SHeadless Venushe was my 5th or 6th grade project for history and social studies.

I waited ‘til the night before the project was due. Not avoiding it – just obsessing over it.  We were studying ancient Greece and Rome.

Finally I took my mother’s Venus, the eight-inch statue of Venus de Milo that stood on our piano, set it on the floor of my room, and copied it in clay.  First, the head, with a tiny nose and perfect hair, then I set that aside, and worked on the body.  The naked torso and perfect breasts, the absent arms, the draped cloth to cover shameful hips just now starting to balloon.

And when the body was done, I reached for the head … and it was gone.

Nowhere. Not under the empty box of clay. Not behind me. Not flattened to the bottom of my pants.


I’d mashed her head into her body.  Inextricable.  The project was ruined.

But due.

And thus did stupid, imperfect, revealing, headless Venus come to stand next to the spectacular, voluptuous Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the amazing Erupting Vesuvius. Models of beauty an painstaking precision made by focused, methodical children, their fathers smoking pipes and mixing chemicals so Vesuvius would erupt perfectly, with mothers who would NEVER let their children absentmindedly mash the heads of their projects.

Why oh why oh why did we have to have a display of all the projects – everybody’s one by one, in long tables lit by open windows of perfect afternoon sunlight.

Venus was so small.  And so headless.

But that’s not what haunts me: my screw-up, my inability to measure up, to create the perfect work of art I’d envisioned.

It’s the grade I got.

An “A.”

An “A” for totally screwing it up??

That “A” meant that Miss Withrow missed everything.  She missed everything the Venus could have been – all it’s magnificence and perfection and marvel – she missed everything it fell short of

… and she only saw … she only saw … what it was.

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