Strong Women

UnknownWhen I was nine years old I was attacked by a Rottweiler. The last stitch on either side of the wound was inside each eyelid. The dog– aptly named Gator– missed both my eyes by an amount so small as to be immeasurable. The ER doctor heralded this a miracle and I decided, right then, that no matter what I looked like the next day I would focus on that piece of good fortune: I could still see.

What I didn’t understand in my then-scarred state was that what I would see was about to change. I became a person worthy of double takes and gasps. I was forced to acknowledge a truth far younger than most: it does matter what you look like, at least to some.

I got fifty-seven stitches that first night and eight reconstructive surgeries over the twelve years that followed, but this is not a sob story. Yes, bone from my ribs are now on my nose, and skin from behind my ears and on my ass are now on my face, but, as I once told my parents, I wouldn’t take back that night if I could. “Of course you would,” they argued.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know who I would be without that experience. Those scars brought me perspective at a young age. They made me tough. They gave me loads of time to read where I could sop up all the crazy mistakes people make without experiencing the consequences. They protected me from vanity and, most notably, they made me a magnet to strong woman; the ones who didn’t do a double take or feed their curiosity by pumping me with questions. The ones who made it their mission to show me what really mattered, how to speak up for myself and others, how to be more than my physical self. I had amazing mentors because of my scars. I met women who exposed me to the kind of beauty and depth that can be found only in times of distress*.

A central theme in I LIKED MY LIFE surrounds Adrienne Rich’s quotation, “If we could learn to learn from pain even as it grasps us.” Ultimately life fed me more substantial material than Gator’s wrath, but the scars– and the strong women who played an active role in my upbringing because of them– built me up. I too am now a strong woman, a mentor in my own right.

There is beauty in pain. It’s there for the taking. Some can’t see it, but those suffering can’t afford to be swayed by them.

*I do not want to overstate my situation. My first surgery was very involved and solved the most alarming issues. My mother learned when I was eleven that Hollywood-caliber foundation worked miracles, and leading plastic surgeons were on my case for over a decade. When people look at me today there’s nothing to gawk at. (The same can’t be said for when I open my mouth. Reading opens so many doors, but not the one where someone washes your mouth out with soap.) 

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Abby Fabiaschi is the author of I LIKED MY LIFE (St. Martin's Press, February 2017). She and her family divide their time between Tampa, Florida and Park City, Utah. When not writing or watching the comedy show that is her children, she enjoys reading across genres, skiing, hiking, and yoga. Oh, and travel. Who doesn’t love vacation? Learn more at abbyfabiaschi.com.

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  1. As painful and horrifying as that must have been, I do understand why you don’t regret that it happened. I think we learn and grow more from adversity than if we never have to face any kind of challenge. I’m a very recent breast cancer survivor, and although I would give back that scary time to have the life I lead before I had cancer, I learned an awful lot about myself and others. I know now that I am stronger and more determined than I ever thought I was, and I also found out how much I am loved by others….it was all very humbling in a way. I wish you all the best.

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