was always very active…riding horses from a young age (I got my first pony as a 2nd birthday present from my aunt and uncle), riding bikes and dirt bikes, exploring the huge open pasture by our house, playing football and baseball, etc… I hung out more with the boys than I did with the girls in the neighborhood. About the time I entered 3rd grade, I started getting a little chunkier and, as I look back on it, that was the time that I started realizing that I just really didn’t completely fit in with the neighborhood kids. I was definitely not a girly girl. I had a pet hog…not a cute little mini-pig but a 200+lb hog and my pony. We lived in a suburb of Dallas who’s claim to fame was the Mesquite Rodeo and we had a farm in a tiny town aptly named Farmersville where we kept cattle and a few horses and I’d go there with my dad to tend to the herd. I was a mini-ranch hand. And I’d fish in the stocked ponds and ride minibikes and then motorcycles all over the 50 acres. I beat up the neighborhood bully and, by that, I mean that I kicked his ass and laid him out on the ground because I had had enough of his shit. I was also 1 hell of a marksman with a rifle and handgun before I was 10 and later on in high school I was on the JROTC rifle team. I learned to read on my own at 5 and never stopped reading. I had good grades in school and a small circle of school friends. I was freakin’ awesome but the 1 thing that I wasn’t would define my entire life. I was not height-weight proportionate. It was probably 5th grade when I first heard, “but you have such a pretty face”. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what they really meant…”you’re fat, but you have such a pretty face”. That all began around the same time that I had become pretty okay with just my own company. One reason for that was that my mom really didn’t seem to like me. Seriously. She was kind of physically abusive toward me. Not to excuse her behavior but I was very obstinate and confrontational. If we were in a argument, I would know that if I said 1 more word, there would be hell to pay. I said that word…every single time. But my punishments were always proportionately worse than my brother’s. So I stayed in my room and did what any intelligent, introverted, ADHD, OCD, creative, imaginative kid would do…I made lists and then files (OCD) and I fantasized and created worlds into which I could disappear whenever I wanted. I pretended to teach school because my dad and I had gone to a flea market and someone was selling used college textbooks so I got my dad to buy me a few of them. I taught the hell out of microbiology. I wrote and wrote. I never shared it with anyone because by that time my once formidable confidence was being seriously eroded. My mom, under the guise of, “I just want you to be healthy”, began her never ending campaign to get me to lose weight. She took me to a place in the mall that was named after some weight loss guru woman where they would put you on machines that would shake you, massage you, and God only knows what, so that you didn’t have to exercise. That was a bullshit way to get your money and raise your hopes. And while doing all of this, my mom seemed to go out of her way to sabotage me. I’d be doing pretty good and then I’d come home and there would chicken fried steak, cream gravy, mashed potatoes, fried okra, green peas, rolls, and homemade fried pies with my favorite fillings…chocolate and apricot. And, of course, the obligatory sweet tea because this is Texas, by God. This wasn’t 1 night a week. It was every night. I was 12 years old and shopping in the women’s plus sections in stores. But I had a pretty face. So life continued on. I’m in my mid to late teens and I’m involved in a lot of church activities and playing softball and basketball. Yeah, I was overweight but I could hit the basket from center court, strike out batters pretty regularly, and hit that ball hard. Life continued. At 23, I married someone because I wanted someone to love me…all of me. Not just my pretty face. He was extremely intelligent, hot, and we had some serious chemistry so I felt like not only did I have a pretty face, I also had a pretty body to go along with it. I had validation and acceptance. Until the abuse started. I knew that he had a temper but he had never turned it on me. Until he did. The abuse, both physical and emotional, was beyond bad. He tried more than once to kill me because his rage was so out of control. He didn’t hit me a lot…he would choke me until I passed out or he just got tired of doing it. He would charge at me and I’d run. I’d usually run to the bedroom because there was a phone in the room. But he’d catch me before I could call anyone and throw the phone across the room. And he would stand over me telling me all of the things he hated about me. I was fat (but apparently no longer had a pretty face), I was stupid, I was a bitch, I was a lousy lay, etc… And then what always followed was…you’re lucky that you still have me because no one will ever love you. And, like so many abused women, I believed it. Things began to change for me when I was about 26 or so. I got a job as an accountant at the largest produce wholesaler in Dallas and, because my husband couldn’t keep a decent job because of his temper, I went to work part-time for a little witchy store that I’d been frequenting for a while. The produce company was the wild west. Today, a sexual harassment attorney could get rich just from complaints about that company. Drugs and alcohol were everywhere. Here I was from a background that was the antithesis of that company. I drank a little, never did drugs, and had only slept with my husband. I had more people, male and female, after me than I could have ever imagined. At first, I really didn’t know how to react but it didn’t take long before I realized that in spite of what my husband had told me, there were people that wanted me. Every day, I’d dress a little sexier…shorter skirt, lower cut blouse, higher heels…and I’d be a little flirtier. I had no intention of doing anything more than just flirt and they knew that. Of course, that made it more interesting for them because I later learned that there was a bet concerning who would finally sleep with me first. It was fun and it was what I needed at the time, as weird as that might sound. Yeah, I’m not height, weight proportionate but by God, I’ve got a pretty face and a curvy body that people desire. Side note, I met my best friend Jay there. After I separated from my husband, we dated off and on but figured out that we were just too much alike to be a couple. He’s one of my soul mates…just not a romantic one. Anyway, my personality changed a lot because I was accepted for who I was and not judged for who I wasn’t and was allowed to become me. At the little witchy store, I was accepted into the fold. I learned so much from them about witchy things and myself. That’s where I discovered Tarot and realized that I had an affinity for the cards and an ability that I wanted to develop. So, during those couple of years, I was changing in just about every way I could change. I had more confidence, I was stronger, and I had a much better sense of self. But I was still in my abusive marriage. I finally found the courage to tell him that if he didn’t get help, I would leave. It didn’t go over too well but he eventually agreed to go into therapy. It seemed to help at first and then the violence ramped back up. And then it got a lot worse. One night, I was waiting for him to come back from his therapy session and the phone rang. It was his therapist. He told me that he had a duty to warn me that he believed that my husband was going to kill me if I didn’t leave. Then he said that it needed to be soon but to get everything in place before telling him I was leaving. So over the next couple of weeks, I found an apartment that I liked and could afford and began to move small things like a few books, clothes, toiletries, etc…, over there when he wasn’t home. Finally, the day came when I told him what his doctor had said and that I was moving out immediately. I braced for impact. He cried but never once asked me to stay because, deep down, he knew that I couldn’t and wouldn’t. He helped me move the big things into my apartment. He stayed in the house with the agreement that he would pay the mortgage, with my help, and take care of our dogs and cat until my lease was up and my car was paid off and then I’d move back in and he’d move out. It didn’t quite happen that way. He defaulted on the mortgage but didn’t tell me. I didn’t find that out until a week before my lease was up. So, with my mom’s help, I found a tiny little house in a pretty bad neighborhood. Mom was afraid my house would be burglarized but I told her she didn’t have to worry because the people in my neighborhood were the criminals and they knew that I was as poor as they were so there was nothing to steal. Never had a problem. So, I moved into my little house with my rat, cat, and 4 dogs.

I was happy on my own. I dated a lot and not once did any of the men say, “but you have such a pretty face”. They told me that I was beautiful. Desirable. Sexy. And, you know what? I believed them because it was true. I had found my self confidence once again. Yes, there were times that I would doubt myself and see that younger me that that had the pretty face but nothing else; however, I no longer let it define me as it had in the past. I was stronger than I ever been and there was no going back. I met my 2nd husband when I was in my early thirties and we have been married now for 25-1/2 years. It hasn’t always been easy because I had a lot of things from my past to work through but he stayed right here beside me and wouldn’t let me sabotage the happiness that I’ve found. So, for all of you out there that have been made to feel as though you’re not enough…don’t believe it. Don’t let that sabotage your future. You are strong. You are intelligent. You are beautiful. And you are more than enough. Believe in yourself and never settle for anything.


About Donna Heilman

I am a writer that lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex with my husband, 2 dogs, and 10 cats. I am currently working on my novel, Rapture, as well as writing poetry and some short non-fiction. I am honestly writing this blog to feel more connected with other creative people.
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2 Responses to But You Have Such a Pretty Face

  1. Maggie says:

    This is powerful, Donna. Thank you for being so open and honest. I think I may order Nancy’s book and work through it, too.

    It is so wonderful to have you back blogging again.

    Liked by 1 person

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