Rose Hips and Vintage Vanities: Staring Into My Reflection With SMA

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by Katie Napiwocki |

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SMA caregivers | SMA News Today | Main graphic for column titled "A Wildflower in the Wheelderness," by Katie Napiwocki

I’ve done it yet again. 

I’ve fallen in love at first sight. (Would you expect anything less of an Aquarius?)

I’ve been searching for a new bedroom vanity that better suits my physical needs during my morning and evening routines. Finding new, functional furniture can be a challenge with my disability. Not to mention I’m fussy and hesitant to settle.

With this vanity, I knew I needed the structure to flow a certain way, accommodating space for my knees when rolling my wheelchair underneath it. The mirror needed to sit at an appropriate height, offering an optimal vantage point for viewing myself. I wanted several drawers for storage within arm’s reach, but the drawers couldn’t cascade all the way to the floor because they’d likely collide with my wheels. 

I was flexible on the vanity’s height. If I needed it raised a bit higher to support my elbows properly, I knew my dad would jump at the opportunity to begin rummaging through his garage with the glint of an inventor’s madness in his eyes.

When I say I wanted a new vanity, I actually mean old.

I wanted a vintage slice of history — a dust-covered fairytale eased off the shelf and read aloud in a brand-new voice. I wanted to support an independent artist who refurbished timeworn furniture that had traveled through many homes and met many people. 

After looking at dozens of options across several online marketplaces, I found the one. Though it was still no match for the burst of love that was born from the first gaze between my eyes and those of my beagle’s, this vanity was a stunner. And I was stunned.  

She hails from the 1930s or ’40s in whispering elegance. Her complexion glows of the softest vanilla buttercream; her cheeks are swept in dusty rose blush. Her original mirror holds strong with antiqued edges of shimmering bronze. Graceful flowers furnish the living quarters of her body, free-falling and commanding as a waterfall. 

Tucked inside one of the drawers, a rolled-up letter awaited me. It was handwritten by the artist and fastened together in a ribbon of twine. Her words to me explained how she found this vanity, with earrings, notes, and hair pins still residing in its compartments. She envisioned the story of this piece — the poise of the women who once owned it, the way their hairstyles fell, the makeup they wore, the perfumes that sat on its topside, and the insecurities they felt at times. She built a picture and turned that picture into art.

The letter moved me deeply. At the end, the artist reminded me to always know the reflection staring back at me is beautiful. 

After polishing myself with my new vanity for the first time, I savored a few minutes alone without the presence of any caregivers around me. My energy flourished in autonomous charm. In tender silence, I stared at my reflection. I looked compassionately into the depths of my own mocha eyes. I studied the curves of my face, of my body. I peeled back the layers; I undressed a delicate heart. I acknowledged scars of all kinds. It was something I hadn’t done in quite some time.

I thought about the artist’s letter, and those who owned this piece before me. I wondered what beautiful stories their eyes told. What had they overcome in their lives? 

I thought about my body image, and how it travels far deeper than my skin. When I was younger, I wanted a different body — a body that looked a little more buxom and classically feminine, and a little less SMA. I’ve only recently arrived at the understanding: If a beautiful body is what I believe I have, then isn’t it mine to reach out and claim? 

My reflection is unique. Like this vanity, it is one of a kind, sprinkled in the rarest stardust that has fallen from the canopy of the universe. 

I honor the ghosts I carry with me, for I have befriended them in a way that breathes new life into my soul. Much like the artist restored this aging artifact into a fine romance, I embrace paint coats of self-compassion, beguiling rose hips, and the vignette of a reluctant centerfold.

Material things cannot fill voids within us. But our surrounding environment plays a lead role in elevating our ability to thrive. I don’t need this vanity to feel beautiful; it accentuates my inner belief that I am.

Even on my worst days, this vanity will extend petals of grace and beauty to me. Staring into it, I feel like the first flower of May — and all the bees can’t wait to dance upon its upturned belly of golden pollen, basking in its sweetness. 

A flower which has no imperfections, because perfect does not exist.

(Photo by Heather Rafferty of Rafferty Refined)


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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