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Far From Perfect
I know you hide your eyes when you’re upset. I know you carry makeup remover and extra mascara in your backpack so nobody has to know. I also know you carry tacks and Q-tips in there, too.
You have a reputation to uphold. You’re the perfect blue eyed, blonde haired little cheerleader. If you didn’t throw up after lunch every day, if you didn’t stick a Q-tip down your throat, feeling the burning vomit climb up, you’d never fit into your cute little cheer uniform. What good would that do you?
I know you cry after you do it. I know you brush your bangs over your eyes, because you know they connect to your soul. I know that your mascara runs down your face as you whimper so quietly in the stall, so quietly that nobody coming in would hear you.
I know you wipe those black spider webs off your face and reapply your makeup. I know sometimes you dig a tack into your flesh, causing little rich, vibrant red dots to come out of you.
Sometimes you do it on your stomach, and you get blood all over your camisole. Sometimes you do it on your ankle, causing red to seep through your white sock. Sometimes you do it on your shoulder, just where the straps of your uniform end.
I don’t know you, but I see you. I know you put hours into looking perfect, that you strive for perfection in everything you do. But I also know that this is far from perfection.
I won’t tell you that you need to get help. I won’t tell you that I’ve felt the burning vomit climb up my throat until it spilled into the toilet, or onto the floor. I won’t tell you that I’ve taken a knife and sliced my flesh until it ran like a faucet onto the bathroom floor, creating a puddle of thick, rich liquid on the tile, the sickening smell of rusty salt filling my nose.
I won’t say that I got help. That I got better. But I want to tell you that perky smiles, white teeth and pink glossed lips are just costumes when you’re ill like you are. I want to tell you that while your friends may buy whatever you tell them you do after lunch now, they won’t for long.
Somebody will catch you, they always do. You can spray Coconut Breeze perfume on you all you want, you can put on as much Caribbean Vanilla lotion on as you want, you can chew Pomegranate gum all you want, but nothing hides the stench of vomit. And you can say you cut your ankle with your razor by mistake, but there’s not much to be said about the scars on your stomach or on your shoulder. It’s pretty hard to come up with a perfect little lie for those. One day someone will see you in the locker room and wonder, maybe ask.
I used to be jealous of you, of your ability to look effortlessly beautiful, of your thick, blonde hair, curling gently at your elbows. I was jealous of your shining blue eyes as you stood on top of the pyramid, arms raised, yelling in your cute, squeaky high voice. I wished I could jump and twirl and flip the way you do, bounce around, seeming completely careless. Catch the football players’ eyes and wink, twirling little red pom poms in their faces.
But that’s a world of fantasy I realize, for everyone. Look at you now, sniffing in the mirror, trying to recreate your beauty. You wave the mascara want over your thick lashes and reapply your eyeliner. You think you’re back to normal, but you’re not. I think about it for a second, climbing down from the stall, looking you in your eyes and telling you the truth.
But then the door opens. Looks like you’re about to find out the truth a lot faster than I thought.
“Mandy!” a voice calls, a voice that’s bouncy and energetic, a voice that could only belong to a fellow cheerleader. “Mandy, what’s taking you so long?”
You stop putting your makeup on and smile at her. I know you’re embarrassed, seeing as the room still reeks of vomit, no summery island scents sprayed yet.
“Mandy, are you sick?” the girl asks in a fake concerned voice. “Did you throw…”
“No” you cover for yourself. “It’s from the girl before me. I…”
She gives you a strange look. You know you’re caught. Your makeup bag is sitting on the window ledge, you remover next to it, your bloody tack on the other side. Her eyes go to it.
“Mandy.” The girl’s voice is really concerned now. “What is this?”
From where I’m standing I see her pick up the tack, dropping it to the floor. I see her look at you, her eyes big and brown, growing in shock.
You cover your mouth with her hand, new tears forming. I know the feeling, I know how much you want to run into her arms for support, to let her love you.
“I can’t believe you.” She says instead, the way the usually do. “All this time…do you puke to stay skinny, Mandy? Do you stick things into your skin to make you bleed?”
“I just need a break from the pressure of being head cheerleader…” you don’t know what you’re saying. It’s pure rambling.
“There are no pressures, Mandy. You don’t have to be head. If it’s that much trouble tell coach you don’t want to.” She’s clearly angry at you. “You told me that the cut on your ankle was from your dog! You said you scratched your stomach on a rock in the lake this summer!” She’s yelling now. “You’re such a fake. You’re a liar!” She screams it, and I know you feel like your world is crashing down and hitting you hard.
“I know how hard you try to be perfect” she huffs at you, “but this is not perfection.” She’s holding one of your tacks, and now she hurls it at you. It clinks as it hits the floor. “I never thought you’d stretch yourself this far, Mandy.” She storms out, obviously hurt by you. I want to tell you she’ll come around, only because of the look on your face. And maybe she will.
You sink down and cry again, your fresh mascara now ruined.
I climb down off the toilet seat, and open the stall door.
You look at me, closing your eyes, disgusted with yourself, disgusted at me.
“It’s so far from perfect” I tell you, my voice calm and contained. “But it’s okay. I’ve been there.”
I eye your little pink, shiny bag, full of makeup and multicolored tacks. “I’ve been right there.”
You look at me, your eyes confused, lost. You’re wondering why I’m talking to you.
“You always knew, didn’t you?” you ask, putting your hand on your knee.
“Someone always does.”
You have no choice but to ask, “Is there any way to stop?”
“You need to get help.” I sit next to her, the tile cold against my thigh. She covers her eyes.
“I feel like such a terrible person. I lied to my best friend, I make myself…I don’t mean to, I really don’t. It’s just I want to be skinny, I need to be.” you stop, new tears brewing.
“Perfection doesn’t exist, this side of Heaven” I say, putting my hand lightly on your shoulder. “Never has and never will.”
You do something shocking. You put your head on my shoulder. I ignore the smell of regurgitated peanut butter and Cheetos.
“It goes away” I tell you, looking at the door. “Nothing lasts forever. But it takes work.”
“Will you help me?”
Another shocker. And here I thought you were stuck up and prissy.
I help you up and we lock eyes. You laugh, and I smile. You’re a mess right now, but a down to earth, far from perfect mess.
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