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One of the most powerful novels I’ve read in a while is Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork. So I’m going to do something a little different with this post. I want to share a lengthy excerpt from this novel with little comment.

First, let me set up the excerpt. Marcelo, age 17, suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and attends a special school for young people on the autistic scale. His father owns a law firm and wants Marcelo to work there for the summer to “experience the real world.” This causes Marcelo much anxiety but he has no choice. While going through some files at the firm, Marcelo finds a picture of a teenage girl named Ixtel; half of her face is pretty, the other half is disfigured. Ixtel was in a car accident that took the lives of both of her parents. Her face was disfigured by a malfunctioning windshield. Marcelo discovers that his father’s firm used legal maneuvers to avoid paying for the surgery that could have restored Ixtel’s face. At great cost to himself, Marcelo gets his father to finally agree to cover the surgery.

In the scene I’ll share, Marcelo is meeting Ixtel for the first time at the Catholic home for girls where she lives. They talk for some time and Marcelo is struck with how at ease with herself Ixtel is. He asks her about this and Ixtel says that after the accident, she went wild for a while, taking drugs and selling her body. That’s when Marcelo asks:

“But how did you change? What happened? What made you different?”

We both turn to look at each other. I can feel her wondering why I want to know. Maybe she can see that I am not asking just out of curiosity or to make small talk. I’m asking because I want to find what she found.

“Little by little, I don’t know, what was eating me up went away.”

“But how did it go away? What did you do?”

“Like, at the beginning, I felt sorry for myself, I guess. Not like, you know, pity or anything. But then one day I stopped being so angry. ‘You’re just a little girl,’ I said to myself. ‘It’s not your fault your parents died. It’s okay you messed up. It’s okay to be angry about your face and hate everyone. You’re just a little girl. I forgive you, little girl, for all the bad things you did.’ Like that. It’s crazy, isn’t it? To have one part of yourself be nice to another part. Like, the nice part of my face saying nice things to the ugly part. After a while, the nice part and the ugly part stopped hating each other. There was peace inside of me, like the different parts disappeared and there was only one me. After that, I saw how the other girls were like me, and I started doing the same thing with them. I saw their ugly parts—and around here that’s not too hard, believe me—and I tried to be nice to their ugly parts.”

“We all have ugly parts,” I say to myself, forgetting for a moment that Ixtel is sitting next to me.

She gives a short laugh that sounds like a cough because of the shape of her mouth. “You say that as if you never knew it.”

“I never knew it like I do now.”

There’s a lot of wisdom here, but I will just make one comment.

We’ve all heard that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Maybe Ixtel shows us that when we do the work of learning to love ourselves—including our ugly parts—we might find it easier to love our neighbor.