Between You and Me


Between you and me.

There is a space of flesh just beneath my navel, to the right, and above my hip bone that holds a constellation of freckles, or beauty marks as my mother used to call them. It looks like Orion’s Belt.

Once, when I was a little girl, around eight-year’s old, or maybe it was ten, someone told me to go count them, all the freckles, all the beauty marks. Because, they said, if I had more than a hundred, I was beautiful. I don’t remember who it was that told me that. A man’s voice comes to mind. I think he just wanted to keep me busy, out of his way. I know for sure, it wasn't my father. I mean, I think. I think it wasn’t my father. Maybe it was; does it matter?

That day, I sat in the bathroom and counted the tiny brown dots marking my hands, my legs, my feet, and then my face; I counted the ones on my stomach and, standing naked in the mirror, tried to count the ones on my back. Then, after scanning all the visible flesh, I cried, heaving with disappointment. I can’t tell you the number I reached anymore, it’s long forgotten. But what I do remember is, it wasn’t a hundred.

The freckles on my stomach were a favorite place of exploration for a lover of mine. Also the ones on my chest, born from too much sun. Beneath the satellite of his lips, I felt closer to a hundred.

My mother used to tell me that she wished she had my long neck. I remember feeling bad about it, but I didn’t know why. Suppose I felt embarrassed, or maybe shame—shame for having something she wanted, for having something I wasn’t supposed to have, something that hurt how she felt about herself.

There was a guy I used to date who used to wrap his hand around my neck whenever we fucked. I think it made him feel in control, maybe he thought it was sexy, some kind of a turn-on. He probably thought I liked it; he always said he liked my long neck. But I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the feeling of his hand and his fingers tightening, taking my breath. I didn’t find it sexy, I didn’t find it a turn-on. Still, I let him do it anyway. Maybe, I thought, I deserved it.

My grandmother used to say that she wished she had my long legs. I remember feeling embarrassed, ashamed about that too. Like with my mother, I was too young to understand, too young to contextualize the words she was saying. But I’ll tell you, these words were hurtful and confusing coming from these women that I loved, that I adored, that I admired, who I wanted to be like, who I thought were beautiful just as they are.

Between you and me: I was ten years old when I consciously started to hate my body.

This morning, I found myself doing it again. Standing naked in the mirror, looking at my legs, my hips, my gut, my two sad, tiny limp breasts. I turned around and looked at my ass, checking to see whether or not it looked smaller than the day before, wondering if the yoga is working if the dieting is working if anything is working, knowing that nothing is working. That everything, all the time, is a little bit broken.

And by everything, I mean me.

I have pushed and pressed and starved and stretched and punished my body for thirty years, self-managing, coping, controlling, keeping at bay the unnamable things. Sometimes, the unspeakable things like the violence in my home, the cutting pain of neglect, the isolation of competition, the love of my mother that felt warm but large, sometimes so large it was suffocating. And the love of my father which felt confusing and sometimes tender but mostly not enough.

Between you and me.
Spilled ink.
Spilled blood.
Spilled milk.
Perhaps…something untidy, even heavenly
Sealed for your protection, the label says. So does my body, contained.

There two freckles that dot either side of my face, beneath my eyes, one on either check bone. They are not evenly placed—the left one is higher than the right. One time, someone I liked pressed a finger to each one and said, “You’re pretty.”

Just pretty.

But I wanted to be beautiful.

Jocelyn M. Ulevicus has a background in Social Work, Psychology, and Public Health. Her work focuses on exploring the terrain of family violence and re-humanizing oneself after trauma, and has been published in magazines such as Mindful Matter, Entropy, and Life in Ten Minutes. Ms. Ulevicus currently resides in Amsterdam and is finalizing her first book, a memoir, titled The Birth of A Tree.

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