“We have plenty of time.”
That’s what I tell myself amidst a work-induced breakdown. Mom says this as well, trying to get me to calm down. I tell her that this is not true, there are only 24 hours in every day. She tells me that is more than enough. She points out the pimple on my forehead and tells me the stress isn’t good for my face. She tells me it is getting worse. Apparently having too much work is not helpful. I sigh and fold my head between my legs, begging for this conversation to end soon. She yells that I am rude and that we can be done talking for the day. I duck past my reflection in the kitchen window and head upstairs, taking two at a time. I have been living in this repeated cycle of conflict and avoidance for almost 18 years now. I have perfected it. 14 stairs to my room from the kitchen. Enough time for her to drop the F bomb once, maybe twice if she was in a mood. Taking the stairs two at a time eliminated the chance for a third time.
These were my evenings. My mornings were almost the same. Lucky Charms and spilt milk. Smudged mascara and a forgotten water bottle. There was usually less swearing, though, because Mom was at work. Every day had a predictability. Every day I awoke with the same fears, insecurities, and dread of the next 24 hours.
April 25, 2015 was approximately the 10,000th time this day had repeated. I woke up, picked out a sweater and a plain pair of pants, and threw on my boots. I hadn’t had time to do my hair the night before, so I put it up in a ponytail secured by a blue elastic and called it a day. I hardly ever looked in the mirror. My face was put together wrong, and I didn’t like to dwell on things I couldn’t change. Plastic surgery? you might ask, to which I would reply: Expensive as fuck and I’m a minor. It was easier to just avoid mirrors anyways. I grabbed my backpack, a snack, and my headphones, and I headed out the door.
I loved the outdoors. You were much less likely to run into a mirror there. There was lots of other stuff going on that took the attention away from me, and I loved it. I tried to put myself in scenes of chaos in hopes that I could melt into the background, become pixelated, and be forgotten. I kicked the leaves as I walked to school and stepped on every crack in the sidewalk. Crazy kid I am.
The first period bell rang at 7:55, which meant that you could find me strolling into class casually at 7:54:35, folding myself into the chair furthest to the left and in the back row. You see, I had done this like 20,000 other times, so, everything had been timed out to a science. 1:30 to go through the metal detector. 45 seconds to go to my locker. 10 to get the code right, and another 10 to grab my books without looking at the reflective metal on the inside of my locker. Shit was so worn down, and yet I could somehow still see my face in its grimy reflection. Some world we live in. Anyways, it was 25 seconds to the classroom, and here we are. Every day, the arrangement was the same. Confident Nerds at the front with the Barbie Girls, followed by the Self Conscious Nerds and the Sport Boys, and then in the back, Me. There were a few other nobodies that sat around me, but it would be off-brand for me to know their names, so, I don’t. I have a feeling that they avoid reflective objects too, though.
First period is art. It’s stupid, vague, and useless outside of the styrofoamed walls of a disheveled public high school. Usually we are tasked with coloring some animal or making something out of clay. No matter the project, I always make the same circular blob because in art, you seriously can’t be wrong. The teacher always calls my work a “creative masterpiece” to which I respond with a slight scoff and then we both continue on our days. It really is that simple. Like I said, I’ve done this before.
Today, Ms. Leechy, our rather plump, annoyingly optimistic teacher that ate unicorns for breakfast, came in with her store-bought smile plastered to her face like an advertisement. She was carrying a bag of something that was making a ton of noise and sounded faintly like a bag of cats being thrown against a wall. She heaved it on to the top of her desk and stood before us, grinning as if she had just cured cancer or something of the like. She reached into her bag of horrible things and pulled out something that was small and rectangular. I couldn’t make out exactly what it was, but her following sentence made me certain that I hated it.
“We are going to be making portraits!”
Fuck. That is definitely a mirror. You all are probably thinking that I’m crazy, right? Like just draw your usual circle and stop having some weird fear of your own reflection… but I would tell you that a) This was worth 40% of our year long grade and b) F you.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, she continued: “And you’ll be drawing someone else!”
It wasn’t that I didn’t like myself. I hated everything about me. My eyes were too small, and my nose didn’t curve right. My bottom lip was way bigger than my top one and my hair was the kind of color you would forget about if someone didn’t remind you. I had a chin that was too pointy and a forehead that was too small. I had every reason to hate myself entirely, and although I had done my best to become invisible, you can’t hide from yourself.
We got paired up “randomly,” which meant that she paired all of the memorable kids with good faces with each other and then paired up whoever was left. That meant I was with Liam Torry, a short kid who was also forgettable. She sat us each at our own table and forced us to face each other. We both had a mirror, pencil, and sketch pad. Why do you need a mirror if you are drawing another person, you might ask? I would tell you that you don’t, but Ms. Leechy would tell you that “The best art happens from observing things from more than one angle, all at once.” Load of shit.
I absolutely refused to look in the mirror. No way in hell was I going to study my reflection, analyze my face, and then draw it in year-old crayon. Not happening. So, I decided to focus on the other piece of the assignment.
I wasn’t entirely excited. Mom said that art was not a career. Mom said art was dumb. So, I rarely drew. While the other kids colored, I was doing my multiplication tables and fixing the too-tight bow on my head. It was a waste of time that had resulted in me having no artistic ability whatsoever.
Anyways, Liam picked up his pencil and started drawing without saying anything. My face was burning and I tried my best to hide it behind my hair. I figured that the only chance of escape here was to focus on something else and hope that an asteroid hit the school at some point in the next 30 minutes, so I started to sketch. Liam’s head was a normal shape, sort of like a squashed circle. His eyes were dark blue, navy, and round. I had no idea how to draw noses, so I fudged it the best I could, although his wasn’t half bad. His lips were small and angular, pressed together now in focus. Overall, his face really wasn’t all that hard to draw. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was good enough. And much better than mine. Although I was looking down at my paper, I could tell he was staring intensely at my face. I don’t know why he was taking this so seriously, or maybe he was just an angry kid, but it seemed weird that he would be this into drawing MY face. It was sort of weirding me out, and I really wanted to go into the bathroom and slam my head against the wall. I shaded a bit more before glancing over at the clock, and holy shit: 3 minutes left in class. If this kid didn’t hurry the fuck up, he was totally going to wreck my schedule. I only allotted myself 45 seconds of buffer time in between first and second period.
The clock continued to tick its rhythmic song as Liam curiously peered at my face, occasionally scribbling something down, erasing it, and then replacing the original pencil marks. I had basically finished mine, and although it was in no way an accurate representation of what this kid looked like, my art skills were limiting and it was “adjacent” to what a portrait of him would look like. I tried to hide my face in the neckline of my sweatshirt — didn’t work. I couldn’t bring myself to look in any of the mirrors that were plaguing the classroom, so instead I focused on the clock, hoping that Liam would be done sometime this century. A few seconds before the clock read 9:30, and the class ended, I felt Liam staring at me. I turned my head back and he had set his drawing in his lap, obviously at peace with whatever he had managed to draw up.
He swallowed twice, relatively awkwardly, and then said, “Uh – you wanna see?”
Just to be clear here, I would rather – slam my head through the drywall of this dilapidated classroom and stay there until death could relieve me – than look at this drawing.
But he looked sincere, and I could tell he wasn’t going to leave me alone until I saw whatever horrific thing he made.
He spun around the clipboard and I squinted, hoping to distort whatever picture would soon be in front of me. To my dismay, I could still see relatively clearly. Hopeful, he grinned and awaited my reaction.
The picture was definitely not going in a museum, but it was way better than mine. The lines were cleaner, and this picture looked much less like a blob and much more like a fully formed human. The eyes were even and almond shaped. The hair was neatly tucked behind two semi pointed ears and parted right down the middle. The lips were tucked neatly between an almost straight nose and a smooth chin.
Is this what I looked like? There is no way that the reflection I gawked and cried over is the same person represented in this picture. It felt like maybe he had messed up, or was trying to make me feel better about myself. I mean, who could draw someone that looked the way I did? My features were beyond modern art techniques, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
Liam was still sitting, goofily smiling, waiting for me to say something.
“Is that really what you think I look like?”
“Well, yeah… Do you not like it?”
“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I do, I do. It’s much better than mine. I’m sorry.”
I turned around the sketch I had made and he laughed a bit.
“No worries, I like it. Plus, they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so, no use stressing about it.”
My pulse slowed for the first time that day.
Liam said, “Look at the clock; I guess we’re running a little late.”
We were never going to make it.