I ran the rest of the way home. I don't know how I made it, but I did. The soles of my shoes were black when I reached the doorstep, and the seems were coming apart.
The obnoxious creaking of the door seemed silent compared to the raging sounds of my cynical analyzation combating my emotions. Part of me reiterated my personal mantra over and over; it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter...but another part of me was more in control. It was the part of me that ran upstairs and curled up on the floor crying.
I never wanted to impress him. That wasn't my plan. He seemed so helpless for that one second that I couldn't just stand there. Who would? Who would just stand and watch someone die without at least trying to look like they were doing something to help? I would've done it for anyone, but him especially...and that's because I love him. Because I couldn't live with myself knowing he wasn't going to be in my life anymore -that there wasn't a future for him. But still, is this what our world is coming to? Shock at a single gesture of kindness in a life or death situation?
Infatuation. The word seems so disgusting now. So repulsive, and simply because it was used on me. The ugly girl. The ugly girl who actually thought she would have a chance with the hottest guy in school.
At that thought, I jerked myself up off the ground, my limbs moving like I had strings attached to them. I stumbled to the bathroom and stared at the mirror. Blood boiled beneath my mottled, crusted skin. I reached up and ripped the lily out of my hair. Stupid thing. As if you could fix a face like mine with a plastic imitation of something beautiful. I didn't even notice the tears streaming down my face until I'd pulled the razor from the top drawer.
I paused at the sight of myself. Demonic looking, almost. Is this what I was going to do to myself? Have a psychotic fit every time someone wronged me? My sanity wasn't intact quite enough to calculate the consequences of my actions.
Raising a chunk of hair from my neck, I slowly and deliberately sheared it off with the humming razor. Piece by piece, I removed the coarse, oily strands from my scalp. There. No more ugly hair.
I thought that might sooth the anxiety, put me at ease perhaps. But no, I needed to get rid of more. I needed it all gone.
Scrambling for anything rough, I pulled steel wool out of the cupboard, old, rough sponges from my mom's cabinets, turned the faucet on full blast, and scrubbed. All over my body, I ground the material into my skin, prying off flakes of skin, pulling off the hard shell surrounding my body, and scrubbing those tender areas until I could feel it, until the water dripping off my skin turned pink. My raw flesh gleamed under the fluorescent, free of lumps and unnatural coloring.
I sat down on the tile of the shower, letting the rain of blisteringly hot water pound against my fresh skin. Staring, almost peacefully, at my bony hands, laying back in the water pooling beneath me, feeling the pain I've never felt. This burning, agonizing sensation shivering through me was alien, but I allowed it to take over, enjoying it, appreciating it along with my newly soft and tender skin.
I eventually fell asleep there, under the water. Bald and bleeding all over, perhaps I looked like an overgrown baby. But what did I care? I was already ugly.
No one woke me up, no one even came in the house, to my knowledge. It doesn't matter, though. It's not like I was presentable in public. No one would want to see me.
Dreams washed through me, flowing freely through the blood that was now outside as well as inside. Occasionally there were nightmares that looked and sounded a lot like the party. I heard his voice and saw his face. I tried to wake up, and eventually began doubting that I was even really dreaming. At some point I begged for someone to take my life. To drag me out of whatever drug-induced hallucination I was having.
I could vaguely feel my body giving away beneath me, softening, loosening, and a feeling like little creatures were crawling all over me. Like my flesh had taken on a life of it's own and was scrunching and moving at it's own will, trying to peel itself from my bones and muscle. My dreams faded into a blank, dull reality that I could hear and feel, but could not see. All the better. I didn't want to wake up and have to look in the mirror. I didn't want to see the face that single-handedly made my life hell.
I can't remember how long it took me to realize that I wouldn't be able to stay like that forever, but whenever that was, I woke with a nerve-wracking nausea that forced me out of the shower. Dripping and naked, I doubled over the toilet, vomiting until I couldn't feel my stomach anymore
Once I felt empty, I turned off the shower faucet and rinsed out my mouth, resisting the urge to look in the mirror. I couldn't deal with that right now.
Avoiding reflective surfaces, I put on a robe and trudged downstairs, searching fruitlessly for my mother. The answer to her disappearance was stated in the ever-beeping answering machine in the kitchen.
Amid the distinct crackling of a long-distance call, her one voice mail said;
"Honey, call me when you get home. You're brother had an accident. The doctor said he'll be okay, but I won't be home for a few days. There's money in the jar for gas and groceries, call me if you need me." Without any note of familiarity, or authentic reassurance, the voice mail beeped, letting me know there were no more new messages. For some reason, that made me feel empty.
I debated calling her back. I wasn't really in the mood to speak to anyone, but I was worried about my brother. In frustration, I raked my hand over my newly shaven head.
Except it wasn't shaven.
Instead of feeling tender, hairless skin, my fingers ran through locks of soft hair. Curls that were as fine and pleasant to the touch as a kitten's fur. I yelped and yanked on the hair, thinking there was something on my head, but all that did was cause a sharp pain in my scalp. I ran to the hall where a gilded mirror hung, terrified and confused.
What I saw in my reflection was even more terrifying and confusing.
I jumped back. For the first time in my life, I was looking at the reflection of someone who was not hideous. The skin I had rubbed raw just hours before was now as soft and delicate-looking as a child's or that of a model in a make-up commercial. Flawless, pristine. The color of sunshine, but as fragile as the petals of a flower. How could skin that had once been so rough and grotesque suddenly look like this? The new skin was spreading from my face, and down my neck. I could almost see the track of the new skin cells overcoming the old ones.
And the hair…my hair had always been something in the way. Strands of inconvenience that I struggled to pull off my face and neck. In their place was about an inch of golden coils springing out of the top of my head, which was now shaped as perfectly as if it were sculpted by a Renaissance artist. I reached up to touch the curls, just to make sure they were real. No way is this miracle happening now…after the years of praying to God on my hands and knees for something to happen to me, whether it was a slight improvement in my skin, or maybe even just a bit of grace….something attractive, some sort of appeal. And now my body was transforming into something almost…angelic.
Then I noticed my eyes. I sucked in a breath. Bluer than the sky, bigger and rounder than the eyes of a baby or a puppy, and framed by the longest, darkest lashes that I've ever seen on a teenage girl. It isn't possible that these were mine. It isn't possible that this was just happening to me. Did I get to keep this?
Reaching up to touch my face, and trace my new features, I noticed how graceful my hands were, how fluid my motions had become in the few moments it had taken me to transform.
How is this physically possible?
I wanted to scream. To dance around the house, to run through the streets with my new face, and show the whole world what had been hiding under my rough shell. With that thought, my full, pink lips curved into a smile, revealing teeth that were blindingly white, and impossibly straight, considering how crooked they had been previously.
I could have stood in front of that mirror all day, fascinated with myself, but I knew I needed to figure this out. I couldn't very well go walking the town, acting as if everything was normal. People would have questions…no one would recognize me. Did I even have the same finger prints? Could I prove I was myself? What if I scraped off everything that could be used to identify me? Surely my DNA wasn't different…
I pulled myself away from the mirror, practically skipping towards the phone in the kitchen…but I was still trembling. What if this was happening for a bad reason? What if I had a disease?
Pushing that thought away, I dialed my mother, not really knowing what I was going to tell her. My brother was what was most important, but a selfish part of me wanted my mother to know what had happened to me, for her to know that the child she had tried to hide from the world –the child she had been ashamed of- had somehow become beautiful.
"Mom, how is everything?" I asked, noticing that I sounded a bit shaky, and not at all hoarse and unappealing, as my voice generally was.
"Sweetie, is that you?"
"Yes, mom. Is James okay?"
"Oh, yes…are you okay, you sound a bit-"
"I'm fine," I said quickly.
"Okay, well, he's fine. Just a few bruises and a broken arm, and most likely an ear ache. He got quite a lecture from me about responsible driving…If you act this stupid when you're in college, I swear…" She mumbled. From that, I deducted that everything was okay.
"Well, at least he's okay. So are you going to be home soon?"
"Not until Tuesday," I heard her sigh. "They need to keep him for a little while longer to make sure he doesn't have any internal bleeding, or brain damage. I told them he was as big of an idiot as they come, and no injury could make it worse, but they didn't want to hear that."
Stiffling a laugh, I replied, "So, I should keep the house up until then. You want me to do your laundry? James', too?"
"No, no. You don't have to do that. I'll take care of James' crap when I get back. I already called work, and your school. I don't want you riding your bike to school. You don't have anything important to do in class, do you? No projects or anything?"
"Uh…" I thought about what happened at the party last night, and considered the prospect of walking into school with my new face. What would they think? Would they even believe it was me?
Instead of really answering, I said, "You know, I'll get a ride if I need to."
"Okay sweetie, just be careful. You've got Mrs. Trumble's number, right?"
Mrs. Trumble was our senile neighbor –our only neighbor- who's number has been taped to our fridge for the past couple of years in case we were home alone, and anything "went wrong, and we needed an adult around". I've never called her, and I've only seen her a couple times out in her yard, gardening.
"Yeah, I got it. I'll be careful."
"Alright. I love you."
"Love you, too, mom." I chewed on my lip. Should I tell her?
I guess not.
I crept back towards the mirror, hesitant, as if my new face would disappear. It was still there, maybe even more beautiful than last time. The new skin had spread even farther. Despite how short and uneven the curls were, they were unfailingly charming. Down to the shape of my eyebrows, I was perfect.
How am I supposed to explain this? I could just imagine explaining to Ms. Harshburger, "Yes, ma'am, I just had cosmetic surgery over the weekend, and recovered fairly quickly." Then she would want to know the surgeon, where I went, and how long it took...
Staring at my reflection, I realized that I wasn't just pretty, I looked surreal. Like an angel in a religious painting from the eighteen hundreds. I was more beautiful than that, even...
I couldn't help thinking...I'm more beautiful than her.
Than Victoria. Than the Queen of Southwest High. I would put her to shame in one of her ridiculous beauty pageants.
A feeling rose up inside me, an empowering sensation that -on any other day- would have felt wrong. I felt pride...vanity. Things I learned to be afraid of in Sunday school. A lust for worldly possessions was taught to God-fearing southern girls like me as an undesirable trait in a person. No good Christian should think their face is what makes them better than other people...but isn't that what Victoria does? She puts on a good show for the members of the church, but as soon as she sets foot off holy ground, her looks and social status were the only things that mattered.
I took a step away from the mirror. I couldn't be like her. I could never humiliate anyone the way she humiliated me all these years. She was evil with a cute face.
I decided something just then. As opposite as Victoria was from her appearance, my personality had been just as opposing to my hideous face. Now that I looked like an angel, would I act like one?
There's only one way you can answer that when you follow the Bible. No amount of golden curls and smooth skin could change the way I am. I had been selfless to people that hurt me, and gave to those that never showed me kindness. Isn't that what good people do? Now that I had a pretty face to show the world, I could do more than that.
What I didn't realize then was that I had already figured out what I was going to do with my new body. Against every person that had ever done me wrong...
...I was going to wreak revenge.