The girl sighs, as she adjusts her bow in the mirror. She steps back, looking at her half-girl, half-woman body, just to make sure that the bow matched the rest of the school uniform. She preens, crowing her head slightly forward.
“It’s a cute look for the first day of school—with the glitter, and the pink lining. It’s definitely something Mom would pick out.” She whispers to herself, smiling at the memory of catching her mother slipping it into her closet last night.
Her shoulders slump, and her smile fades, as she stares harder into the mirror. “It just isn’t me” she mutters as she reaches into her hair.
“Honey, are you ready? The bus is almost here!” A soft, distinctly female voice sounds from the bannister.
“Shit.” The girl looks at the bow, now safely entwined in the palms of her hands. “Mom would be so happy if I put this on, but—”
“Honey, why aren’t you wearing the bow I got you?” Her mom’s voice was low, pointed, as if she wanted to ask all the questions in the world in one singular instance.
The girl turns to her mom, silently analyzing the former pageant queen that stood in her doorway.
Her mom was a pageant child, turned almost-pageant mom. Anyone could see that, given the amount of Little Miss Americana trophies (mostly the mom’s) that littered the house. Anyone could see that, given the mom’s immaculate, preppy outfit, her Americana-esque charm that reminded one of the girl-next-door trope.
What no one could see was the girl squirming in the frilly dresses, pushing her mom’s buttons so that she would be sent home, far away from the leering audience, the catty girls, the body insecurity, the toxic need to win every contest.
What no one could see is that it took the girl years of complaints—years upon years of whining when she had to go, complaining all the time there, misbehaving on the ride home—for the mom to realize that not every girl enjoyed pageants or performing.
What no one could see is a mom, desperately trying to mold her daughter in order to understand her.
The girl smiles, a weak, plastic smile.
“I didn’t want to” she says, quietly, firmly.
“Why not?” Her mom’s face turned pale, and her eyes were downturned, as though the worry about the bow was pushing them down to the floor.
The girl shook her head. “It’s just not me.
What do you mean? You used to love bows, you used to wear them every day! What happened?”
The girl’s mouth dropped open, and her eyebrows raised to a pointed triangle.
“Seriously Mom? I never liked them! I only wore them every day because YOU would shove it in my hair if I didn’t!”
The mom’s cheeks turned pink, and her eyes began to glisten.
“What are you talking about? I never shoved it in your head! I only added it to your outfits, because I thought you liked them!”
The girl stepped back, not sure whether to laugh or scream.
“Since when is me taking them out of my hair, and saying that I don’t like it, showing that I do? This isn’t fucking Wonderland, where no is yes, Mom. Jesus!”
“Watch your language, or I WILL give you a reason to miss the bus.”
Her mom’s voice was steely, cold, quiet.
The girl’s eyes glistened, and she moved forward, chest to chest. Just as she was about to open her mouth, she closed it again, biting her tongue.
Mom’s gaze fell harder on her.
“Oh. So, you want to fight now? Ok. Since you CLEARLY want to fight, you also CLEARLY want to be grounded for the rest of the week. So, I’ll do you a favor. I’ll ground you for two—double your wish.”
The girl’s mouth dropped to the floor.
“Seriously?!? You’re grounding me for two weeks over a stupid ribbon that I didn’t want to wear?
“It’s not about the ribbon, it’s about the disrespect!
THIS. THIS disrespect!” Her mom was practically flailing her arms, pointing at her with shortened, heightened breath, and bugging eyes.
“That’s what you call disrespect? Ok.”
A long bus horn sounded in the back, cutting through the silence like a knife through a thick cake. The girl looked behind her, and saw the flashes of yellow and black, with teens gathered around it, walking into it with apathetic, placid faces.
“Shit.” She mutters under her breath, as she grabs her bag from underneath the desk, and begins stuffing it with random papers, hoping that one of them was the summer homework that was due that day.
“Leave without apologizing, and you’ll be grounded for four weeks, instead of two.”
Her mom’s voice rang clear through the room, sounding through every corner, every ridge of her ear. Shit almost ran down her pants, as her mom glared, and the bus engine revved outside on the street.
“I can’t apologize now, Mom, I’ll miss the bus.
Then miss it. You don’t apologize, you don’t go.
Didn’t you want me to make the bus a few minutes ago?
I did, but then you started fighting.
I only started fighting because you raised the issue!
I only raised the issue because you were throwing away my gift! Now, apologize!”
The girl sighed, and bit her lip, before the words “Ok, I’m sorry” could escape out of her mouth. She turned her face upwards, nose to nose with her mom.
“I’m sorry, Mom, but I can’t apologize. I’m not sorry for fighting. I’m not sorry for having my own style. I’m not sorry for speaking up and defending myself. In fact, the only thing—person-- that I am sorry for is for you. You clearly still want to be Little Miss Americana, and you clearly can’t understand and accept that your daughter might be different and have different wants and dreams than you do. So, yeah, I’m sorry for you—not for fighting. Now, the bus is about to leave. Let me go.”
The girl pushes through her mom, and out of the door, past her seething mom, past her mom’s threats to continue this after school, past the threats to pull her out of clubs and put her in another pageant. She walks—no, marches—into the open air, staring straight ahead into the open street, as the bus begins to roll out of view.