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In Oklahoma there was a young boy named Raheem. At the age of nine, his father left his mother for a younger, prettier woman. The last goodbye happened in front of his eyes.
At age ten, his mother had found solace in the company of wine. A sip of wine metamorphosed into a couple of bottles. The wine soon transformed into vodka which led anything that had any amount of mind-numbing effect.
At age eleven, Raheem had become the spitting image of his father; tall, slim, beautiful smile and hazelnut golden-brown eyes. This resemblance, however, only served to open his mother’s wounds; it was hard looking in her own son’s eyes without seeing the husband that abandoned her. And so, she slid further into her drunken habits, numbing her mind every time to keep the pain from stabbing her again and again and again.
The problem with numbing our minds is that it begins to shape other things in our lives. Like the way she spoke to her son. From calling him the most adorable thing ever, to telling her own son to the face that he was the most despicable creature she had ever seen. And it stuck, the names she called him, they stuck to his mind. He became the twelve year old that parades the streets with his face hidden behind a mask because he believed what his mother said. That he was as despicable as his father, that he had a face no one would love.
He is fourteen now, it’s the morning of his first day of high school and he has already gotten into trouble. As Raheem sat in front of the principal’s office his head started flooding with a million and one thoughts. “She’s going to yell at me for wearing the mask. She will not understand me, just like the teacher. How could they understand what it feels like to not be wanted? To have a face no one will ever love.”
His palms started sweating as they always did when he was nervous, and he tried in vain to stop his leg from shaking like a strung guitar chord. “Raheem, please come in” A female voice inside the office said.
Raheem heard the voice, but he was so lost in his thoughts, that it sounded like a voice from an old dream. “Raheem, can you join me in my office please?” she called again in a more determined voice.
This time, her voice got through to him. Raheem started to look up from the floor slowly until he saw her face. There she stood almost the height of the door with a big welcoming smile on her face. With his mind still hyperactive, Raheem’s body started to move towards the woman.
“Thank you, you can choose any chair you like,” She said, gesturing to the chairs around.
About ten chairs of different colors sat in different spots of the room, each looking in different directions. “Why are there so many?” Raheem asked.
“I want you to be comfortable talking, you can sit in front of me, the window, the fish tank, bookcase, wall, door or any of the others. Whichever makes you the most comfortable,” she replied.
Raheem looked around for a few seconds then picked the seat in front of the fish tank. They talked about fish for a few minutes, what each one was called, where they come from, when she got each one and which one was his favorite. As they talked, Ms. Serio asked, “Raheem, why don’t you want to take your off mask?”
Raheem sat in silence contemplating whether he should say his reason or remain quiet. He stared at the fish for a while, and then suddenly, he blurted out. “I am just like my father,” he replied, “my face is ugly, despicable and unlovable…” he gave a weak smile, “that’s why I wear this mask ma’am.”
With a calm face Ms. Serio shook her head and said, “Have you ever seen anyone or anything you thought was beautiful? Someone in school, in the street, an animal or a drawing?”
Raheem’s body started to tense up again and eyes started to look all around the room, he did not see that question coming. “You don’t have to say a name but I’m sure someone or something has caught your eye, am I right?”
Raheem bobbed his head up and down. A painful blush crimsoned his cheeks. “Now, what if I told you there’s someone out there who thinks that person or thing you call beautiful is ugly. Who is right? You or the other person?” Ms. Serio asked.
“I’m not sure,” Raheem replied.
“The truth is you’d both be correct because each person has their own definition of beauty. No one is wrong, no one is right. Understand this,” she leaned towards him, “by telling yourself you are ugly you are doing two things; the first is making yourself feel ugly. The second thing is you are not giving others the chance to appreciate your beauty. Let’s take the fish you said was your favorite for example. Are you happy you saw that fish today?” She asked.
“Yes, I am’’ Raheem answered.
“Imagine that fish never came out, it decided to hide behind the rock whenever people came in because it thought it was too ugly to be seen. You would’ve never gotten to experience that happiness and appreciate its beauty.” Ms. Serio says.
Raheem’s eyes light up with joy. “I think I get it, what you’re saying is… I’m ugly because I say so not because I am, and that I shouldn’t hide my face because someone might appreciate my beauty and it might make them happy.”
A huge smile came across Ms. Serio’s face then she said, “Exactly. And once that person comes your way, they’ll help you see how beautiful you truly are, but you have to give them the chance to see your beauty.”
Raheem closed his eyes and exhaled. “I am beautiful, I am beautiful.”
Ms. Serio chuckled. “Yes Raheem, you are. Nothing can ever change that.”