The Violence Behind My Stiff Upper Lip

One morning as I waited outside of my kindergarten class at Berylwood Elementary for the teacher to arrive, a boy punched me in the mouth.

I had not spoken to him. I had not interacted with him at all. He just punched me in the mouth. Hard. I screamed. My face felt like it was on fire.

My father had just dropped me off. He witnessed the assault from the curbside. According to him, he jumped out of the car and yelled at the boy. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why did you do that?”

The boy responded, “I didn’t like her looks.”

My father couldn’t see the real damage. So, he left. When the kindergarten teacher finally arrived, she was unmoved by my tears, not even shrugging when I showed her my bloody tooth and pointed at the boy who did it. (She had always been an awful teacher, even prior to this incident.) Later that day, probably because I kept crying from the pain, there was an emergency visit to the oral surgeon. The boy’s punch had broken off my front tooth at the root. I remember the surgeon talking to me through his cotton mask, putting me to sleep so that he could extract the fragments that had shattered up inside my gumline.

The surgery was a success, but it left an ugly scar on my gum. Every single dental professional who has ever examined my mouth or cleaned my teeth has asked about that scar, as have many people I’ve met. I’ve practiced over the years how to hide the discoloration by dimming my smile, keeping my upper lip from riding up too high. People ask questions, you see. They always want to know what happened. And I rarely feel like telling them because, no matter how I phrase it, the incident makes me feel like a victim. Not just a victim, but someone who never found justice.

This happened back in the days before parents were litigious. The surgery must have set my parents back quite a bit, but they never sued anyone. They did repeat the story over the years, reinforcing my victimhood and subtly implying that, if he had liked my looks, he’d not have hit me.

I didn’t like her looks.

These days, plenty of men seem to think I’m attractive. (I just got an obnoxious reminder of that in an incident yesterday.) Not that it matters. Men commit violence against women — both domestic and virtual — regardless of whether they meet society’s beauty standards. Being attractive in anyone’s estimation far from guarantees future safety. There’s never any excuse, really.

Today on Denim Day, I don’t need to put on a pair of jeans to remind myself of the violence. All I have to do is to stand in front of a mirror and lift my lip. Like my scar, we don’t always see the violence, but it’s there, hiding in plain sight behind a well-rehearsed smile.

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