Denny was an orderly that I had great affection for. He was big and burly. He had a laugh that let you know when he was just around the corner. He was there to help and no task was too great or too menial. He helped the nurses turn me in my bed. He lifted me onto surgery gurneys. He helped wash my face for me.
Denny came in to my room one evening and inquired after my beauty regimens. Was I looking after my face and if not let’s get started. Women need to look after themselves, after all. Was he serious? Was he making fun of me? I took a long look at his face and decided that he was, in fact, serious. I didn’t have any cleanser. I hadn’t looked into a mirror at all while in the hospital. Well, he said, we need to fix that.
The first time I looked at a mirror a nurse held it up for me and softly asked, “Are you ready?” I carelessly said yes. What was there to be sensitive about? The worst of the damage was done to my body. I was told except for a burn near my chin my face was mostly fine. I cried anyway. I saw my reflection – my shaved head, my pale, pale skin, cheeks sucked in, the red puffy scar that ran along the right side of my chin – for the first time and cried. I didn’t look like me and I expected I would. I stared at my green eyes for a while. They were too large in my worn face, but I recognized them, the only part of my face that reminded me of myself. I broke the stare when I had enough. Enough change, enough to adapt to for today.
Denny would come into my room when it was slow and quiet in the evenings and he would help me wash my face. My mom bought cleanser, cotton pads, toner and one of those plastic pouches with a bright floral pattern you get at any drugstore to hold it all in. My right arm was especially weak. No one knew why. I had trouble using it, so Denny was my arm. He sat at the edge of my bed, wet a cloth, poured cleanser on it and washed my face. He patted my face dry and dabbed it with cotton pads wet with toner. “You see?” he would say, with a grin, “You need to feel like a girl again.”
And, slowly, as my face was wiped of each day’s routine and tears that had been left unchecked I breathed in the faint scent of mint, my face squeaky clean and I was in my bathroom at home again in front of the mirror before I tucked myself in for the night. Even though my body was ravaged by fire, even though my feet were taken, my eyes were open. I was still me, a girl that needed to take her rightful place in her own body. I was a girl and that mattered.