Your story: Katharine Love

June 24, 2015

Categorized in:

Author: Katharine Love
Country: Canada
Type: Essay
Mother of one alpha daughter
Mother of one alpha puppy
Lover of words music and
Soul to Soul connections.
Recovering Perfectionist.

Project description:
I so wanted to look like Joni Mitchell. Blond , blue eyed and high cheekbones. I knew that if I did look like Joni , I would be safe and happy and loved. My story is how I came to love my crooked little self which includes my crooked little smile, actually especially my crooked little smile.

Personal website:

“Love and other Crimes of the Heart.”

It was autumn 2012. I couldn’t focus and my body felt wired and exhausted, both. The time felt right to pay a visit to my doctor who, suspecting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, put me through an extensive series of tests, all of which produced negative results. It was then that I decided to address the elephant in the room, the elephant whose name was John Merrick.

When I was a small child, my grandmother took me to see The Elephant Man, a movie about an Englishman with severe deformities who was exhibited as a human curiosity in the late 1800s. The depiction of John Merrick, and particularly his face, shocked me. But not for the reason it shocked others. In my case, I recognized John Merrick. I was John Merrick, in the guise of a six-year old Jewish girl living in the Montreal suburb of Ville St. Laurent.

Children in my Grade One class had begun to torment me – making fun of how I spoke, how I looked and how I moved. I didn’t get it. Why were these kids treating me this way? Didn’t they know who I was? That I was smart and funny and … And why did my mother want me to be like “them”? What was wrong with me? Now I had the answer. People saw me as they saw John Merrick. An oddity. A freak. Something less than human.

The realization was too much. I had to run away. And I did. I ran from the movie. I ran from my feelings. I kept running for fifty years until that moment at my doctor’s office. He was kind. He was gentle. I trusted him. It was time. So I told him. Told him of my anxiety, sadness and self-hatred, otherness and isolation that my looking different engendered in me.

My doctor first sent me to a geneticist. The geneticist wondered if I might have Down Syndrome. Echoes of my mother telling me that when I put on weight I looked like ‘a Mongoloid’. Memories of seeing a Down Syndrome person walking on the street and thinking ‘this is me’. I left the doctor’s office, sat down in the nearest chair and felt shame flood through my body.

I was next sent to a neurologist, who noticed unusual movement in my eyes. He then sent me to an opthoneurologist who got very excited. “Do you know you do not have peripheral vision?” No, I did not know that and frankly I was beginning to tire of this whole discovery process. I was not Exhibit A #7349. I am Katharina Love, a person who is deserving of respect and dignity.

But I was like the ant who tried to move that damn rubber tree plant – I had high hopes. I was determined (despite my intense desire to run away to a desert island) to move that rubber tree plant. So off I went to Geneticist #2 who specialized in rare diseases. Finally I received the answer that I had been searching for.

Moebius Syndrome.

Moebius Syndrome? What in the fresh hell is Moebius? The geneticist kindly explained that Moebius is an extremely rare congenital disorder affecting primarily the sixth and seventh nerve. The geneticist was so excited for me. “Now you have a community! You might want to join their organization and make some new friends.” Um, no thanks. My dance card was already full. Dutifully I took the papers that she had compiled and looked through the photos. Shit. I was screwed. This was my worst nightmare come to life. I am John Merrick.

I focused on the photos of men, women and children who had serious facial issues. Is this really who I am? If so then my mother was right. I am a freak. I am bad. I am a bad freak.

Since I was a young girl, my mother had always told me that I was “bad”. What constituted the “bad” was unclear to me, but not looking like everyone else played a central part. It was paramount for my mother to have a daughter who looked just right. Instead she had me.

I had hopes that grade school would be better, but the children continued the verbal abuse I was experiencing at home. My classmates called me names and laughed at me to my face. I had no friends and would eat my lunch in a stall in the girls’ washroom. For years after I graduated, whenever I walked down the street and heard someone laugh I felt instinctively they were laughing at me.

The summer before I began university it occurred to me that all my troubles would disappear if I could somehow become beautiful. People might stop hating me for having committed the cardinal sin of being born different. Then, perhaps I would begin to be deserving of love.

That was certainly the message I had received from my social climbing parents. Fitting in and conforming were my parent’s way of life, something they both tried desperately to impose on me, their misfit daughter. I was raised not to become a doctor or a lawyer, but to become someone’s wife. To get that title of Mrs. and that final rose, I had to become beautiful.

For their sake as well as mine, I tried. I had rhinoplasty, a chin implant and a breast reduction. I poured toxic chemicals on my hair turning my naturally brown jewfro locks into long blond hair that even Farrah Fawcett would envy. And it worked. Instead of being an object of their derision, I was now an object of their admiration. Women would tell me how much they loved my hair. Men began to ask me out on dates. Bouquets arrived, and the champagne flowed, and my plan for the beautification of Katharina was complete. The ugly duckling was transformed into a swan. My work was done.

Except that it wasn’t. I was hiding another secret, one that made me feel on the inside as different as I had looked before on the outside. I liked women. I did. But what could I do with these feelings? All I wanted was to be accepted.

I had finally found social acceptance, and my family’s approval. I wasn’t ready to give that all up. Not now, perhaps not ever. I then buried my feelings for women in the same far reaches of the desert I had buried my feelings of “weirddom”. I was acting “normal” now in every way.

I dated all the single Jewish boys in Toronto (having moved to Toronto for graduate school). Then karma called and his name was Bob, my future husband.

I became pregnant in July of ’91 and walked down the aisle in October of that same year. I now had a child, a condo, and a husband. I should have been happy but I was feeling more and more disconnected from my true nature. If was going to be a role model for my child I needed to walk my talk. So I walked my frightened self off to a divorce lawyer and a psychotherapist. I divorced Bob, began dating women and opened up my own psychotherapy practice. Something though, was missing in me . Even after all those years of therapy, I could not accept my physical imperfections.

All I ever wanted, still, was to have a great big toothy grin so I wouldn’t have to witness that fleeting look that passed over most people’s eyes when they first meet me. I abhorred that look. It singled me out and dismissed me, both. That look made me try even harder to charm and be witty so that everyone could see that I was not “special”. But trying even harder left me feeling depleted and desperate. I needed to accept my differences and come to peace with my flawed and fractured self.

I came to realize that only through surrender and acceptance would I find the love I so craved, the love I had been searching for all my life. Self love.

And so I accepted –

That my craving to be unconditionally loved by my family would always be present.

That my desire to look perfect had been so ingrained into the fabric of my being that it

would be unreasonable to think that these feelings of inadequacy could be eradicated.

Softened yes, but never gone.

And as I worked to integrate these painful emotions, an amazing thing happened.

I began to slowly relax into my body and make friends with my crooked little self.

As I end this chapter of my story, I am reminded of the words of the late poet and author Raymond Carver that, in closing, I would like to share

“Late Fragment”
by Raymond CarverAnd did you get what you wanted from this life even so?
I did. And what did you want?
To call myself beloved.
To feel myself beloved on the earth.

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