I walk into Blogging 101 at The Loft Literary Center approximately thirty seconds before the class starts and scan the room, searching for a place to sit. I identify two empty spots in a sea of women.
I gravitate toward the back of the room and my soon-to-be tablemate flashes me a blinding smile which strikes me as ironically genuine. Long straight blond hair. Tasteful makeup, expertly applied. Dressed all in black. Age indeterminate, somewhere in the neverland of 35-60. A butter princess of days gone by. She’s the kind of gal I studiously avoided in high school.
I plop down next to her, figuring out the most comfortable Minnesota sitting distance, and then attempt to put the brakes on the table. Don’t want my vigorous penstrokes disrupting the peace. Tablemate leaps to help me, gracious and poised, her subtle perfume blanketing me in a veneer of reassurance.
Of course we go around the room introducing ourselves. I’m tempted to make something up. I’m Anastasia. I’m here because I want to start a blog about my pole dancing career. Or I’m Annabelle. I collect roadkill taxidermy and hope to foster an online community.
Whatever. I’m just plain Anne. My domain name has been lying fallow since June fifth. Please help me.
A couple people before tablemate’s introduction, she carefully removes her sweater. I catch a sideways glance of the extensive scarring that puckers and patterns her arm, snaking up the side of her neck. A patch of grafted skin, long healed, lies over the back of her dainty hand, pointing the way to a diamond the size of my fingernail.
The burn unit takes out many a resident. Unreasonably hot operating rooms combined with medical devices fit for a horror movie. I’m proud to say I didn’t puke. Or faint.
My mind wanders back to the present. Will she be offended if I ask what happened? Is she totally loaded? How the hell does she get her cuticles to look like that?
Tablemate tells her story. In 1994 she survived a horrific helicopter crash, sustaining third degree burns on 40% of her body. She turned to pageantry as a means to reach out to other burn survivors and was crowned Mrs. Minneapolis and Mrs. Minnesota before achieving the title of Mrs. International.
At this point I almost fall off my chair. Pageantry ranks right up there in the top ten ways to objectify women. But tablemate placed her crown on her scarred body and marched all over the globe, bringing a message of strength and hope. Holy shit.
At the break, she sets a stylish black purse on the table and unzips it. Out pops an adorable Maltese. Glenda the freakin’ good witch and her little dog, too. She coos and cuddles over the ball of white fluff. So do I. He’s irresistible. An accessory to the eye of an ignorant stranger.
After class I tell my husband I spent the morning with Mrs. International. I google her and read that she graduated from Harvard Business School and heads up her own construction supply company.
Well, Glenda. Add me to the list of people whose lives you’ve touched. Here’s what I learned from you: Rise from the ashes. Take the carbon and fashion a diamond-studded tiara. Spread love and compassion like fairy dust. And always use your crown for good.
Musical Moment selected by Sarah herself!