The rain sounded beautiful last night. Fresh and light. There was nothing mean about it.
The streets feel cleaner when it rains, and the heaviness of moisture in the morning adds a layers to the city birdsong. Partly sleeping, partly dreaming, stirring and fussing, the rain wears away the sharp corners of my uneasiness. But it doesn’t stop me from thinking.
I have an idea for a fable. It’s a short story about two ogres who live in the woods on the edge of town. They give birth to a beautiful baby girl. The baby is so stunning, so exquisite that even as a squalling infant, it hurts to look at her.
The ogres are ugly, but they are good and kind and they know with their hearts that this beautiful baby should be raised by beautiful people. They don’t understand beauty at all, though they’ve heard it’s a curse; they mistake the wimple and veils of the nuns at the local nunnery for misguided attempts to escape beauty’s malediction. They assume by the nuns’ flourishing gardens, that the nuns live somewhere in the ballpark of beautiful. So, with a flood of tears, they leave their little girl on the cloister steps, wrapped in a blanket her ogre mother knit from the leaves and branches of ferns from the forest floor.
The nuns, an unhappy lot, embrace the little girl and help her bloom like the flowers in the surrounding fields. But they don’t know much about raising children. Most of the sisters at the nunnery are there by desperate design or tragic accident. They latch onto the purity of the girl and rely on her to carry their grief. Since they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a child, they do very little in the way of discipline.
The nunnery has no mirrors, but by three, the ogre’s child knows, by the way the nuns look at her, that she’s special. By five, she’s frustrated by the heavy weight of the nun’s secrets and their bristling austerity, especially given nature’s riotous glamour just outside their doors. She kicks and bites the nuns when they whisper in her perfect little ears. Somehow, she’s learned to swear. She is a wild child.
One day, a childless princess discovers the girl in a field with flowers knotted in her hair. She is swept away into the manicured gardens of wealth and privilege where her excruciating beauty is lapped up by tutors, royalty, and suitors, all of whom she treats with disdain. All she wants is to roll in the dirt and stomp on bugs, pick flowers, and tear fruit from trees to devour then and there.
She’s not allowed to do any of this anymore, but no one can stop her from screaming. Which she does well into her twenties. Her adoptive royal parents, worse at discipline than the nuns, try to marry her off, as she has destroyed three rooms, the pantry, many royal doilies macramed by the queen herself, scared off countless nannies, house-keepers, and butlers, and, quite frankly, given the kingdom a bad name.
A parade of princes, knights, and adventurers court her. She pushes them off their horses, curses their mothers, and scoffs at their dreams. And then, one day, while strolling the royal gardens with an unsuspecting suitor from a far and distant country, she spies a door that’s been left open by the gardener. It leads to the other side of the palace walls. Just as the suitor bends to one knee and commences reciting a poem in his native tongue, she bolts through the door, and into the haunted forest beyond the place she now calls home.
Within a day, she is dirty and tired. Her dress is ripped from briars and burrs. Her hair is a frazzle as clumps and strands escape from the intricate puzzle of her up-do. Her luminous beauty has taken on a hungry edge.
She knocks on the door of a small hut made of mud and leaves, and who answers, but the ogres, her parents, even uglier now that they have aged and grieved the loss of their child. The ogre father grumbles something about self-entitled travelers who come knocking when an ogre wants to smoke his pipe in peace, but the ogre mother recognizes her daughter and invites her in. Her reputation has traveled far and wide, and the rot inside has seeped proudly through her pores. She barges past them and demands food and water.
Some say beauty is only skin deep. Those people are wrong. Beauty has many layers, many nuances, many hopes and dreams. And ugliness does, too. The ogre mother elbows the ogre father. They are so proud to finally see their daughter all grown up. Easy on the eyes, ugly to the core.
Something like that.
I am spinning in a vortex of beauty backlash, pulled by the equally powerful tides of ennui and vanity, spurred by the unsolicited comments of a nosy neighbor who told me in the elevator that I looked “not well,” and a deeply discounted groupon offer for someone to attach electrodes to my face and turn up the voltage until my cheeks twitch.
“Beauty is a sport,” says the aesthetician as she plays with the dials. “Do you feel this?”
I’m not sure if I want twitch-laugh or twitch-cry. I twitch-smile as a compromise and try to tell a twitch-joke. It falls flat, so I twitch-close my eyes and breathe.
In the evening, before the rain, I backlash against the beauty backlash. In a sudden fit of sadness, I buy a pint of my ex-boyfriend’s favorite ice cream flavor. We haven’t spoken since our bloody end, but our beginning was magical and the middle pretty damn great. The ice cream doesn’t taste the same without him.
I’m still caught on Hawthorne Effect and how when individuals are observed, they behave differently. I wonder if we can turn it on ourselves.
It’s hard to find a mirror that’s not warped. One you can look in the perfect light at right time of day. The talking mirror in Snow White tells the truth to the evil queen, but, it doesn’t tell her the whole truth. If she could look in the mirror and instead of seeing what she wants or doesn’t want to see, she could see herself as she is, a flawed, powerful, contradiction of a woman, would Snow White skip prince charming and the seven dwarves and marry a stable hand instead? Would the queen meet someone who made her want to be a better person? Would the dwarves find someone else to save?
Would they all be happy?