I was once again floundering, faced with the dread of adulthood looming over my head. It started with the black pumps I had to buy at JC Penny’s. The smell of the grey carpet and vacant-like atmosphere reminded me of a long-lost childhood, memories I kept grasping for but could never seem to reach. Then it was the the blisters the pumps gave me and the bagginess of my eyes. My face suddenly seemed strikingly asymmetrical. If beauty was symmetry, I felt uglier than I’d ever felt in my life. I walked in the glass doors, wincing as my ankles were pinched by heels designed by men, then covered my collarbones because of rules written by men.
I didn’t know myself anymore, working 9 to 5 and covering my collarbones with thick cloth like they were weapons of mass destruction. I didn't recognize the dullness of my hair and the stiffness of my arms as they reached for the receiver one more time. Every day was just another call to an insurance agency and another 8 hours in a room without windows.
“Flora, darlin’ are you hard of hearing?” Blaire was my co-worker, a vivacious blonde who wore floral patterns so bright I could have sworn her day job was directing traffic. She had her hands on my desk and a smirk on her face.
“Sorry, Blaire, I was just thinking.”
“Thinking about someone special?” Blaire teased me, grabbing a section of my hair and twirling it. She sat on the corner of my desk. Did I forget to mention she also had no concept of personal space?
“Didn’t you have something to tell me?” I changed the subject.
“Oh, do I ever.” She stood up and began to pace around the room, coming to a sudden stop and pointing her finger at me. “You know, I always thought that Bradley Redding was cheating on his wife with that redhead nurse from pediatrics. And today, I caught them in the autopsy room together.”
“The autopsy room?” I couldn't get past their location of choice for committing adultery. “Isn't that where dead people are?”
Brooklyn peeked her head around the corner just then. “Sure is.”
“You know about this too?”
“Oh, honey, everyone knows.” Blaire was laughing. “I swear, your barista put something in that coffee in the morning.”
Blaire was marrying the love of her life that weekend in Destin, Florida, which meant I had to drop a couple thousand dollars on travel expenses and gifts for the lovely bride. It also meant I had to tolerate her insufferable maid of honor, Andrea Skinner, who just loved violating the codes of AA and telling others that she and I attended classes together at one point. It didn’t matter through— I’d been through AA, and I wasn’t sure I bought the standard definition of an “alcoholic.” If I was an alcoholic, then mostly everyone was, so what did it matter anyway?
Blaire was laughing as she watched me trip over the last step on my way out. “Don’t tell me you’ve gotten into the liquor again.”
I wanted to tell her to shove it, but something deep inside myself made me fear what would happen. The heat lightning on the horizon was particularly daunting today, but the air was crisp and cool. Paradoxical October made me fear my own shadow once again.
The red wine stains wouldn't come out of the cream-colored bridesmaid gown, no matter how much Downy I poured on it. I’d gone through 4 Tide Sticks, 3 cycles in the wash, and scrubbed the material raw. Despite my external display of tranquility, I was terrified that Blaire was going to rip me apart with her abnormally large hands.
“Oh. My. God. You alcoholic.” Blaire grabbed the skirt of my gown and rubbed the stain furiously.
The wine glass in my hand suddenly felt much heavier, and my wrist was shaking a little. “Blaire, please—“
“And now you’re about to do it again.” She threw her hands up. “Honestly, I don’t know what to say, Flora. We’ll just have to work around you in the pictures.”
Blaire maneuvered me around the whole afternoon, hiding the war scene on the front of my dress behind Rachel’s butt, Ainsley’s hand, and Mary Linley’s bouquet. Meanwhile, having taken Blaire’s remark about alcoholism quite personally, I had spent the time leading up to the photo shoot rather ironically indulging in more red wine than I probably should have.
I knew my face must have been flushed, but nothing speaks louder than the glare of neon bathroom lights. My cheeks were red and blotchy, my eyeliner was more spider-like than I’d remembered, and my hair was matted on the side. I did a mock toast to the mirror and headed for the door. At least I looked honest. I ran smack into Andrea Skinner.
“That mock-tail looks so convincing,” Andrea said, eyes wide. “If I didn't know better, I’d say it was real. Congrats on—what is it, 9 months sober?”
Her beady brown eyes looked yellow in the sun, and they were scanning my body for lie detection like a New York City subway pigeon searching for scraps. Except subway pigeons were cuter. And friendlier.
“Yeah, it’s amazing. Want a sip?” I lied, an unsettling feeling rising within me.
“Wow, Day,” Andrea said, “I honestly didn't think you could do it. You always seemed like you had no self-control. But congrats.”
She grabbed the cup from me before I could change my mind and took a big gulp. To my surprise, she did not taste the alcohol—how was it possible?
Andrea’s yellow eyes widened, and I prepared to run. “This is so yummy! Mind if I take this one? The first dance is happening and I can’t miss it for the world.” She scurried back over to the table she was assigned, and I willed myself to feel guilty for what had just happened. But why didn't I?
Usually when you think you can't beat yourself up anymore, someone else does it for you, either figuratively or literally. And if someone has a chance to make a speech in front of a crowd, make sure you haven’t done that person wrong. Or, at least, don’t be present when they do it.
“Andrea Skinner, maid of honor, and endlessly proud of Blaire Woods for her dedication to Kendrick Osborne. Now, I’m gonna get real with ya’ll for a second. Blaire has helped me through some rough times. When I was going through AA, I was terrified. I was terrified that I wasn’t going to make it through, terrified to go in public places and have to explain why I wasn’t drinking….”
Typical, I thought to myself, maid of honor makes speech about herself and her feelings on the bride’s big day.
“… so that’s why I’m utterly disgusted that Flora Day poisoned me today by giving me an alcoholic beverage.”
I suddenly became more aware of my surroundings. Everyone turned to stare at me.
“Um,” I squeaked. “I think you have me confused with someone else.”
Meanwhile, Blaire was enraged. Her forehead vein looked like it was about to pop out and come punch me in the mouth. She ran up to the podium and grabbed the microphone from Andrea, who grabbed it right back. And all the while, I just felt myself become smaller and smaller, the audience studying me like tissue on a microscope, babies and children alike. I was frozen. Andrea’s mouth kept moving, but all I could do was stare at the way all of the ceiling fans moved in unison in their neat circles, wishing I could be half as consistent.
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Great write, and heartbreaking.
Thank you so much!
So many great lines in the piece. This one is my favorite: If beauty was symmetry, I felt uglier than I’d ever felt in my life
Thank you so much :)