They line up: various shades of colors all neatly organized on a beige towel spread out on the white tile of the bathroom floor. Pinks, greens, purples, various shades of tan and cream and bronze. Neatly lined up makeup brushes frame the disorganized masterpiece. It’s like a canopy, a fencing in, a box. Within it everything is concealed, closed up and contained.
I woke up in the morning, the sun playing peekaboo through the window shades, to a sizeable knot of dread sitting in the center of my stomach.
Good morning, I whispered to the lump.
Good morning, the lump replied, I’m scared
I held the word close to my chest like a mother nursing her young, running my fingers over every aspect of its protruding evidence. I held in my hands the weighted memories of the months gone by, how each and every moment I’d held trembled within my grasp until it finally shattered into a precarious nothing.
Whenever I tried to mend, I mutilated. Every broken relationship, broken dream, broken heart I tried to knit together between my palms resulted in uneven, jagged edges stitches, various staples, tape and glue holding together this scrappy mirage of what my life was supposed to look like.
And the immense nature of this seeming failure weighed heavy on my shoulders and presented itself as a lump in my stomach that whispered good morning to me as I fluttered open my eyelashes upon the arrival of the dawn.
Come, I told the lump, It’s alright to be scared. Let me hold you
I’ve never been good at being the warrior type. My swords are sharp words, my shield the practiced plastic smile. I hide behind the candy apple red lipstick and the gentle smell of perfume, turning myself overnight from victim to vixen.
I spend too much time hiding under covers, crying in bathrooms, putting on a brave face for the world because once I was taught that showing emotion was a sign of failure and ever since then I promised to never let them see me cry.
Everything became effortless. Life became alright. I didn’t ask because I convinced myself I didn’t need and if I didn’t need anything from anyone I couldn’t be cut down and left bleeding when they walked away because I wasn’t the girl of the day, or the hour, or the moment.
I was a cadaver, an empty body reached for, a substitute, something, anything to distract from the present moment. I was an object of their lust, their passionate desire, their drunken denial that anything was wrong. I became parts of their stories but as quickly as I would slide into a role in their narrative I forgot the role in my own.
His playful teasing, the way he refused to pay extra attention to my weak points, running over them with a fine tooth comb, obsessing about the details, it made me stronger.
In a way, it was a ripping off the mask. It was looking at it the same time as he was looking through it, looking at me while he was looking past me.
Little moments would come when I wasn’t paying attention, when I was walking to class or cleaning my plate or standing in the hallway. Little moments, like his eyes watching me, like the way he told me to wear a coat, all these little chinks in my armor as I was getting ready for class on a Tuesday.
And it unnerved me. Because I’ve practiced the smile and I’ve learned the right way to act so they don’t question and I’ve tried to distance myself from the world so it can’t hurt me and then there is this moment when someone looks right into you, a moment when you look into yourself, and everything shifts ever so slightly.
Not noticeably, not much, but one day it’s a Monday and you’re getting ready for class and you’re late or maybe you’re early and you forgot to brush your teeth or put on deodorant and you’re jumping into your shoes at the same time that you’re shoving yesterday’s homework into your bag and there you are.
Standing in the mirror, this frazzled mess, but you see this girl and you know her. And your eyes hold hers for a moment too long and you realize that this girl in the mirror is not poised, not perfect. It’s only 7am and the day hasn’t had time yet to make her hard and she’s still soft and round, like a peach.And this girl is strong, and weak, and loud and quiet and curves and edges and soft and hard and it doesn’t matter. She’s not hiding behind the paper doll smile. She’s putting on her boots or knotting up her hair or applying that final coat of red lipstick.