To my editors Alex and Brendan, and my dearest, Isabella, thank you.
For the hidden and scorned princess
I hear that name again. I pause for a second, anxiously waiting for more.
Give it another second. Standing impatiently, I’m in the bathroom soaking wet as the lingering cold envelops me. I hear nothing but calm, muffled talk on the other side of the house. I suppose it can’t be all that important. No one’s pounding their fist on the door. That’s new.
I sigh melodramatically like there’s some voyeuristic audience, believing I was just hearing nothing.
No, I hear it again. That name…
That goddamn name.
I’m silent, breathless, unable to move a single bone in my body. Only my wandering eyes betray ever passing for a statue.
Stop saying it. Just fucking save your breath.
Too bad. There she goes again.
Her voice, soft and inquisitive, dissipates into the steam. The lack of hostility in her voice doesn’t soothe me. No matter if her or anyone else offers praise or a cheer, that name never fails to gnaw on my nerves.
I come to a few moments later.
Can’t believe I just stood there. Does seem to be happening a lot lately. Happens here in the shower, out in the garden, or alone, walking home from school. I’ll come to an abrupt stop and my mind just…
Truly, I don’t know what to call it. It’s not anxiety, it’s a whole lot deeper than that.
Anxiety I can manage. I like to think I can, anyways. Take a few concentrated breaths in through the nose, hold, out the mouth, hold, and repeat. If you haven’t had enough, add a few more breaths to the routine. Just walk it off and force your mind and muscles onward.
What I’m dealing with drags me and all my baggage along. Each step feels progressively heavier; suffocating without leaving me winded. Time for everyone else moves at its normal pace while I continue to lag, and it worsens with each passing day. I’m not evolving.
Okay, I’ve got to get out of my head. It’s way too cold in here to be fooling around like this. Without thinking, I reach up to wipe away the condensation on the mirror. I step closer and lean in.
Bitch, you thought wrong.
There they are. I know this face; I’ve seen it thousands of times before. It’s me, objectively it must be me, but it just isn’t. No way.
I try not to glance down.
The mirrored gaze ahead meets my eyes as I brush my teeth and do my skincare routine. Yeah, I really wasn’t trying to look at you either. Surely this isn’t what I’m gonna look like, right?
I haphazardly begin to apply creams and serums trying to rush out of the bathroom.
Y’know, why should I bother? I don’t like my face. Why make things worse by making it healthier? There’s some logic in that. Whatever. Fuck it.
I glance up and turn away.
Wait, what was…
I look back at my mug.
There it is. That glint in the fog. Where did it come from?
Throwing caution to the wind I look deeper into my reflection. I thoroughly scan every pore, each blemish, and an assortment of other unsightly features. Nothing.
I keep looking. I follow a lone tear running down my face up to the source. I look into my eyes and there it is, that sparkle, and can’t help but smile. The corners of my lip stretch up. I’ve got a full, silly grin in no time.
I feel renewed. Like the brilliant flash of a new star coming into being.
No, stop it. This is stupid.
You’re just making it all up. You can’t will yourself to be happy. Don’t be weird.
I close my eyes. I start to breathe. Time to come back down to reality. Breathe in through your nose and out the mouth. Keep your back straight, carry on with your business, and concentrate on the moment. Let’s be done here and get to bed.
I open my eyes and level my head toward the mirror.
She’s looking back at me with relief and a slight grin.
Is that me?