| While I stand in the mirror inspecting my image from head to toe, I wonder if I see what the world sees. I press my hands to the cold glass hoping to somehow get a deeper perspective. My eyes see a pretty teenage girl. Not gorgeous, but pretty. My hair is shiny though I wish it were longer. Almond-shaped, deep green eyes peer back at me; I like to pretend they bring character to my face. I wish like mad I could erase the spot of freckles off my nose. They make me look cute. No teenager wants to be “cute.” In my judgement my figure is fine, just beginning to blossom, neither too thin nor too thick. Content with what I see in the mirror, I find myself haunted with curiosity of others' views of me.
“Delia, I don’t want to make a fuss, but you don’t want to miss the bus,” my mother’s voice sing-songs up the stairs. Why must she make these little ritualistic, childish rhymes?
I do know in my mother’s eyes, I am pretty. More than pretty, I am smart, charming, and talented. But every mother thinks that of their child, so it doesn’t really count. I stop in mid-step. What if my mother doesn’t think I’m any of those things? Could she find me ugly, annoying, and dumb? Are her secret thoughts wishing I were someone else?”
I shake my head and continue down. Why would I even think such a thing? My mother is always caring and attentive. But what if it is all an act? What if she just tells me all those things so that I believe them? No, that's crazy. My mother adores me. She takes pictures every chance she gets. You wouldn’t do that of a person you thought was ugly.
“Mom, how do I look today?” I ask plastering my best smile on. I don’t want to let on to my absurd thoughts, but part of me just has to hear her say it, to reaffirm that I am everything she ever wished for in a daughter.
She looks up from her computer where she is writing her novel and inspects me from head to toe. “You look beautiful inside and out, Delia.”
Relieved, I rush to hug her, but then I wonder why the words spill out with no effort. Is it because she has rehearsed them so many times alone in her bedroom to make them sound natural? Am I such a disappointment that she wishes the embrace were over?
I step back shaking my head. It’s just my teenage mind playing tricks on me. Having a strong imagination is not always a positive thing.
Rushing to the bus stop, my friends are waving and smiling at me. I have lived here my whole life. We have grown up being best friends and will always be. No secrets exist among the four of us. We are the types of friends that other people wish they had. We don’t have a silly name for our group. We are just genuine, once in a lifetime friends.
“Delia, you always dress so cute. It kills me,” Tarron screeches holding me at arms length inspecting me.
When I start to laugh and say thank you the most disturbing thing happens. I wonder if she is making fun of me. Does she think I dress stupid? Is she putting me down, and I just have never noticed? No, no this is Tarron, my bff. But what if she’s not my best friend forever? Could my parents have worked out some sort of arrangement with their parents to make them be my friends? That’s stupid. They’ve been at all my parties, and I’ve been to all of theirs. Could there be parties I don't know about? What if they act as if we're sisters and inside they feel sorry for me?
“I can’t wait to get these braces off! Only three more months,” Kathleen’s voice interrupts my thoughts. “You are sooooooo lucky, Delia, your teeth are perfect.”
Oh my gosh, are my teeth yellow and crooked? Is this another lie so I believe something different from the truth? I reach up and touch them. They feel smooth and straight. What's wrong with me?
I look in the big rearview mirror on the bus. The reflection is the same image I saw this morning. No monstor is sneering back at me. A small laugh sneaks out - too many late night “Twilight Zone” episodes for me. What I see is what the world sees. “Take a rest, brain.”
I slip into my front row seat for first hour English; I'm crossing my fingers Mrs. Maples hands back our creative writing assignments. She's the best. With her as a teacher, English is exciting, which has never happened before this year, and she doesn’t grade in red so it’s not like someone bled all over your hard work. Mrs. Maples actually wants us to be creative not just repeat her ideas, unlike some teachers. I worked my butt off on this paper and tried to think “outside of the box.” Her opinion means so much to me.
Mine is the first paper she hands back! Her eyes are shining as she gives it to me; she is proud. I look at the cover sheet where she has written: “A+ Excellent job! The only regret I have on this paper is that I didn’t think of the idea first.”
I beam with pride. My classmates are not so thrilled with their grades. Behind me Taron lifts her paper to show me an A-. It’s a good grade, but usually Tarron does much better than me. Why am I the only one with an A+?
It’s happening again – the thoughts. Maybe Mrs. Maple’s smile was not pride, but pity. Am I not smart? Could I be so stupid I don’t even know when I’m not doing well. What if I’m not even doing the same assignments as everyone else? She probably didn’t even read it! They just give me grades so I’ll think I’m intelligent. Why are they doing this to me? How could I have never seen it? Frantic, I look through my paper, it still looks great to me. My head is hurting. I don’t know what’s going on. If this is a part of puberty, it sucks.
I trudge to the nurse second hour and ask if I can just lie down for a little while. "My head hurts," I explain, "but not bad enough to go home." I all but beg her to let me take a short nap and assuring her I'll be fine. I don’t think I needed to beg. She didn’t care one way or the other. This is obviously just a job to her. She’s probably just relieved I’m not puking or bleeding. I, on the other hand, would rather be puking and bleeding than having random thoughts invade my everyday activities.
The whole whacko thing must have been from sleep deprivation; I didn’t wake up until the nurse was shaking me to either go to lunch or call home. "I need a smoke," she growled. I smile at her charming bedside manner, relieved to be feeling like my old self again.
Everyone is seated when I walk into the cafeteria. It is easy to spot Kathleen at our normal table. She's the only one of our group that has this lunch period. As I sit down grabbing some cheetoes from her plate, she says, “I was worried about you. I heard you went to the nurse.”
“It was just a headache,” I reply, but my mind taunts me. ‘She wasn’t worried, Delia, she was hoping you wouldn’t sit at this table much less touch her food.’ I pull my hand back like she has slapped it.
Her eyebrows scrunch. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, sure.” I can't let even Kathleen know what's in my head. We both shrug it off and begin talking ninety miles a minute trying to cram all our words in a twenty minute lunch break.
Whoever did the scheduling and made girls’ athletics after lunch should spend a short time in purgatory. Well, maybe not that, but it is cruel. And Coach Bennett’s philosophy is: “You can puke and run at the same time.” Actually, I love running. Track is one area of athletics I excel in because you don’t have to be coordinated. After we warm up and Coach informs us he will be looking at us for potential spots on the track team today, I am pumped. Maybe a good run will clear this foggy head of mine.
Waiting for the whistle, my adrenaline soars. Coming in in the top five would be sweet. Underclassman seldom do that; I could make a name for myself. When the whistle blows I focus. I hit my stride, pumping my arms, breathing as Coach has taught us to do. The wind on my face I'm creating makes me feel superhuman. Losing myself as I run, the sound of my feet hitting the track provides a rhythmic cadence. Each breath I take is like my first. This moment is mine alone.
I'm not aware of the other girls until I'm done with the lap and laying on my back panting. It's funny to me that a simple act of exercise can be so exhilarating. I hear Coach Bennett’s booming voice call my name.
“You were first,” he says without emotion.
“I was?” I'm shocked and excited. Moments ago my body felt like movement was impossible, and now I'm jumping up and down. Tarron rushes over to congratulate me. Then it hits me. I couldn’t have been. Juniors and Seniors are glaring at me. He's lying.
“No, I wasn’t.” I snap before I even knew what I am doing. No one ever talks back to Coach Bennett.
“What?” At first, he almost looks confused.
I don't know what to do, so I just run for the locker room. But the voice in my head doesn't escape. It continues on and on. “You weren’t first. Either he is lying or the other girls weren’t trying. They want you to think you succeed at things. It’s part of the game. Look in the mirror again. You only see what they want you to see. They all feel sorry for you, Delia.”
I know I have to talk to someone. The school counselor is trained for things like this, isn’t she? As I sit fidgeting with my purse while she pulls my file I try to figure out what to say. I notice how beautiful she is. I want to tell her that I really do see her as beautiful in case she ever has doubts, but decide she probably doesn't. My reflection on her computer monitor. Almond-shaped eyes are still there. I want to cry because I still see the same thing.
“Let’s see, Delia,” she says as she opens my file, “honor roll, student of the month, creative writing award, class representative . . . The list goes on and on. Quite impressive. So how can I help you? Interested in college information already?”
Part of me wants to say yes and get out of here, but a bigger part of me wants to understand this madness and make it stop. “Ms. Fina, do you ever think people see you differently than you see yourself?” I stammer.
She pauses. That wasn't what she expected. Or is the pause because she is surprised I have caught onto their charade? I watch her choose her words with deep consideration.
“Explain more to me what you mean, Dear.” She's stalling for time. Something I won't give her. I'll put it all out there and make her answer.
“I think I see something differently when I look in the mirror than what other people see, literally.”
“Hmmmmm... Well, Delia, what do you see?” All question - no answers.
“I see a pretty teenage girl who dresses nice, has white, straight teeth, writes well, and runs fast. What do you see when you look at me Ms. Fina, honestly?”
Without a pause, “Oh Dear, I see all that and the potential for more and more in the years to come.”
“How do I know that is what you see? How do I know you aren’t lying?” I interrupt.
She is silent and for a moment seems mad. Mad that I confronted her with their escapade of lies and trickery? Or is she just surprised that the usually polite Delia is challenging an adult?
“Delia, I think what’s happening is you are having some trust issues. You are perhaps beginning to question authority and that’s a normal progression into adulthood. As long as you do so in productive and respectful ways.”
She rambles on for what seems an eternity. Either she doesn't understand what I am saying at all or she does and I am right. If the latter is the case, she is trying to throw me off long enough to warn the others that I am on to them. What do they have to gain from messing with my mind? Is it all an act of charity because I am so repulsive?
I leave Ms. Fina’s office with a handful of pamphlets that will never leave my locker, more confused than when I had entered . I walk in a daze to my final class of the day. Tarron’s cousin, James, bumps me and yells down the hall, “Lookin’ hot today, Delia. Going to break some hearts, I tell ya.”
I giggle. My heart sinks as I realize he doesn't mean it. Rage builds inside me knowing no one will ever want to date me. I have to bite my tongue not to scream back, "Enough with the lies, Asshole!"
Last hour is long and unbearable. Everywhere I look people are staring. I can read their thoughts without effort now. I hate pity. Why can't they just do their damn geometry and leave me alone? Quit smiling at me, quit making small talk with me. I’m tired of faking it. I get it now. I’m this monster you are forced to live with. I’m sorry! I’m sorry I’m ugly and dumb and everything society hates.
I still have moments where I almost forget and get caught up with the smiles and the small talk, and then my mind laughs at me. I love these people though. I pretend along with them until I can figure out what to do.
My Ipod provides a brief escape on the bus ride home. Closing my eyes, it looks like I am relaxing, listening to some tunes when in reality I just don't want to see their faces. To see one thing and hear something else in my head. I don't know who I am. And this is beyond an “I need to find myself” moment.
I feel sorry for my mom as I walk through the door, and she comes to hug me with that plastic smile on her face. Has she been working herself up for that all day? Could she be happy to see me? I want so much to curl up in her arms and feel her play with my hair. I can't do that to her, not if I am such a disappointing reminder of life.
Claiming to have a load of homework, I rush to my bedroom. Again I stand in front of the mirror pressing my hands against it. I want to see something different from what I saw this morning. Where is the truth? I see shiny, too short hair, confused almond-shaped eyes, and annoying freckles. Why can't I see what they see? Better yet, why can't they see what I see? I don’t want to be a monster. Don't let me be different. I want me back. Give me my mind back!
I stay in my room looking in that mirror for hours waiting for a miracle. Some sort of realization. Begging for the thoughts to stop. I hear a knock on the door and rush into my bed. The covers feel comforting. No doubt they don't even want to be against my body. The door creaks open. My father walks in beaming with joy.
“Hey, Princess, I’m glad I made it home before you went to sleep.”
“Are you, Daddy?” I ask searching his eyes.
He chuckles. “Well, of course I am. What kind of question is that?”
“I’m just being silly.”
He kisses my forehead. I wonder if his lips burned or if he wants to wipe them clean.
“Daddy?” I begin. I can't help it. I reach for his hand. Being the strong man he is, he holds it. “Do you ever wish you could stop your thoughts?”
He looks at me pondering for a moment and replies, “No, because once we stop thinking we're dead.” He stares into my eyes, the slightest smile on his face. I know he can see into my mind, heart, and soul. He knows I have discovered their secrets and lies. "Do you want to talk about your thoughts," he asks as he tucks me into bed. His voice sounds as carefree as if I had just asked him why the sky was blue.
"No, Daddy. There's nothing to talk about. I just wondered, that's all. I'm too tired to talk tonight."
He stops before he closes the door and looks back at me. "Delia, one more thing. There is always something you can learn from your thoughts. I love you, my angel." With those pearls of wisdom, he winks and closes the door.
I sit up, squeezing my pillow, staring into the mirror. My father is the wisest man I know. I used to think he was the most honest, but now I know no one in my life is honest. I don't try to stop the tears as they silently trail down my face. He knew the time was here, my eyes and mind had finally been opened. Maybe he's sad, but my mind tells me he's relieved. He knows I love them enough to follow his clear instructions: Learn from your thoughts.
One last look at the monster masquerading as a normal teenage girl. The mirror does lie, the mind does not.
I roll over and whisper as one last tear runs down my cheek, “Exactly, Daddy, once we're dead, the thoughts stop.”
The thoughts had to stop, and I to free the world of the monster that I must be.