Monday, August 3, 2009

Leif at Fourteen - The Sudden Change From Boy to Young Man

When Leif was thirteen, he shot up in height to 6' 1", towering over his classmates, and thinned out to a slim figure that was striking. Unlike most boys, he was already shaving by that time, and his sudden puberty also brought with it a terrible case of acne. He was a handsome kid, even with the acne, and he seemed to take everything in stride. He never talked to us about any difficulties of growing up so fast physically, or mentioned worrying about the acne. It wasn't until years after he was a grown man that he told me that some of the kids in his junior high called him "pizza face," and that had hurt him and his self esteem to the point where, even all those years later, he felt women wouldn't be interested in him because of it. He was shy about approaching girls and women, and as an adult he would try to get to know women well by email, phone and texting before meeting them in person, to try to form a relationship before they would see him. And yet, he also professed to have good self-esteem and did have a high opinion of his mental abilities.

I read once that for most of us, our self-image is formed in high school, and that we have a hard time changing it or shaking it off long years after it is no longer appropriate. I don't know whether it is true, but I do think there is certainly a residual undercurrent of that, of what we thought we were at that time as we were coming into young adulthood, and it probably was true for Leif, too.

This photo, taken in the living room of our quarters at Fort Sheridan, Illinois is one of very few that show Leif's acne, and yet look at that glowing, dazzling smile! Leif had the greatest smile, if you could get him to let it go. He contained his emotions very carefully, and of often you'd get a half smile, a bemused look, not the full force smile that was so wonderful. I don't know who took this photo. It might have been me, but I don't recall having seen it until I found it in his photo album after he died. It was taken with his camera. I wish I knew the occasion on which it was taken. I wish I could see that smile again.

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