BEAUTIFUL

Rachel Funari  <rf5838@hotmail.com>

Every girl wants to be told she's beautiful. She spends hours dreaming of the one hundred and one different ways she could inspire one hundred and one different men to mumble, to stumble over, to whisper or sigh; to breathe, pronounce, cry out that blissful and perfectly rare utterance, "You are the most beautiful girl in the world," or some variation of that sort. I was no different. Except, perhaps, that it seemed to me I had to wait a little longer until those sacred words were addressed to me by someone other than my mother.

I remember the first time a man told me I was beautiful. I was perched on the head of a dull red Chevrolet parked below the barn where I was spending my summer as a theatre intern. It was late in the evening, after a show, after the crowd had milled, mingled, and disappeared. Also balanced on the hood of the dull red Chevrolet was my friend, Cheryl. She, age 43, was beautiful.

Petite, perfectly shaped, and drinking a bottle of tequila, she was shamelessly flirting with the young blond star of Two By Two, who had also sidled up onto the Chevy's hood. He was tipsy. She was tipsy. I, 15, wasn't drinking. We were talking about the infamous worm at the bottom of tequila bottles. Cheryl had eaten one; I was grossed out. The conversation looped and twisted, knotted up, and we were suddenly talking about me. "I've never had a boyfriend," I admitted.

"You are a beautiful girl," said the actor. He was drunk. Here, on the hood of an '83 Chevy, a man finally said those very words I so longed to hear, and all I could think was, he's drunk. And he isn't a 20-year-old college student. We aren't on the grass, sitting side by side, my hand in his, under a spectacular orange sunset.

Back at school in the fall, when asked how my summer was, I answered that it was great: I met wonderful people; learned to build a staircase, use a power-saw; learned the basics of stage lighting, the fundamentals of stage make-up; how to play drinking games and, oh yes, for the first time ever, a man told me I am beautiful. Did you hear me? See, I am beautiful after all.

When I was in high school I thought being beautiful would solve all my problems, that Tom would ask me to the Friday dance, that James would eye me in English class, that I would make the "Top Ten Girls to Fuck" list that circulated among the young men in chemistry class. I tried contact lenses but was disillusioned to find that Tom and James didn't ask me out the very next day. So when I lost a lens down the drain and got an angry lecture from my dad regarding my wasteful use of his money, I put my glasses back on and determined to become the first bespectacled sex symbol in Hollywood.

When I went to college, I discovered that I was one of the prettier girls on campus, but left my first year of college still having to answer no to my aunt every month when she'd call and ask if I had a boyfriend yet, I realized that being beautiful was not the answer to my lonely life as a single teenager.

Once I realized that being beautiful was not the answer to my lonely life as a teenager, and came to the conclusion that I was pretty enough for practical purposes, men began to call me beautiful. When I waltzed down the street in make-up and short skirts, they honked their horns at me, licked their side windows, whistled at me from down the block, called out "hey sexy," as I walked by, and threw their phone numbers at me when they had the chance. So I retreated. I stopped wearing make-up and started wearing ankle-length skirts.

That didn't stop me from being touched when men told me I was beautiful, but it was different men and different beauty after that. I was touched when Larry, the 50-year-old doorman, at the movie theatre where I worked, popped open the door to the box office, poked his cartoonish face in, and said, "You grow more beautiful every day" or called me "Juliet" or "Guinevere." Despite my efforts to conceal my body, the misogynist type of male attention continued, and I was never able to stop feeling like I was somehow trying to show myself off when men actually stopped walking to eye me up and down or draw attention to me with the signature whistle. After all, didn't I enjoy it just a little bit?

Then late one night, when I was walking home with Larry the doorman, I was talking intently about my future plans to become an actress when we suddenly heard a funny little voice say, "What a beautiful girl!"

I looked up to see this little, bent European man. He was leaning on a cane and his accent was quite wonderful.

"Where did you find such a bee-uuu-teee-ful girl?" He pronounced each syllable, distinct and detached, the syllables in "beautiful" descending the musical scale to rise again, half-way, with "girl." It was that accent that warmed me to the compliment and its giver immediately.

Maybe it was because I was still wearing my uniform, my hair was pulled back and hadn't been fixed all day, my lips were chapped, and my forehead sported a couple of zits, I felt for the first time like a man was responding to the beauty inherent in the animation of my conversation with Larry. He was responding to something about the inner me, not to the sexuality of my breasts, the seduction of my lips, or the sensuality of my legs.

That man, those words spoken on that cool May evening, seemed a far cry from my dreams of a broad-shouldered 20-year-old looking down at me with adoration in his eyes, caressing my cheek, and whispering in my ear, "You are the most beautiful girl in the world." But that bent, little man made me feel beautiful for the first time in my life.


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