Being born pretty was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me.
Beauty has a way of leaving your sanity tattered, bruised, left gashed and bleeding. If there is a soul, it’s ugly. Or at least homely.
This whole train of thought first burrowed itself into my head standing in line at Allison’s Market. Or was it Mort’s? The Family Foods down the street? Oak Drive Grocery in Adamsburg? I guess it doesn’t matter. It was some grocery store somewhere in some city. And as I stood there in line to check out, I glanced over at the magazine rack.
“55 Ways To Improve Yourself Through The Right Hair Products”
Gag-worthy, I know. Even the picture, the typical skinny, overly beautiful girl staring at you, was sickening. Her hips leaned in the just-right position, her smile big and plastered on, showing all those perfect pearly white teeth.
That would have been three months ago? The “Inner Beauty” photo shoot in Glaston. I threw up six times that day.
If you didn’t figure it out from there, I’m that perfect girl in the picture. For as long as I remember, I’ve been that girl in that picture. Or other pictures like it. I’ve graced the cover of plenty of magazines.
I was the spokesperson for:
“How To Make A Guy Shake With Only Your Eyes”
You can see my chest right next to:
“25 Ways To Sex Up And Sex Out”
That’s me lying down on the beach with the words:
“Look Better Naked In Only Two Weeks”
There is a theme here. Sex. That’s apparently all beauty is good for, sex. Fuck forbid we have my picture next to:
“How To Be A Successful Career Woman”
“Astrophysicists Are More Than Just Their Minds”
I had to actually turn away from myself when I realized I hated being perfect. I re-imagined my own picture in my head with a big, hairy mole right on my eye. My nose, crooked as if it had been broken. My teeth yellow, with a large gap off to the side. I even imagined myself 230 pounds, and about 6 inches shorter. Then I imagined it all at once. I had to keep from laughing right there in the check out lane.
The gears were turning that day, and maybe that’s why I’m here now. Maybe if I hadn’t pictured myself like that, I wouldn’t have listened to what Comrade Lily had to say. I wouldn’t have let her talk me into all this. I would have smiled, put on my lip moisturizer, checked my eyes in the rearview mirror, and went right back to the hotel where the “Lucky Lady Love” pageant was being held. The world is full of maybes.
I shook the thought from my head as I felt someone staring. I glanced over at Comrade Lily, and sure enough she was giving me one of her looks. Well, actually it was really her only look. But it was an affective one. The way she looked, it was as if she knew I was thinking about her. I swear that girl can read minds. Or at least sense emotion shifts.
I gave her a half-smile and turned the other direction, glancing over at Comrade Carnation. She was staring intently ahead of her. As was Comrade Hibiscus next to her. As was Comrade Ladyslipper next to her. I followed their gaze back to Mr. Evermore. He was droning on about this and that, the future being bright and how we would be carried on the wings of angels into the greatest of known loves. It was all a bit too mushy at times, but it was a gentle thought. It was a way to escape the harshness of all the thoughts that weren’t quite as gentle.
I closed my eyes and focused again on Comrade Lily. How we met. Some corporate coffee shop a few blocks from the hotel. I stopped in to get a half-caf no-sugar dairy-free low-sodium iced latte. With no added flavors. Gag-worthy, but it was the only thing “The Sarge” would let me drink. He said if I was going to be a lady, I’d have to drink coffee that wouldn’t turn me into a spaz. That was the word he used. Spaz.
I decided to drink the latte there. I never drink the latte there. Maybe some hand of God or strings of Fate held me there that day. Knowing that not twenty seconds after sitting down, she walked in.
Comrade Lily is not going to ever be:
“Legs Are For More Than Walking”
“You’re His Dream Girl, Now Start Looking Like It”
I would never call her ugly, but she was not perfect. I envied her the moment she walked past me. The way her clothing looked warn, as if she’d had them for years. The way her hair clumped lightly in the back, perhaps not shampooed and conditioned for forty five minutes each day. She wasn’t even wearing makeup. Something I never thought I’d respect so much.
For some reason, she reminded me at that very moment of the day I got caught in a rain storm right before a “Vanity Love” photo shoot. I was all set to be:
“Let Your Curves Do The Talking”
However, the rain totally trashed the three-hour makeup. And it matted down the two-hour hair. It even ruined the 600 dollar dress. All that for nothing. I threw up four times that day.
I lost the magazine shoot, and “The Sarge” was beyond livid. He said he would have hit me if it wasn’t for the fact he couldn’t afford to “bruise the merchandise”. That was the word he used. Merchandise. He basically called his own daughter goods to be bought and sold for profit.
“You ever think there was more than this?”
It startled me. I snapped up suddenly, and there she was. Comrade Lily. In all her unglory. Sitting across from me. Giving me that same blank stare. Not uncaring, but not caring either. Neutral. Everything about her was status quo. Neither happy or sad. Just status quo.
“I… I’m sorry?”
“Seriously, here we sit in some shithole coffee shop, sucking down what can only be described as mass-produced puppet-fuel, it just makes you wonder, don’t it. Is there anything more than this?
“I… I guess. I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“No, but I know you. Or at least I know what kind of you you are.”
That’s how it all started. It only took ten minutes for Comrade Lily to get to the point. She thought I should come with her to meet Mr. Evermore. Join his “Garden”. And I did. I dropped everything I ever had. 23 years of life, gone in a second. I didn’t even contact “The Sarge” to tell him I was gone.
That was three months ago. Since then, I’ve lived with “The Garden” in a large mansion in the middle of some town in some state. We all were given robes and pants to wear, a dark green color. We all slept on cots. There were roughly three dozen of us at a time, some would come and go. Others would always stay. I was in a room with three other girls the majority of the time. Comrade Lily, Comrade Ladyslipper, and Comrade Carnation.
Speaking of Comrade Carnation, she managed to elbow me right in the ribs while the last three months were looping around in my head like a video tape. I winced a little and turned over to her. She smiled that beautifully crooked smile, and winked at me.
“Can you believe that today is the day?! I’m so jealous that you only had to wait three months. It’s been six years since I joined The Garden, and I always hoped this day would come. And now it’s here.”
I mustered a smile and nodded. I don’t know if I was excited or scared, all I knew was that I was committed, and anything was better than the alternative. Anything was better than being paraded around like someone’s trophy. Displayed and judged, photographed and lusted for. Anything is better than being wanted.
For some reason, my mother leaked into my head just then. I closed my eyes again and felt her combing my hair, like she used to do when I was a little girl. Before the prize money, before the shiny crowns, before the drugs and sexual abuse. Before watching my friends die of bulimia and anorexia.
She was beautiful. And I don’t mean makeup and hair styled to be beautiful, my mother was naturally gorgeous. She wasn’t perfect, she was far too pretty for perfect. And such a kind and loving person. She taught me how to be strong, smart, caring. She also never stopped “The Sarge” from whoring me around like an object. She just sat quietly and hoped that I was enjoying it.
I didn’t. I never liked a moment of it. The smiles were always fake. The friends were real, but the friendships were superficial. I cared about those girls, but we never really knew each other. All we knew is each others pain. And you’d be surprised how close that can make you feel to someone. When Kellie slit her wrists after that judge in Toluca finger-fucked her in exchange for first place, I cried for a week. Not because she was dead, but because she was fifteen. And because I was fifteen. And because he said the same things to me when he was doing the same thing to me. I threw up twice that day.
Tears well up under my eyes as I open them back up to the brightness of the Sermon Room. I looked over at Comrade Lily, and sure enough, she was giving me another look. I knew what that look was saying too. It was saying: Quit Crying. It won’t do you any good.
She’d said that to me before. The day I realized what it was Mr. Evermore wanted us to do. What “The Great Guidance” really was. I cried because I didn’t know if I was against it. I was actually neutral to it. When she told me what it was, I just stared for awhile. Sure, the tears eventually came. But I had no idea if they were tears of sadness or tears of relief. I threw up only once that day.
I wiped the tears away and threw up a smile. Not a fake plastered-on pearly white smile, but a real smile. A smile and a nod. That was about all I could do at this moment. That, and take the tiny paper cup off the tray that Comrade Violet held in front of me suddenly. She smiled and whispered to me.
“See you in the Great Garden, Comrade Rose”
I mouthed “you too” and watched her walk on. I glanced down at the dark purple liquid in the cup and caught my own reflection on the surface.
I’m not as perfect anymore. At least not by “The Sarge’s” standards. But to me, I was perfect now. At least as perfect as I felt I should be.
No makeup. No hair. I shaved my head along with all the other girls about a month ago. I was now:
“Learn How To Better Yourself By Letting Go”
“You’re The Only You That Matters”
I was happy that day. Watching my blonde hair clump at the bottom of a big, brown industrial wastebasket in the lawn. Laughing and smiling with Comrade Lily. Well, I was laughing and smiling anyway. She just had that look. That cold yet warm look. But I felt something new in her eyes that day. Perhaps she cared about me. I knew I had learned to care about her. I smiled as the last bits of my old life fell off me like dead skin. I threw up zero times that day.
Mr. Evermore’s voice suddenly jumped up. He yelled into the room at us, his flowers.
“The time is now, my beautiful Flowers. It is time we head to the Great Garden, together.”
A few of the girls had already turned the cups upward to their lips. Comrade Tulip had already downed the cup and was sitting on the floor, cross legged and ready.
I placed the cup to my lips as well, and slowly tipped it upward. But something was wrong. As the first drops of liquid hit my tongue, I saw Comrade Lily out of the corner of my eye. She was moving. And fast.
In the next instant, the liquid was down my throat, and I had turned my focus back to Comrade Lily. She was on stage with Mr. Evermore. And something was in her hand. A sound escaped my stained-purple lips that could only be described as a yelp. It was a gun. And in another instant, it was pointing at Mr. Evermore’s head.
The rest of the girls held mixed reactions. I heard screams and cheers and cries for Comrade Lily to stop. I heard words of encouragement.
“Send him to the Great Garden with us, Comrade Lily!” shouted Comrade Carnation.
“No, he must stay so he can gather more flowers!” yelled Comrade Tulip.
None of it matters, because all that happened next was the echo of a gun blast. And through the growing fog, all I could see was a splash of red on the wall. And a thud as Mr. Evermore fell to the ground. Comrade Lily took a moment to re-adjust and turned forward.
And for the first time, she smiled. She slowly turned the gun and pointed it at her own head, as tears poured down her face. She looked at me, the tears meeting the smile. She mouthed something. It was hard to make out, but just as she could read emotions, she seemed to also be able to project them.
“I love you”
That’s all she said. And then in an instant, her red joined Mr. Evermore’s. Her body collapsed next to his on the stage. In the ever-growing haze, I could still see her smile. It hadn’t left her face as it now lay lifeless facing me. That smile was oddly comforting considering the situation. I knew she meant what she tried to say. And I knew I loved her too.
She taught me that mundane was just as wonderful as anything. She taught me that it was okay to be average. She taught me so much in only a few months. She opened me up and pulled the doubt out. She left me confidant and relieved. My whole life was washed away, and in it’s place: happiness.
I smiled as the whole room began to dim. The bitter taste of the Kool-Aid was hanging on my tongue, which was slightly burning from the Cyanide mixed in. I looked over as some of the flowers began to wilt. Comrade Carnation grabbed my arm and pulled me into an embrace.
“Goodnight, Comrade Rose.”
“Please, call me Sarah”
“Of course… Sarah…”
And at that moment, Comrade Carnation was not with me. She was at my feet. With that same satisfied smile that Comrade Lily had. Peace amongst the chaos.
I stumbled a few feet forward. My whole body felt heavy, weakened. But I wanted to be as close to Comrade Lily as possible before the end. I stepped over Comrade Tulip, motionless on the floor, and dropped to my knees. Then to all fours. I crawled the rest of the way to the low stage, and rolled myself onto it. I was only inches away from Comrade Lily. My face and her face, in a dead lock. That smile, that beautifully ugly smile. It met my eyes as I lay there. I smiled back. At that moment I was:
“Perfect In Imperfection”
I wanted her to be the last thing I saw. I focused on it. I breathed out a sigh of relief, as everything flashed through my head. The Sarge, the Pageants, my Mother.
And then… and then… And then…