My face is nice, I love my face. It’s speaks the ideas of my brain, which is who I am. My face is one of the major components in how I express myself. My face helps to show all the things I’m thinking and feeling, communication is so important to me that I’m sometimes reluctant to converse in any other way than one on one. I’ve always relied heavily on my expressions and physical shows of emotion to convey how I’m feeling. I’m often complimented on how expressive and emotive I can be with my frantic hand gesturing and animated face. Which is wonderful to hear and reinforces how much I love the way I look. It represents who I am.
The history and heritage of my looks complicate how I feel about them though.
I look like my grandmother on my father’s side. My grandmother was strictly Roman Catholic and lived in Italy until she met my English grandfather during the second world war. They married in secret and she eventually moved to England in the early 1950’s. When she first moved over her spoken and written english was very poor and she struggled to fit in with the new family she’d been thrust into. She listened to the radio everyday and slowly built up an excellent understanding of the English language. But she wasn’t thanked for her dedication to adapt. My grandfather’s family and most of the local community were unhappy with his choice in wife. Italy had switched sides during the duration of the war, considering that they used to fight for the Germans, Italians weren’t exactly welcome at that time. She struggled for many years to make any friends outside of her marriage. Which resulted in her becoming very introverted, even in the years after attitudes had changed greatly. We have the same shaped eyes and dark hair with fair skin. She would often tell me this, and show me old photographs of when she was my age. She only spoke in English when she absolutely had to. I’ve always seen this as a massive rebellious streak that couldn’t be sniffed out. If they didn’t like her purely for her nationality then she would wear it like a badge of honour.
I remember her showing me a photograph of her with her sister just before she got married. She looked so deeply sad and it upset me in turn. I was 7 years old. It was the day I’d point blank refused to go to church with her anymore and she’d spent the day trying to get me interested in God. She’d begun by reading me certain passages from the bible and it had ended up with her showing me photographs of the family she left behind in Italy that treasured their faith so devotedly. In Italian she said to me that her sister was her best friend and she hadn’t seen her in over 30 years, it was God that kept them close. She said I looked so much like her and my Aunt Lydia that it made her homesick. I wanted, but didn’t dare say, that it was letters and the telephone that kept them close, not God.
I stuck to my guns about not wanting to attend church anymore. My entire family could see I had the very same rebellious streak to go along with our dark hair and eyes. I listened to her sad tale of giving up everything she knew for the man she’d fallen in love with, to start a lonely life in an unwelcoming country. Just her husband and her son for company. I listened to it all and felt a deep sense of fear and sympathy but I still wouldn’t keep her company at church. I found out when I was much older that my father had also rejected church at an early age. It seems that my reputation for being stubborn, passionate and outspoken was perhaps genetic. My father flatly refused to have me christened, even when she begged. I’m thankful for that because it gave me the chance to make that decision for myself when I was old enough. He was right to do it but it makes me sad to think that it was just another layer of loneliness and isolation for her.
When I look at the set of my eyes and the shape of my cheekbones and jaw, I see her. I see my grandmother flatly refusing to speak English at school concerts when I was little. I see her pretending not to speak English with her neighbours in order to avoid turning the television down. I see her refusing to acknowledge my mother’s existence after letting me wear makeup for the first time. I see her standing up for herself and the things she deemed important, even though sometimes it meant standing alone and the heartache that came with it.
I see so many parallels between us both that it scares me. My own stubbornness has cost me friendships over the years. I am loving, forgiving and sincere but I won’t be moved on the things that are important to me. I won’t be goaded and persuaded against my will. And I’m proud of that strength we three have, it’s fundamental to who we are. Nonna always said the best thing she ever did was to marry for love. But it can be very lonely at times.
Looking in the mirror reminds me that I am so similar to my paternal Italian side in so many more ways than just appearance. I try to embrace it and love it. In some ways I do very much, but I also know that in the future I too might make choices against my loved ones wishes that have life long consequences. She used to call me her angry beautiful bambina while she laughed and cooked messily. My face is my heritage and I am proud.
Thank you so much for reading this deeply personal and heart felt post.
Please click the link to find more details about the writing challenge in full.