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Fiction Sad Inspirational

I stared straight into the mirror, hands gripping the edge of the countertop, heart dreadfully slow against my ribs. Staring back at me was a girl, one I had long learned to hate. How many times had I stared at her, not really looking, trying to makeup and conceal her into some sort of beautified submission? Something I would be satisfied with, because it didn’t look like me?

The floor was too clean and too cluttered underneath my feet. The hardwood cool beneath my bare skin, a forgotten picture laying dead on the floor, in the crack between the counter and the wall. It wasn’t of him. I’d tucked those far away, not bearing to burn them, or worse, throw them out; even more heart-wrenchingly not bearing to see them.

You’re a coward, Charlotte.

The words traipsed through my head, and then they were gone. They rarely stuck. I’d heard them so often, a single drop was lost in an ocean.

“After what he did to you, you should burn every memory of that boy,” I’d heard plenty more than once. But ironically, I was used to being told what to feel. They didn’t understand the war inside my heart. How our most painfully once-blissful memories were my favorite ones, shattered by recent betrayal and… abandonment.

I lied. It wasn’t that recent. A month or so, since he’d officially ended it, too tired of my hindrances to possibly go on. But my mind still bled the same. Pathetic.

The cold pressed beneath my feet as I forced myself to stare.

A nose slightly too large for my too-oval face. Dull, uninteresting eyes, bordered by thin eyelashes. They might have been thicker once. Before I’d ruined them with waterproof mascara and dyes, lash glue and cheap eyeliner. Now they were just a tattered remnant, like everything else I’d touched.

You’re nothing.

All around my counter sat bottles and tubes of makeup and things that promised to make me look better than myself. Better than the disgusting thing I had to purposely not look at in the morning, what my boyfriend grimaced at in surprise the one time I’d shown him what I looked like without makeup.

You’re putting makeup on before our date, right?

I’d worn it ever since.

It had been a very long time since I’d had nothing at all over my skin. No leftover mascara, or hurriedly brushed dabs of concealer I didn’t really look at as I applied. A very long time since I had forced myself to look in the mirror. A very long time since I didn’t have to.

No thing I did was ever good enough. At first it was. I was his queen. I was valued. And I was happy.

Abandonment issues of the past tend to make it hard to trust people. So when I did, I trusted them heavily. At first, I was enough. He was happy to see me, or at least pretended to be, loving our conversations, looking forward to when he could next sneak away to text me. We had a future, one he loved to talk about, one he loved to paint me in.

Then one day, he didn’t text me back.

It sounds so dramatic to say that was the true beginning. But reflecting back, I shouldn’t have been so naive and realized the start of what was happening.

I knelt to the ground, fingers reaching for the little picture. It was from a polaroid camera, the kind my best friend had always brought to our few adventures. Well, she had been my only friend-- best friend implied having more than one. While Grace was close to me, she also had many other people. And when I had dated Connan… we’d drifted apart.

You don’t need her. You’re lucky to have me. And I’m never going to leave you, Charlotte.

I never was photogenic. But I hadn’t minded until recently.

Even in the picture, I stood timidly in an oversized sweater, straight, tall, as if afraid to dip too far into my companion. But I was smiling. She had one elbow on my head, completely at ease, pulling me into the silliness of posing like the museum statues around us.

I sat back on my heels.

I remembered that day. Back when Connan and I were first going out. When I was happy. Right at the teetering edge of the slant where it started to fall. Grace had noticed the slight change in me, before I’d broken apart from her. “You’re so stiff now,” she said. “As if you’re… treading on eggshells. You’re trying too hard.” But anything short of too hard was not enough.

I had always been a more timid child, following the rules. Everything had to be done perfectly, to fit them.

With Connan, there were rules. But in the beginning, before he stopped caring at all, he’d also encouraged me to break them.

Don’t be afraid, Charlotte! Live. Come on. I’m not going to leave you. I promise.

I stepped out, showing him the quirks of my heart, my soul.

And look where that got me.

The picture tightened softly in my fist as I shut my eyes, breathing in the terse emotion of memories and reality.

He’d started talking to her. That other girl. A lot. They were friends; I tried hard not to let it bother me.

I’m allowed to have friends, Charlotte. Strange, that he’d said that. Because I wasn’t.

She was always louder than me, boisterous. Flirtatious. And he started flirting back. But I trusted him. I trusted him.

And he stopped trying with me all together.

Slowly, piece by piece, our spun web of painted future started to tangle, knotting into a mess I sat in the middle of, horrified to untangle. Questioning when it had started to twist. And why.

I’m not smart enough.

I started to bite my tongue whenever a funny comment would come to mind, afraid he might think of it as stupid or unoriginal.

Obviously, Charlotte. That’s why it is named that, after all.

I would talk even more, as well, afraid by being too quiet I was too boring. Then I became an annoyance. Every time I picked up my phone, I cowarded out of sending a quietly hopeful message when none awaited my blank screen, or regretted it when greeted with a fake, dulled conversation, or more often, simply ignored.

What the hell happened to us? Our imaginary date ideas, stargazing in trucks, talking about secret dreams, hour long phone calls…

It was gone. Like it had never happened.

Like he regretted that it had.

More makeup. Hours every day, wasted in trying to seem less like the myself he so seemed to hate. Watching him and the other girl flirt constantly from the corner of my eye, as if she was everything he had ever wanted. This is my fault. What’s wrong with me?

You’re not good enough. You’re not perfect. You’re just the dumb, boring girl who got swept away to be left behind. Because you’re not enough. You’re useless. And dumb. And discarded.

I stepped up from the floor, balancing myself on the counter. Nothing, nothing I did would ever be perfect enough.

And ugly.

Silence.

There. It was said.

It was true.

A deep sort of thrill settled in my chest.

Slowly, without looking, I ran my finger over the fake marble, inhaling. 

For so long, I had tried to be perfect. Everything, everything had to be perfect, and maybe then he would give me half a second of admiration he had once so joyfully given. I had stood in line, forcing myself to a regiment, doing everything he said, conforming to his unattainable idea of what a person should be. Forgotten when he realized he didn’t want it. Then I’d exercised to extremes, blaming his boredom on the extra bit of weight around my stomach, vomiting up my food.

To be what?

This?

Discarded.

Quietly, so quietly, I opened my eyes. I looked at myself in the mirror softly, studying my faded freckles. The flat hair framing my cheek boneless face.

Do it. Just once.

It’s okay.

Ever so slightly, hands clenching tighter, I curled my lip. Just a bit, showing the tiniest edge of my gums. Surprising myself, I almost laughed. For some reason, my heartbeat stilled, then picked up. 

Do it again.

Hesitantly, I curled my lip again, scrunching up my nose this time, furrowing my faint eyebrows.

A true, forgotten smile appeared on my face.

Ugly faces.

My heart settled, just a little bit, as I watched myself in the mirror, smiling softly in accomplishment.

It wasn’t the sort of thing that would make the world a better place. It would save no broken, shattered heart. It would repair no one’s splintered soul.

But it might save mine.

Power, hidden and found, fisted inside my heart. And peace. Not from the unattainable attention of perfection. From the loss of it. Beautiful imperfection, hidden behind hastily rectored walls, forced up by people who didn’t deserve me. Glittering from the smile still tinging my lips, as I saw myself for the first time in a very long time.

It wasn’t fixed. It definitely didn’t heal the gritting, band-aided hole in my heart, or the diet pills littered across the ground. The long dusty contacts in my phone, severed connections with everyone after the toxic disaster of my last relationship.

But I found a bit of beautiful peace in myself, just enough strength to go on.

Making ugly faces.

August 13, 2021 03:31

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