So you ask, “How could anyone so drop-dead gorgeous be afraid of mirrors?”
I was like, I’m only seventeen and my face is a minefield of pimples (well, maybe only one big one) and my cheeks are this sucky red, almost like a rash. All I could think of was this girl named Rose, who all the boys called “Rosacea,” and who Alex Youngblood said had lip herpes from going down on guys.
I was telling Megan about this when there was this mega-loud bam outside my bedroom window, like our metal garage door came crashing down on my dad’s vintage Jaguar.
“What was that?” Megan asked.
“I think my garage door went kerplunk. It’s been making weird noises but after the landscapers started eye-groping my mom, my dad said no more laborers for a while.”
My mom’s even prettier than me.
“Lucille,” Megan said, “do you really think a garage door kerplunking could be that loud? It sounded like it came from Echo Pond.”
Lucille’s the name of this Goth girl in school, who could be pretty with a little TLC, but she hangs out with these AV guys, doing artsy-fartsy projects no one cares about. One day she filmed us coming out of school, saying, “Now here are the pretty, popular girls going to get their nails done.” Trish Thurber, another one of my friends, called her a stupid bitch, and after that, anytime a girl did or said anything stupid we called her Lucille.
“It was probably just a gigantous tree falling,” I said.
We live close to the country club, where a few years ago a huge tree limb broke off on the golf course and almost killed Ashley Silva’s dad, which would’ve been a shame because he looks like that vampire dad in Twilight.
“You’re probably right,” Megan said, “but let’s talk about your face. I think it’s what they call facial stress.”
“Yeah, I read that your skin can get stressed out.”
“You mean like have a nervous breakdown?”
“How can skin have a nervous breakdown, Lucille?”
“I don’t get it.”
“Obviously, but you can do something about it.”
“Go to the mirror.”
And I did.
“Now look at that beautiful face, Dory. First say, ‘That’s the most beautiful face in the whole senior class. They might’ve voted Sabrina Flint homecoming queen but no one can rock a prom like Dory Scheff.’”
Which happens to be true, though I think my prom dress was what really destroyed them. My mother had wanted me to wear this classic satiny thing that made me look like Jane Eyre, but I talked her into a Drew Jacquard two-piece dress that caught everyone off guard.
Even Megan doesn’t have the abs to wear that dress.
“But what about this big pimple on my forehead?” I said. “I look like a cyclops, and my eyes are so saggy you’d think they’re having babies.”
“Please, no more about the eyes, you bitch.”
We both laughed because that’s the way we talk to each other. Some people think we’re airheads but they’re just haters, like Lucille. Megan and I both got into good colleges. That didn’t happen because we’re stupid. And who plans on working after college, anyway? Isn’t the point to meet a guy?
“Now about your eyes, Dory,” Megan said. “I’ve been doing some reading. It’s like you got all these blood vessels overlapping like spider webs, and when you’re stressed, they expand or explode, I forget which …”
“So, first, you need more sleep, and then you, wait a minute, I wrote it down, you gotta ‘hydrate and exfoliate,’ and use a ‘lightweight face oil with salicylic acid.’ After school we can go to Melanctha’s. That’s where my mom buys her stuff.”
My mom says Megan’s mom tries too hard to be pretty. That must be tough.
“But I get enough sleep,” I said.
“I’m talking about good sleep. You’re always obsessing, and remember, every time you obsess, more and more blood vessels explode.”
“Omigod,” I said, wanting to ask more questions, but that’s when an annoying scream of sirens broke the silence. By the time I reached my window the noise had stopped, replaced by bright red flashing lights that made the copper weathervane on top of my garage glow. I told Megan about it and she said I should check it out.
“No way,” I said.
“Why not? You could end up on TV.”
“With my luck, some guy will be dead, and instead of filming that, the cameraman will zero in on my cyclops pimple. Then a newscaster will ask, ‘Young lady, did you know the deceased?’ and I’ll say, ‘Yes, it was Mr. Gladstone. By all accounts he was an ace golfer and first-class pervert who eye-groped me every morning I jogged by his house. It makes sense that he’d strangle his golden Lab, then turn a gun on himself.’”
We both laughed, but as it turned out, it wasn’t very funny. The next day at school we learned that someone had shot Alex Youngblood. I mean, he was dead. I felt so very weird, like I was a part of it. Just two weeks ago at Luke Kelly’s party Alex started kissing me under this gorgeous Japanese maple tree. He wanted me to give him a hand job and I said no, but if I had, we would’ve been a thing for a while, like he was my boyfriend, and everyone would’ve been asking me how I felt about him getting shot.
But instead, we were told, like every five minutes, that counselors were available in the auditorium if we felt depressed, though no one was rushing off to see them. Alex wasn’t the kind of boy you’d miss. I mean, he never paid much attention to anyone but himself. Still, I wanted to find out who killed him, and I was disappointed when the police didn’t question me.
By the time school ended, I was more tired of Alex than when he was alive, so I wasn’t very happy when my mother started in about it. We were sitting on the patio sipping iced teas. She wanted to know what the school said (“Dunno!), if the police had any clues (“Dunno!”), and if I was afraid to go out at night now (“Really?”).
“So you’re saying, young lady, that you have no feelings about the shooting of a boy you grew up with?”
“I just don’t have any feelings about it right now,” I said. “Maybe I’ll be sad later. I heard that can happen.”
I didn’t believe that but my mother’s been in therapy since she was born, so I know what she likes to hear. I often wonder what she complains about to her shrink. How she got a varicose vein after my brother was born? How her Pilates instructor had an attack of appendicitis and was replaced by this really obnoxious Latino woman named Magdalena?
“Well, I’m here for you, Dory,” she said. “Do you hear what I’m saying?”
“Well, yeah, I’m right next to you. How can I nothear?”
But my mother wasn’t done yet. “I’m trying to decide whether I should call Alex’s mother.”
“Well, I’m on three committees with her. She’s a nice woman, and we planned to push you and Alex into driving the Mobile Cloak van this summer.”
She was referring to this van our church sends out every week that’s loaded with clothes for the homeless. I tried to picture Alex and me handing out clothes in the kind of neighborhood we’ve only seen on CSIepisodes. I believe it’s important to know who you are, and driving the Mobile Cloak van isn’t Dory Scheff.
“Why don’t youdo it with me?” I said.
You should have seen the panic on her face. “Because that’s not my job. I just organize the trips.”
Yeah, because you don’t want to do the dirty work, I felt like saying. You don’t want to fold or pack the clothes or talk to a bunch of smelly people with no teeth. I’d like to lay that truth bomb on her, but I’ll probably be doing the same thing in fifteen years. That’s what all her friends do, just so they can hold charity balls and see themselves in Rhode Island Monthly.
“I don’t mind bringing in canned goods,” I said. “I don’t mind the secret Santa stuff, either, though I can’t see some poor girl from South Providence walking around with an Ocher Dior bracelet without getting mugged. But I already did what you forced me to so I’d get into a good college.”
“That’s not why our family does community service,” she said.
“The only community service Dad does is tipping his caddie.”
I could tell she was angry because she kept moving her glass around on the patio table, which made an annoying screeching sound.
“From the day I started high school,” I reminded her, “you said I needed to get ‘credentials’ for a ‘premier’ college. I had to play a sport, join a few clubs, and do community service so people thought I had a social conscience.”
“I don’t think those were my exact words,” she said.
I was going to call her on that, but, fortunately, she seemed done quizzing me about Alex, so I didn’t have to think about him again until an hour later when Megan called to say there was going to be a vigil.
“When?” I asked.
“Tomorrow night,” she said, “At Alex’s. You think we should go?”
“I don’t have a choice,” I said. “Alex and I were almost a thing.”
“But you said you didn’t give him a hand job.”
“It’s about intent, Lucille. Everyone knows he thought of me as a long-term thing. The least I can do is pay my respects.”
“Do you know what you’re going to wear?”
“What’s the temperature supposed be?”
“Very hot, maybe even eighty at night.”
“I could just kill you.”
“Because I’m totally confused now. Like, there are a bazillion possibilities.”
“Whatever you do,” she said, “I wouldn’t attract attention to yourself. Kids will think you didn’t care about Alex, and you know how a certain Lucille and her friends will have fun with that.”
“Oh, screw them.”
“Well, then, I guess it’s time to pillage our closets and make a statement.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
After I got off the phone I took our Golden Retriever, Bella, out to pee, then finished a final project for history class on the Vietnam War (like who cares, it was so long ago). At about ten o’clock I ended up alone in my room. It was so hot all I wore were panties and a baggy white T‑shirt I bought in Cancun.
I felt depressed and lonely. I don’t know if it was the heat, or Alex, or maybe just the headache I had from going through all my clothes. I felt somehow that it was very, very important to choose the right outfit. I’d probably never know anyone who’d get shot again. Girls like Lucille think my life is easy because I’m rich and pretty but they can’t grasp what it’s like to be constantly stared at and judged. Even my dad’s friends get uncomfortable around me, and more than once I’ve caught them staring at my ass. Gross! Being pretty, you get used to that kind of attention, but you know that if you stop looking gorgeous for two seconds, you’ll vanish off the face of the earth faster than that little girl in Poltergeist.
When I get nervous like this, I massage some Jasmine Vanilla oil into my temples and try to think of good things, like my prom gown or the time I set the 6thgrade record for sit-ups. When that doesn’t work I reach for a tiny vial of my mother’s Ativan she thinks she’s misplaced. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was going to be an Ativan night, so I popped a pill. When my heart stopped its hyper beating, I closed my eyes, trying to bring back the image of my prom gown and the way everyone stared when I jogged into the auditorium, my tits bouncing like two happy pink balloons. It was like my date didn’t even exist.
As it turned out I decided on a green paper-thin linen mid-length Coachella-style dress for the vigil. I really wanted to wear white short shorts and this super cute Charlotte Russé silk crochet-trimmed deep V‑halter top but it all seemed too daring, and Megan convinced me the boys would think I was “disrespecting” Alex. Personally, I think she was afraid guys would be staring at me instead of her, though I had to admit she looked great in her sheer white cotton slacks and pink strappy chiffon tank top. All those donkey kicks have paid off.
Alex’s house was this huge mansion on a road that bordered the golf course but also looked out onto the bay, its front lawn only a hundred yards from the beach. Megan and I arrived there right as candles were being handed out and lit. Looking around I was surprised to see kids Alex never would’ve hung out with, especially a group of geeky boys who always have a stupid opinion on everything, and who had tried to start a Dr. Whoclub, which was based on a TV show older than my grandmother. When they gave me a flyer, I said, “Dr. Who?” and they all laughed. At first, I was furious, until I realized that in ten years I’d be hiring them all to cut my lawn or unplug the toilet. All these smarter-than-thou haters can get by in high school but eventually they end up owning comic book stores or working at Shaw’s and talking about Walking Deadepisodes while munching on Sugar Puffs.
Besides the Dr. Whocrew, there were about six pockets of the usual do-gooders, along with some jocks Alex played football with. One of them was Campbell McVeigh, who was laughing and passing around a joint. I had to smile when I saw him. Just recently he had tried to devirginized me but couldn’t put his thingee on. It wasn’t going to happen anyway, but now he won’t even look at me, probably because he’s afraid I’ll tell someone about it. It’s kind of awesome having that power over a guy.
“Look who else is here?” Megan said.
She was talking about Patti Rizzo.
“What’s the connection there?” Megan said.
“Probably just another slut Alex hooked up with.”
“Well, at least we know who’s going to be the eye candy tonight.”
I tried to stay calm but I was fuming inside. I had spent all day picking out an outfit that would make a statement without disrespecting Alex’s vigil, and then Patti shows up in a simple white, almost transparent hippie dress, separating herself from everyone else, so you have no choice but to look at her. Everyone says she ditzy but I don’t agree. She positioned herself perfectly on the highest part of the lawn, so the breeze off the bay blew her long, curly blond hair behind her like she was posing for a Vanity Fairphoto shoot. To make it worse, the house’s floodlights struck her from behind, making her glow like that exotic Elf queen in the Hobbit.
I stood there for a moment, taking in the scene, while the jocks continued to act up. Everything seemed a teeny bit surreal, like maybe the breeze had blown a marijuana cloud our way. It was then that my worst nightmare bumped into me: Lucille Gorski (what kind of last name is that?) and her boyfriend, Marty Scanlon. They were lugging their cameras, obviously intending to film parts of the vigil.
“I’m outta here,” I said to Megan.
We blew out our candles, hoping that might make our exit invisible, but Lucille wasn’t going to let that happen.
“And what brings the popular girls here tonight?” she said, pointing the camera about three feet away from my face.
“It’s not even on,” I said.
“Omigod,” she said. “Like you’re totally right. What a mega mistake. I just shoulda stayed home and painted my nails or mega obsessed about the color panties I was going to wear tomorrow.”
“We don’t talk like that,” Megan said.
Marty Scanlon laughed, then said, “Let it go, Lucille.”
“Totally, Marty. No problemo.”
They started to walk away, but I was mad now. I thought of everything I went through to be there, only to get insulted by a dwarf with short uncombed brown hair, who was wearing black Levi’s, a white T‑shirt, and black Converse basketball sneakers (Can anyone say, “Ellen DeGeneres?”).
“You know what you are?” I said to her.
She turned, and it was clear she was interested. “No, what am I, Cinderella?”
It was one of those big moments in life, but I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Come on, Lucille, let it go,” Marty said.
“No, I want to know what Cinderella thinks of me.”
All these ideas fluttered through my mind, but what popped out was, “You’re a Lucille, that’s what you are.”
Marty and Lucille seemed baffled by my comment, but Megan knew what I meant. “Yeah,” she said, “You’re so, so Lucille.”
That got us both laughing until we noticed kids were looking at us like we were crazy, so we decided we’d had enough of mourning, and about a half hour later, I found myself alone in my room, still unable to shake the image of Patti getting all that attention without even trying to be pretty. Frustrated, I went over to the mirror and began to work on my pimple again. As I cleansed and scrubbed it, I kept thinking about the vigil, angry that I’d gone. Life’s weird. You try to do something nice but end up realizing why it’s best to stay away from death and sadness and people who will probably struggle their whole lives just to buy a nice car. I know how bad that sounds but you can’t save the world, and haters can bring you down faster than a zombie virus.
After I cleaned the area around the pimple I rubbed in the oil Megan and I bought at Melanctha’s. It really worked, and I made Megan promise not to tell anyone else about it. I know that’s sucky, but beauty is partly about secrets, and you can always share them later, maybe in ten years when we’ll all have crow’s‑feet and toenail fungus, and be married with kids, and our lives, gasp, will be basically over.
Peter Johnson’s poetry and fiction have received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Rhode Island Council on the Arts, along with The James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Paterson Prize. His new book of prose poems, Old Man Howling at the Moon, was just published by MadHat Press, and an anthology he edited, A Cast Iron Aeorplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 Contemporary American Poets on Their Prose Poetry (MadHat), will be published in the fall of 2019.