i’ve been working on this piece for a year. after deleting half of it, i’ve given up on thinking it’ll work, and will just post it:
beautiful (draft 5,000)
“You really are beautiful, you know that?”
My heart skipped a beat. It always does. His voice… it’s, well, “velvety”.
I shook my head and tried to focus. “Seriously? You’re starting this again?” I turned, fiddling with a hairstyle I’d finished hours ago. I just needed something, anything, to erase that sound from the air… I mean, wow. It really is like soft velvet wrapping itself around you. You can get lost in it, come out hours later dizzy and disoriented, but warm.
“I don’t get it.”
And… here we go again.
“Why are you so uncomfortable with me telling you that you’re beautiful?”
What does he expect me to say? Because I don’t think he could take the truth. I don’t think I could take the truth. I stare in the mirror, delaying my response, wondering if this would be the day that I finally see what he sees. Hoping that I would have enough courage to finally tell… Nope. Big nose, bad skin, eyes set a millimeter too far apart. I moved my hand to cover my nose, trying to imagine myself different, pretty.
A small crash reminds me that I’m not alone.
“Sorry… knocked these over.” I watch as he picks up bottles of shampoo and body wash and hope it will be enough to distract him. He puts them back in their original spots, and meets my eyes in the mirror with eyebrows raised expectantly. I guess not. “Well?”
I sighed, turning slowly to face him. “No, I’m not.” He tries to interrupt me, but I’m not done. “I’m not beautiful. I’m gorgeous, perfect, delicious in fact”. He stares at me for a few seconds before rolling his eyes and standing up to go. I follow him to the kitchen, “But, seriously, how many more times are you going tell me that?”
“I don’t know. How many more times until you believe it?”
“Umm, infinity? And why does it matter to you so much anyway?”
“Because you’re beautiful, and you don’t even know it.”
“Not true. Plus, people tell me that I’m beautiful all the time. In fact, this morning alone, I got hit on five or six times.”
“Whistles from dirty construction workers don’t count…”
“Since… It’s not real. They don’t know you. You don’t know them.”
“So? What’s your point? Isn’t it all the same? A gorgeous ‘tall, dark and handsome’ caressing my face and whispering it, or a ‘dirty smelly butt-crack’ screaming it from the street? In the end, both will say the same thing to get the same thing, my body. And not even MY body. Really just a body. Anybody. A piece of…”
“You can’t actually believe… You don’t really think that crap is true, do you?”
I didn’t feel like arguing anymore, so I turned and walked towards the bathroom. “You know what I meant. And save me some orange juice. I have to go finish getting ready.”
“Finish? What else could you possibly do?”
Everything. “I just have a few last minute touches to complete the masterpiece”.
“But I’m hungry… And you already look great. No, not just great, hott!”
I hate that word. Hott. It’s a temperature, not a compliment. Really, I hate them all. Sexy. Beautiful. Pretty. I glanced into one of the six hundred billion mirrors in my apartment, and thought about being “beautiful”. I was hideous until the summer before college. And everyone, nicely or not so nicely, made sure that I knew. But then, my face cleared up, my braces came off, I discovered contacts and spent my entire summer savings on a new wardrobe. And then, I was beautiful. I haven’t recognized the person in the mirror since. I sighed and kept going.
“Hey…” He grabbed my elbow, and I stopped. He tightened his grip and pulled me close enough to wrap his arms around me. I felt his heart beating against my back, his warm breath on my ear. “Hey… I’m sorry.”
I turned to face him, letting my arms get trapped between us. “For what?”
“I don’t know. I just… Look I just want you to know how beautiful you are. He drew out the last few words and with his velvety voice it was like a song. I felt his fingers dance the rhythm across my back, and prayed he couldn’t feel my heart pounding through his fingertips. I knew I should pull away, but something kept me from moving anywhere but closer. I lifted my head to meet his eyes. They were velvety too. Chocolate velvet. “When you say it like that, I almost believe it.”
“Almost?” He laughed, using one arm to pull me even closer, and the other to clumsily trace my jaw. His thumb stopped below my bottom lip. He lowered his head so that his lips were even with my ear and whispered, “We’ll have to do better than that.”
And then the world stopped. His lips were velvet too. Soft. No. I pulled away. He looked at me. “What’s wrong?”
I tried to think of something to say. I tried to tell him how much I needed him not to do this. How many times I’d been here, in this moment, how many times I’d walked away uglier. How I needed this time, him, to be different. But before I had a chance to even consider speaking, she’d already curved my lips into a smile, had already purred “Nothing. Don’t stop.” My lips moved with hers on “Stop”.
I stared, trying to place her face. She looked familiar. Who was she? I couldn’t shake the feeling that I knew her, and well. And then… The girl in the mirror. The girl I’d been staring at for years. I looked at her, wondering aloud, “Are you me?” She turned away, towards him, lifting her body into his.
He responded, pressing against her, both pulling and pushing her towards the bedroom. I followed, confused, wondering if he knew who he was doing this with. Was he was thinking about the meals, bad jokes, and tubs of popcorn that we’d shared or just the fact that she was soft and he wasn’t? Is he kissing me, or her? I couldn’t tell anymore. I pushed through her to grab his face, to make him look at me, to remind him, that I was me and he was him, and this wasn’t supposed to happen. I just needed him to look at me. To open his eyes and see. I knew he’d remember then. But his eyes remained closed and I felt his tongue working harder, searching for something. Forgiveness? Beauty? And then I lost control again.
She pulled my hands down, dragging them across his chest, behind his back, used them to lift his sweater. She turned them towards my bed. I fought her, but then my eyes were closing too. I let go. It didn’t matter anyway. I didn’t need to see his eyes to know what was there. Desire. Need. Hunger. “They’re all the same”, I thought, listening to the sound of his breath against hers. I let her close my eyes and watched the entire line of “hims” race across the back of my lids. There were hundreds of eyes not looking at me, even though I should’ve been the only thing they saw. I felt thousands of eyelashes crashing against mine, moving to scrape against my cheek. I compared the sensations of their mouths pressed angrily against mine, their tongues racing in and out, as though it were something else, as though this were a different game. The same.
And just then I remembered a random fact from a high school science class, or maybe Bill Nye. Bugs live in our eyelashes. Did you know that? It’s supposed to be a symbiotic relationship or something. I started thinking about the creepy eye bugs crawling from my eyes to my lips and down, down, down. I thought about all of those eyes and all of their lashes. How many bugs had skittered across me? I shivered from disgust and fear, and he, misinterpreting, tightened his grip. They’d reached the bed. He lowered them, with one hand bracing his body above her, and one hand pushing her head, her lips closer to his. Where was my shirt? I had to struggle to breathe. It felt good. I wondered if this would make him love me… I felt myself responding, pushing against him, breathing harder.
No. Not him. I know the way this story ends. I know the way these things work. He couldn’t love me. After this, he wouldn’t even be able to look at me.
“Stop”, I begged her, my voice sounding whiney even to me, “you’re going to ruin everything.”
“I can’t”, she said. “I’m not doing this. It’s not me. I’m not in control. I never have been. Don’t you get it? It’s you. It’s always been you. You can walk away. If you really don’t want to do this, you have to stop.”
I looked at her, waiting for the punch line. Her eyes looked sad, almost resigned, but still, somehow, frantic.
“What are you waiting for? Get up! Walk away! Go!”
And I thought about it, I really did. I imagined how good it would feel to stand up and walk away. And then I didn’t. Because I finally understood what “she’d” always known. If I walked away, he would let me. He would scramble up, apologize, and run, grabbing what he could of his clothes and dignity. He didn’t love me. Don’t get me wrong now, he probably loved my body (a body, any body, a piece of…), but he didn’t love me (the real me, that person underneath “beautiful”). I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t afford to let him let me walk away.
Look, we only run so that we can be chased, to know that someone, somewhere, wants us. And if there’s no one willing to chase you… I reached for his belt buckle. We both gasped when my fingers slid across his stomach. He shifted his body and closed his eyes, “You really are beautiful, you know…”