The Beauty of Barbara

I am the child of a stunningly beautiful mother; all her life it cursed her. I watched the later part of this life and I was always glad I did not inherit it.

She was totally unable to have close relationships with any of her husbands or lovers because to them she was a trophy. They were blinded by her. They adored her … but not her.

It wasn’t just men. If I was out with her, when we entered a room, a cafe, whatever, I watched as the obligatory moment of silence fell while people reacted, rebalanced, and returned to normal. Spooky.

It did bring small gifts. Faster attention when she wanted her car fixed at the garage. Same in shops. She could always easily have a group around her socially – but then she knew why, that it wasn’t about who she was but what she was.

It made her lazy. She never completed a course of study because the teacher and other students admired her so much without her opening her mouth or typing a word. She did a few jobs but usually left after a few months because a man begged to provide her wth comfort or luxury. Often this was my father but not always.

At the end of her life she grieved that she achieved nothing. Not true and I told her so.
She created exquisite homes, both beautiful and comfortable, much by her own hands, doing decorating and small DIY. She searched reclamation yards and junk shops for the right things to put together. She held great parties and was a wonderful cook. She was endlessly kind, taking many destitute people into her home, helping them, others she just gave them clothes, food, small gifts of money. She was a gentle and patient counsellor, listening and supporting many, many people (though this was about gaining power so not unmixed caritas.) She was a great world traveler and so efficient about it. She bravely faced a great deal of surgery on her back. Her wit and acid understanding was legendary.

She made me laugh, when coming out of surgery, high as a kite on morphine, her first great need was to do her make-up. Clumsy from drugs, she smeared a clown face. I reassured her she looked fine and pretended not to find the mirror.

I admired it that she never had a face lift. She considered it many times but always rejected it. For her life of ultimate, unavoidable beauty that was so brave, to allow herself to age. Cruelly she died of starvation: because her carer friend quarrelled and abandoned her. By then she had to be pushed to eat, anorexia. The ‘friend’ told no one she was not visiting any more. I visited as usual every month from far away, and she was just about to move nearer me. There is no way that carer can be charged with manslaughter, unfortunately.

She would have had mixed feelings that the undertaker staff were fascinated by her – who was she? they asked, saying she was so incredibly beautiful, could I tell them about her? She lay cold, hard, gorgeous, even at 87 and dead.

I wouldn’t swap my face and body for her beauty for anything unless to save the lives of those I love. Her life was a tragedy of loneliness, yet she fought hard, battling to be a real person, not a doll. That last scene of death says it all: that is what she was.

Yet I remember the warm, funny person, who protected me, fed me, taught me to be a radical thinker, gave me so much, blighted me with manipulation, uplifted me with fun and dancing, exasperated me, taught me that kindness is god. To me she was real, a person, but I honestly think not to anyone else who knew her.

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