Lucy Grealy suffered from cancer in her jaw as a child. It was treated with surgical removal (an entire third of her jawbone), chemotherapy and radiation. She survived the cancer but her face was forever disfigured. It sounds like she spent most of her childhood and young adult years in and out of hospitals, or convalescing at home- years and years of reconstructive surgeries that failed, when the grafts were reabsorbed by her body. It’s difficult to read about the loneliness and pain she endured (including a family that rarely discussed things). But to her those were almost nothing, compared to the mental and emotional suffering by how people saw her afterwards. Such was the internal life of a child, for a long time she didn’t even realize how sick she was, she had no idea what chemo and radiation would do to her body. She found comfort and security in the sameness of the hospitals, being surrounded by other patients, not seen as someone unusual or unattractive there. It was when she returned to school and other kids cruelly made fun of her, that she finally understood how her appearance differed. For a long time after she always hoped that the next surgery would be the one to restore her face, to make her look normal again. She was baffled by women in a plastic surgeon’s office who were there to alter their noses or breasts- thinking she’d be happy to have just regular features like them. College years followed, where she finally found friends who saw past her appearance, where she cultivated an air of otherness, honed her writing skills as a poet, and longed to be loved by someone.
There were also horses. She worked in stables, briefly owned a horse when a friend moved and couldn’t take him (it died suddenly), then had another years later when her parents were able to buy her one. She talks a lot about how comforting it was to be around the animals, to work closely with them. And how restorative the non-judgemental attitude of her co-workers in the stable, people who like her just mostly cared about the horses. On another note, she also found comfort in words, philosophers and poets, explored Buddhism, existentialism and even Christianity. I admit sometimes I didn’t quite get what she meant, her thought process was occasionally obscure to me, but her musings on the nature of beauty, the importance of knowing people for who they are, really struck me. So many painful words, insightful and beautiful ones too
She was friends with Ann Patchett, who wrote about their relationship in a memoir Truth and Beauty. However reading accounts like this makes me have some reservations on reading it or not.
There’s an interview with the author here.