She knows all too well the sin of pride. Always a straight-talking, sassmouthed child, beloved of adults and distrusted by peers, wearing her superiority like a coat of many colors. Not the prettiest little girl, or the best-liked, but the smartest, the funniest, Lizzie Bennett in miniature. Smart as a whip, they say. Gifted. Grew up a plotter, a schemer, the strategist in neighborhood war games and spying on the boys next door. Found her place and milked it, demanded respect and got it. The beginnings of a Tough Girl, a training-bra wearing badass, torturer and titillator of the male sex. Gonna be somethin’ someday.
Then puberty, a flurry of hormones transforming the fox-faced child into plain Jane extraordinaire. Stagnant in religious oppression, dressed in baggy secondhands, no longer the smartest or the best. But still defiant, still sparking, can burn you in a second with a casual flick of tongue, a machine-gun burst of insult. Still proud, parroting the platitudes of parents immersed in the mania of a Golden Child. I just don’t care, she says. I could be the best if I wanted. Top of the class. I just don’t care.
(As though there are bigger things on her plate, brilliantine ideas fomenting in the whorls of her adolescent brain. As though she’s Einstein underestimated, simply unconcerned with the petty rigors of teenaged academics.)
All the while dreaming of another girl in her place – not ratty-haired in shapeless denim skirts, not acne-spattered and under-plucked, unpolished, called “Ugliest” in notes left conspicuously on the corners of desks, blue ink letters laughing, twisting around her guts like razor wire. Pretty, slick, skinny, beloved. The girl she wishes she was, the girl so alien she doesn’t even know her language.
But pride, pride wraps around her shoulders like a feathered totem, warding off the demons that haunt her friends – demons of blood (a crosshatch pattern beaded with bright red eyes, a litany of parallel lines scraped into flesh) and bone (the outline of a sternum, two fingers ringing a translucent wrist). I am better, she thinks. Better than that. (Delusion, ain't it sweet?) Pride is the shelter she clings to, the rod in her neck that keeps her head high. I am better. And she believes it.
But what is a sin without a price? Protection without payment?
In her twenties she begins to change. Sheds the excess flesh, the baggy clothes – a snakeskin unfurling to reveal the basilisk within. Emerges sleekly from the ruin, shiny-haired and slim, her eyes lined in black and feet pointed forward in tottering heels. The Girl of Her Dreams, noticed and flattered and pursued. Yet kinder, softer, sweeter for all that, tenderized by years of behind-the-back verbal beatdowns. Quiet. Inoffensive. Likable enough.
But with the former husk go the trimmings, the feathers pinwheeling away to leave her vulnerable and shuddering and naked. No longer enshrouded in the warm cloak of confidence, a flimsier vanity will have to do – a mask for the fear and self degradation. In her flaws she was a juggernaut, a Force, now in her gifts a fawn. Afraid to be Less, to go back to Plain-Jane-Got-No-Game, afraid to be the she that shaped it all.
She’s so pretty, they say. A little doll.
Wish I was that tiny.
Skinny. Pretty. Delicate. Cute. The things she always wanted. The things she kills herself for. The pinnacle. The sun. Never mind the daily pickings-apart in front of the mirror, the counted calories, the doubt when he says, “You’re beautiful.” Never mind the ache for validation, the longing to be pedestalized as in the halcyon days of youth, the desperate want to be More.
Never mind that falling feeling.