Duckling

I feel bad for all the people born pretty. You come into the world, and people expect everything from you. Maybe you have big beautiful blue eyes, or a speckle of freckles across your nose, so light they’re almost pink. Those poor souls born with perfect symmetry and piano-playing fingers and blessed with preternatural thinness – those folks were born with winning lottery tickets, and now fate wants to know what you would do with the money.

The world really belongs to the ugly ducklings. Born with a blank check and bad credit. A bum leg, a squashed face, a lop-sided skull. Poor you, the world says. You can be a janitor and everyone would expect it – how could they expect more? You could spend your days on minimum wage, enjoying a tiny house with a little lawn to drink tallboys on, and everyone would talk about how sweet you were, once they got to know you.

Me, I was born with a head twice as large as my body, a crooked nose, and a full set of teeth that always made the playpen mothers a little uneasy. “Look at that girl,” they would say in hushed whispers, a yard away from my own poor mother, born lovely but liveliness fading. I was big. Chunky. I beat up all the little boys in Kindergarten, and I had to wear braces all the way through junior high and high school. I tried not to stick out – straight C student. I sat in the back and pretended like I was one of the boys. I laughed at their burps, their farts, their second hand dirty jokes they learned from their older siblings.

“Aw, Sadie, you’re one of the guys,” they would say at dances, where we tried so hard to be part of the wall in our plaid and stripes that we might as well have been wallpaper. Then they all got girlfriends, and I was left alone.

Beauty hit me way after high school, way after community college, my final year of my bachelor’s degree in accounting. My teeth had straightened and I finally started to care about my stringy hair. I had started running track for the school and lost all the Cheeto and SaraLee weight.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still hidden. I never bought new clothes in college. I still wore striped button-ups and beat up baggy jeans and glasses that fell down my face if I didn’t push them back up my nose constantly. I had learned that people didn’t expect anything from me if I sat in the back row and kept my nose a little snotty. My freckles could pass for dirt. I never understood those women’s magazines that told all the women to dress to show off their figure, and go down on a guy the first chance they got. I just didn’t care. I wanted to have my little house, I wanted to have my savings, I wanted to sit at home and watch television and maybe, once in a while, run around a track to get my heart racing.

After college, I woke up one day in my studio apartment without a single person to call. I didn’t have work, I didn’t have graduate school, yet. It was that negative space between goals, and I looked at myself in the mirror after my shower. My face was clear, symmetrical. I took off my towel and looked at my breasts, my hips, my muscular, sculpted legs.

“When did I get like this?” I asked myself, in the mirror. I barely recognized who I was. I put my hair up, out of my face, put on jeans and an oversized t-shirt, and walked to a department store.

I couldn’t believe the amount of people in the store who were trying to change who they were. I sat down in the shoe section and a well-dressed older gentleman slightly put down the running shoes I was wearing, and suggested a pair of 200 dollar flats that weren’t comfortable. In a daze, I bought them.

I bought a dress that another woman told me to try on, praising how it fit my figure, admonishing me for not showing off my legs. I bought bras that fixed my body’s shape into an hourglass, and a perfume that would “finally drive men wild,” as the salesperson put it. Two women from the make-up department put foundation and bronzer on my face, plucked my eyebrows while talking to each other, sprayed something I didn’t hear the name of into my hair. I bought everything. The 15-year-old who rang me up told me I could change into my new clothes in the store, and she sold me a bracelet that would match the dress and the shoes perfectly.

I walked out into the mall and felt new and strange, like a filet of steak that had been pounded and tenderized and shaped and then shrink-wrapped. Men and women looked me up and down, gave me double takes. I found a smoothie place and had the kids make me a protein shake, and I sat down in the food court, drinking and feeling out of sorts.

A science shop stood close to the food court, and I sipped at the last, unblended fruit pieces while I browsed the puzzles. Two pasty, fat looking preteens oohed and ahhed at a telescope. A 5-year-old tried to drag his mother into a small booth for a demonstration of a starlight projector.

I went in. There was only room for me and my bag. The projector was on the floor and the curtains closed to form perfect darkness, and then I pressed a red button and watched while galaxies projected all over my new body. My legs, my arms, my shiny new dress, my funny flat shoes. I didn’t know what I looked forward to, I didn’t know all the promise that the universe had in store, but it seemed like the scales were tipping.

3 thoughts

  1. Whoa. Can we talk about how this is a really great moment that encapsulates that complex mess of being a girl who just wants to be whatever and left alone/wanting to be pretty/vulnerable on display. And explores that rather that getting all preachy. Also, science. !!!!!!!! I have never stopped being a five year old kid when it comes to how enthralled I get by science stuffs. !!!!!!

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