The first time I ever saw Kate, I did a double take. She was the kind of beautiful that made every person stop and stare. She had shoulder length black hair that fell in soft waves over the tops of her shoulders and a flawless complexion. She was tall and thin and had the body of a runway model. I smiled at her and she smiled back at me. I envied her youthfulness. Even in my mid-20’s, I never looked like that. She had the kind of beauty you only see in photo-shopped photographs in a fashion magazine.
I imagined that she had her own apartment and was going to school part time. That she had fabulous friends and an equally fabulous boyfriend. I imagined her life as fun and carefree, without a care in the world.
So Kate. Not her real name of course, but the stunningly beautiful part is all true. Each time I would see her, which was always in passing, I caught her staring at me. I would always smile and say hello and she would politely smile back. The staring part seemed a bit odd to me, but I didn’t think much of it. A few months passed. She always looked beautiful but distant. The staring and quiet smiling continued.
A few weeks later, we bumped into each other again at work. I made small talk but she seemed to struggle even with that. Finally it was time to go home. As we were getting ready to leave, I turned around and there she was standing a few feet away, staring at me. I found it odd but she seemed sweet so again, I tried to make small talk. She asked about my girls and seemed genuinely interested in my life. She seemed touched that I was a single mom, struggling to juggle work and career and kids and a social life. After all those months, it was the first time we had ever had a real conversation.
Then out of the blue she said “You are so beautiful. I mean that. You really are so beautiful, inside and out.”
I was completely taken aback.
Here was this young, gorgeous model-esque girl telling me that I was beautiful. I really didn’t know what to say. I replied back “No, Kate, you are beautiful. But thank you so much.”
She didn’t dismiss me as old or faceless, as young people sometimes do. She admired me and looked up to me. I was completely touched.
She looked like she might cry. My natural instinct was to hug her and normally I would have. But we really didn’t know each other very well so I held back. She seemed so lost and sad. She smiled at me and then, without a word, she turned and left.
One evening, when I was out with a group of mutual friends, I hesitantly asked “What’s the deal with Kate?” I wasn’t trying to pry, but something just seemed off about her.
That was when I found out that Kate was an alcoholic. She was living with her boyfriend who had been in and out of jail for heroin possession. Some days she wouldn’t even show up for work. And when she did, she would often arrive looking like she hadn’t showered for days. Her boss tried countless times to help her. Instead of letting her go, she kept her on part-time. Kate would lie to people and say she had graduated from college, when the truth was she dropped out after only a few weeks.
Friends, family and co-workers all tried to help her. But yet she remained with the heroin addict and was struggling with alcohol.
My heart completely broke. Here was this beautiful young girl, throwing away what should have been some of the best years of her life.
I’ve never struggled with an addiction, unless you count the high you get when you *think* you are in love with someone (note that *thinking* something does not always make it real), but I imagine it is one of the most difficult things to overcome.
Too often, we see someone whose life appears to be better than ours. It’s easy to think everyone else has it easier or has a more exciting life than we do. But the truth is our lives are exactly what we make of them, which has absolutely nothing to do with looks or money or appearance.
What we perceive to be true isn’t always. It’s easy to hide pain and sadness behind a smile or false exterior.
I may not be model thin or have flawless skin but I actually have a pretty great life. A beautiful home, two amazing little girls and a hundred other things I am grateful for every single day.
I don’t know what will become of Kate. That was the last time I ever saw her. I don’t know what events brought her to such a low point in her life, but I hope with all my heart she finds a way out.
What I do know is that not everyone is able to deal with the difficulties that life throws our way. I have been very fortunate in that I have been able to overcome most of life’s obstacles simply by finding the humor in most situations and by always keeping a positive outlook. But not everyone is able to do that.
Life is fair in that we all have our own share of hard times and problems and difficulties. The unfair part is that some people ultimately fall apart and are never able to put themselves back together again.
I hope with all my heart that Kate is not one of those people. I hope she can find a way to pull herself together and come out a stronger person. And if I ever do see her again, I’m definitely going to give her that hug.
No matter what someone’s life looks like on the outside, maybe we all need to take a closer look.