When Lily switches lives with someone, she discovers that beauty isn't all about looks.
| Have you ever looked in the mirror and seen all the bad parts of yourself all at once? Has it ever just hit you like a slap to the face, that you’re suddenly not as perfect and pretty as you always thought you were?|
This has happened a lot to me in the past few years. Except I’ve never really thought I was pretty and I’ve certainly never thought I was perfect. Marlene does a good job of reminding me of this. The last thing I need on top of my dad’s death, my family's money problems, and my failing classes is Marlene’s teasing. Every day, I have to listen to her state my every flaw in front of the whole school. All of the other students are just as bad as her. They either laugh right along with her or just stare and not say anything.
My name is Lily Miller. I hate my frizzy brown hair, black eyes, overly-large nose, and scrawny body. Every day my insecurities seem to take over my thoughts and actions. I have too many problems I have to deal with that I bet no other teenager has to even think about. I hate it. There doesn’t seem to be anything that I don’t hate lately besides my two little brothers and my Mom.
I have other problems in life other than Marlene. Home is a big one. I live in a tiny 2-bedroom apartment with my mom and my two brothers. I share a room and the only bathroom in the house with my two brothers. We also have a cramped kitchen with a broken microwave and mini-fridge, and our small living room doesn’t even have a tv. My mom works late for extra money, so it’s my responsibility to watch my siblings. Most of the time I end up having to make dinner for the three of us.
I stare up at the ceiling. Today is Thursday, which means tomorrow is Friday, which means no Marlene in two days. Just make it through today, I tell myself. I throw off my covers and tiptoe out of the room, careful not to wake my brothers. I see a light on in the kitchen so I walk over and sit down on one of the stools.
“Mom, you’re home,” I say, surprised.
She smiles. “Yeah, at work they had too many people there, so they let me have the day off. They’re still paying me, though.” She takes a mug from the cupboard. “Want some coffee?”
I take the mug. “Yeah, sure.” Mom works at a bank where she rarely gets any days off besides the weekend. Her pay is awful for how hard she works. Even though all of this is extremely hard on my part, I know that it must be one hundred times worse for Mom.
“So, how has school been lately?” Mom asks. I know there is more to the question than that. She is asking about Marlene. Mom is the only person I have confided in about the troubles I have at school.
“It’s been okay. I got a B minus on my science test,” I add, trying to brighten the mood. I don’t want to add more to the worries than she already has. Mom nods, but I don’t think I fully convinced her. I get off the stool. “Well, I should probably go get ready. I don’t want to miss the bus.”
“I was thinking that since I am off today I could bring you to school myself,” Mom says.
My eyes light up, and for the first time in a while, I smile. “Thank you!” I cheer gratefully. This means I won’t have to ride the smelly bus!
“No problem. Could you do me a favor and wake the boys for me?” I nod and walk over to our bedroom door. I crack it open just enough for me to reach my hand in and flip on the light. I whisper each of their names, Liam and Noah. I wait until I see their little bodies moving in their bunk beds until I open the door any further. I see one head pop up. Then the other.
“Lily!” I hear them shout. They both came rushing out of their beds and stampeded their way into my arms. I ruffle Liam’s short blonde hair and Noah’s long dark brown hair. Even after how much time I spend with them - which is pretty much every second of every day - they still want more. It amazes me.
I pick out their clothes for the day and tell them that Mom gets to take them to school today. Their response was about as happy as mine was, with cheers and smiles. Liam tells me about a new friend he made at preschool, while Noah sings the ABCs that he’s been working on in his kindergarten class. I send them into the kitchen with Mom, so that I can get ready.
After I’ve brushed through my tangled, bushy hair and put on my clothes, I go into the kitchen with everyone else. “Are you ready to go?” Mom asks. I nod my head. We all gathered into Mom’s small car. I sit in the passenger's seat. Liam is dropped off at his preschool first. We all wave goodbye, and we don’t drive away until he and his teenage mutant ninja-turtle backpack are no longer in sight. Next is Noah. He goes to kindergarten in West Harbor Elementary School.
Finally, I have to face the moment I’ve been dreading. My stop - West Harbor Middle School. Mom kisses my forehead goodbye, and I miserably open my door and walk through the front entrance of my school. I grip the sides of my bag with both hands and sigh. It’s just today. You can make it through today. Come on, Lily, I remind myself.
I go to my locker and take my math and science books. I hear a bell ring. My first hour will start soon. This is my goal right now - to get to my first hour without any trouble. I turn around, my mind completely set around my goal. Maybe that was my mistake.
I turn around and someone rams into my side. My books fly out of my hands. And, of course, it’s just my luck that Marlene and her little minions happened to be there right then.
“Oh, no,” Marlene says with strong sarcasm in her voice. She makes her lips into a sort of pout and puts her hands on her hips. “It looks like you dropped something.”
I glare at her golden hair and her expensive pink clothes. Remember your goal, Lily. Remember your goal.
Somehow I forced myself to turn around and walk to class. As I storm to my math class, I feel Marlene’s hand on my shoulder whip me around to face her.
“Hey,” she spits in my face. “I wasn’t finished yet.” She gives me the nastiest look possible, like she’s rehearsed this a hundred times, and pushes me to the ground. Her two minions, Charlotte and Olivia, laugh. I feel my face burn with embarrassment. I forget the goal I was so focused on a moment ago completely.
“What do you want from me?” I ask desperately, my voice shaking as I try to hold back tears.
“I want you to see yourself the way I see you - with your big nose, frizzy hair, and pale face. I want you to see that you will never fit in anywhere. No matter where you go, who you are with, you will always be the same, ugly Lily Miller that you are.” Her eyes flared, and for a second I thought she was going to hit me. Then something weird happens. Her blue eyes soften and she stands up straight. She looks at me for a moment. At that moment, she looked almost… guilty. No. Marlene Kennings would never feel guilty for anything in her life. It’s just not possible. She gestures to Charlotte and Olivia for them to follow her, and then she walks away.
I stand up off the floor and think over what she told me. Ugly. She called me ugly. A part of me wonders if I am. Mom always told me I was prettier than an angel but was she just saying that because she’s my mother? I start walking to math. I feel everyone’s eyes boring into my back. I look at the floor and try to pretend that that didn’t just happen. But it did. It really did.
The rest of the day goes by slowly. Teachers seem to get more upset with me, and frequently are getting onto me for missing assignments. At lunch, I have to eat my lunch in a stall in the bathroom so I don’t run into Marlene. It almost feels like I've been at school for several days by the time I start walking home. As soon as I get through my front door, I run inside and collapse on my bed. I hear Mom try to stop me along the way, but I ignore her. Hot tears rush onto my cheek. I scream into my pillow. I throw my colored pencils into the wall. Luckily, the boys aren’t home yet so they don’t have to see me like this.
I stomp into the bathroom after my tears seem to have somewhat stopped. I look at myself in the mirror. My eyes are red and puffy, like a cotton ball. My pale face seems paler than it usually is. My nose is still too big for my face. She’s right. I am ugly.
I collapse onto the bathroom floor and sob. I put my hands onto my face and my shoulders shake like a building on an earthquake. Mom rushes in and hugs my shoulder. I can barely hear her words over my loud, painful sobs. I cry for the things Marlene said. I cry for the embarrassment I felt as my classmates laughed at me. I cry for my loneliness. I cry for all of my problems in life.
And at the end of all of these tears, I make a wish.
I wish that I could have the life of someone like Marlene’s where everything is perfect. Where I didn’t have any problems or responsibilities to worry about, and where I fit in everywhere I go. Where all of my classmates loved me and wanted to be friends with me. I wished for someone else’s life.
I stopped crying after I made that wish. I silently stand up slowly. Mom looks at me with concern. “What happened, honey?” She breathes.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I whisper back.
“That’s okay. You can talk to me whenever you feel ready, okay?” I nod my head. She walks out of the room and I stand there alone.
I go to bed early. I don’t want to have to deal with Mom or my brothers tonight. I didn’t eat dinner, either. I just didn’t want to deal with my problems. I didn’t want to deal with life. Most of the night I didn’t sleep - I just ended up staring at the ceiling of nothingness.
The next morning when my alarm goes off I feel awful. I feel out of shape and like I didn’t get a wink of sleep - which I honestly probably didn’t. I slowly roll out of bed and work my way over to the door. Except I can’t find it. I put my hands on the wall blindly, trying to feel the door. I thought that I felt the door, but it actually was the light switch. Mom hates it whenever I turn the lights on with the boys in the room, but I can’t find the door to our room. This is an emergency.
I flip on the light quickly and look around the room. It takes all of my might not to scream.
The floor has a royal blue carpet with a huge king bed in the middle. The bed has curtains falling from the top, and the blanket is a soft purple. There is a full-body mirror with lights around it next to the door. And what surprises me the most are the big letters on the wall spelling out the name ‘Marlene.’
I’m not in my room.
I’m in Marlene’s.
I pace around my room - her room - and start to panic. How is this happening? How did I end up in her room? Did I do this? Did I get amnesia or something? Have I gone mad? Questions swirl around my mind as I try to process what is happening. I comb my hair with my fingers to calm myself. My fingers easily go through. The soft and silkiness of it makes my racing heart turn closer to normal.
Wait. My hair isn’t easy to comb through. So many times I have tried to do this but my fingers usually end up getting stopped by one of the many tangles in my hair. My hair isnt silky. Or soft. My hair is almost always frizzy, tangled, and oily. I pick up a piece of my hair and examine it. Then I immediately drop it in surprise.
My hair is not blonde.
But Marlene’s is.
I race over to her body mirror and look at myself. Or, perhaps in better words, I look at Marlene. My frizzy brown hair has transformed into Marlene’s golden blonde hair. My big nose and sad eyes have turned into Marlene’s small, round nose and bright eyes. My skinny out-of-shape body has turned into Marlene’s tan one. My sickening clothes have turned into Marlene’s hot pink and in-style ones. I have turned into Marlene.
My wish came true.
I smile with joy as I process this again. My wish came true! I finally have the perfect life I always dreamed of, the life I had always deserved.
For the first time in my life, I smile at the idea of going to school. I look at the time on her alarm clock. 7:15. I should already be heading to school. I should be at school in 15 minutes. I need to hurry. For some reason, Marlene is already in her clothes. If I had thought about it more, maybe I would’ve realized that they were the same clothes she had worn the day before. Or that normal people don’t go into bed with the same clothes on. But I didn’t think twice about it.
I look down the hallway of purple carpet. I hope I don’t run into her family. I have no idea what I would say or do. I find a pair of stairs that I walk down to get to the main floor. My jaw drops when I see what’s down there. Her living room is twice the size of my whole apartment. Her kitchen could store a whole grocery store. I also see a game room with all of the games you could think of. No wonder Marlene acts the way she does. She is spoiled to the bone.
I walk out of her huge door entrance and make my way to school. I have a sort of skip in my step I usually never have. Luckily, I used to walk around town on days where I didn’t want to go home, so I know where the school is from Marlene’s house. I get there in no time, waving to people I don’t even know along the way. When I walk into the school, a whole group of people surrounds me.
“Hey, Marlene, do you like my outfit?”
“Marlene, did you like that video I sent you?”
“Did you hear about that thing that happened after school, Marlene?”
Voices of my classmates fill the room as they ask me for my advice and opinions on things. I know what things Marlene would reply to them. She would probably say something like, "That's the ugliest thing I have ever seen," or, "I don’t care." Instead, I say things like,
"Yes, I love your outfit! Where did you get it?" and, "Tell me more about it." It makes me happy to see the joy on their faces whenever I give them a positive answer. I feel great. I feel important.
In PE, where I am usually the last one picked for teams every time, I am voted to be team captain. Everyone raises their hands excitedly, hoping that I pick them to be on my team. I don’t want to seem too different from Marlene, so I try to put myself into her shoes (literally and figuratively). I decided that she would probably most likely choose her two minions first - Charlotte and Olivia. So that’s what I go with. Whenever we start our game of kickball, I almost go to my usual corner where I cower from the ball. But then I remember who I am. I am Marlene. So I put myself out there where the ball is. Every move I make feels coordinated and graceful. It’s nice.
My other classes go about the same way. When we pick partners everyone comes to me and makes me pick one of them to be my partner. In History, I picked Olivia to be my partner. Since I’m Marlene, who’s overly talkative, I started a conversation with her.
“So, did you go anywhere cool last night?” I ask her.
She looks at me with a look of confusion on her face. Her bright blue eyes stare into mine. “I guess,” she answers.
“What did you do? Anything fun?” I press. I hope I am acting like Marlene.
“I guess so. I went to my cousin's house and ate dinner with them,” Olivia says carefully. She flips her bright blonde hair over her shoulder. “Are you okay?” She asks.
“Yes. Of course, I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be okay? Do I not look okay or something?” I ramble off nervously.
She leans against her chair. “Nevermind. I just thought you were acting weird for a second.” I let out a small sigh of relief. My secret is safe. At least for now. I don’t talk to Olivia too much after that. I know how easily things can tumble out of my mouth, and Olivia seems a bit too observant for my mouth.
My last two hours pass by quickly. I love school as Marlene, but not enough to want to stay there. I really just want to go to Marlene’s house, have a great responsibility-free night, and let her parents treat me just as special as all of the students did.
When I walk through the doors, I once again take in the breathtaking sight of the mansion Marlene lives in. It takes a lot of work to act like this is the same old house I see every day, but I manage. Marlene’s mom, who stands in the middle of the living room with a slight frown on her flawless face, turns to face me. She looks just like a grown version of Marlene - gold hair, tan body, perfect face, and clear, perfect skin. Even her clothes look the same as Marlene's except hers are purple instead of pink. She narrows her blue eyes down at me and puts her hands on her hips. Her glittering ring on her left ring finger catches the light and I go blind for a moment. The next thing I know, Marlene’s mom is screaming at me.
“I’ve gotten so many calls from people complaining about your disrespect, you little brat! I am sick and tired of having to deal with you every single day! I despise you! I wish I never had you. If I could go back and change one thing in my life, it would be the choice to make you my daughter. I take care of you all of the time - I feed you, I buy you the things you need - but all I get in return is you! And the ungratefulness you bring to this household.” My eyes start to water uncontrollably. What does she mean she would change the fact that she is Marlene’s mother? That's… that's… awful. What did Marlene do to her mother to make her want that? I decided to figure it out.
“I’m so sorry for what I did to you,” I tremble, trying to play the part.
“You mean for being the ungrateful child that you are? You should be. You should be punished. That’s right,” she looks at me with an evil glint in her crystal blue eyes. “You need a good punishment to get you back in line.” She walks over to me in her violet heels and stops directly and front of my face.
That’s when I see her hand swing back. The moment seems to go in slow motion as her clenched fist slowly comes closer and closer to my face. The impact hurts so badly that I react the first way I think of - I scream. I take a step back and touch my hand to my cheek. Blood. When I look back up, I see her hand reaching back again to make another attempt. This time I realize what she’s doing and duck.
“No, honey,” she says. “You need to learn your lesson.” She takes my arm and yanks me towards her.
A man comes into the room. Marlene’s father. Surely he can help me. He looks at me lazily, and just from that one look, I lose all my hope of help. In his hand is a liquor bottle, which he swings back and forth. He collapses on the expensive couch, drunk.
I look into Marlene’s full-body mirror. I have bright bruises that have already formed on my arms, and dried blood is daubed all over my face. Even after taking a thirty-minute shower, I still couldn’t get it off. My legs shake. I’ve only experienced this one time with Marlene’s parents, and the effect of it is horrible. Marlene has to go through this every day of her life. And I didn't even know.
A tear falls down my cheek. Poor Marlene. My mind doesn’t circle around the part that her parents abuse her, but of the fact that I never even had a clue of what was going on in her home. How could I have been so clueless? Hasn’t she always worn long sleeves, even during the summer? Why did I think she wore so much makeup on her already-perfect face? Probably to cover up the bruises and marks her parents gave her during her long nights at home.
Not even hours before I was perfectly happy being Marlene, happy that I got my wish, but now I want nothing more than my own life back. Even if it means having my own problems back. It’s better than this. It’s better than living a lie.
I don’t go down to the living room to ask for my dinner. I don’t want to risk giving them another excuse to hurt me again. Having nothing to do, I went to sleep early for the second night in a row. I can’t wait for school tomorrow.
When the alarm doesn’t go off the next morning and I see the morning light pouring into the bedroom, I jump out of bed. I look at the clock. 12: 45 PM. I’ve missed over half of school! This is awful!
Except it’s not awful. Because it’s Saturday.
My eyes start watering. A whole weekend with no escape from Marlene’s parents! How will I survive? How does Marlene survive? Once again I am reminded of my cluelessness.
I can’t be in this house. My only hope is that Marlene’s parents aren’t home yet. I carefully tiptoe down the staircase and look around the corner. No one seems to be home. Just in case, I quietly run to the doorway as quickly as I can. As soon as I can see the field of our front yard, I run. I don’t have any specific place to go. I just ran. And ran.
Where do my feet take me? To my house - my actual house. Before I know it I’m standing on our broken porch, and knocking on the door.
“Hello?” Someone squeaked. She has messy brown hair that looked like she had unsuccessfully tried to tame it, a large nose that hasn’t grown into her pale face yet, and a skinny, scrawny body to top it all off.
Me. I’m looking at myself. But it can’t be me. So that means that she would be…
“Marlene?” I ask quietly. Her eyes slowly light up as she realizes who I am.
“Lily? Is that you?” She whispers. I nod. Her eyes tear up and she does the thing I would least expect her to do - she comes up and hugs me. It’s quick and awkward, but still a hug.
“I’m so sorry, I’ll never make fun of you again. If I ever knew what you were going through…” Marlene looks down at the ground, ashamed. I know what she’s talking about. She’s talking about my dad. The few people who have found out about his death have apologized several times as if it was their fault, and have always given me sad and worried looks. It annoys me.
“It’s okay. I barely knew him anyways since he died right after my five-year-old brother was born. I didn’t see him much even when he was alive,” I explained to her.
Marlene turns her head to the side, confusion clouding her face. “What do you mean you didn’t see him?”
“Well, after my mom and dad had Liam, the youngest in our family, they got divorced. I guess after that Dad just started to get sick, and it just kept getting worse…” I shake my head. “How did you find out about it anyway?” I ask her.
“Your mom went to me last night after school. She told me she was sorry for everything that I - you - had to deal with. After that, she mainly talked about your father’s death and how sorry she felt. She also mentioned your problems at school,” she trails off. By problems at school, I’m guessing she meant that Mom talked about Marlene’s bullying. Of course, it had to be at the same time Marlene and I switched bodies.
“Look, it’s okay. And… I’m also sorry. I never realized what you were going through at home yourself. I guess we were both kind of clueless,” I say. And I do forgive her. For everything. We were both going through things that neither of us knew about. Marlene just had a different way of showing her frustration at her life problems. That doesn’t mean what she did was okay, but the least I can do is give her another chance.
“Thank you,” she replies in what I think is a grateful tone. We both look down at our feet awkwardly.
I look up at her after a long moment of silence and hug her. She embraces me back, tugging tight at my waist. I whisper in her hair, “I’ll tell someone as soon as we get back into our own lives again. I’ll never let them hurt you again.”
She pulls away. “You would do that for me?” She breathes. I nod. Her face breaks into a smile, and I can see the joy in her eyes of going home and not having to worry about getting hurt by her own parents. No teenager should ever have to worry whether or not they’ll come back to school the next day.
We sat on the porch for about an hour, discussing how we will switch bodies again. I tell her how I think I did it the first time, by wishing hard enough for the other person’s life. We both conclude that tonight in our rooms we should both wish for our own lives back. After that, all we can hope for is to wake up in our own rooms the next morning. Marlene and I both say our goodbyes and I head back to the house.
I know that there is probably no chance of Marlene’s parents not being home by now, so I go up the stairs to the patio that reaches my room. I wonder how many times Marlene has had to do this to avoid meeting with her parents. I assume that it has probably been one too many times. As I get inside the room and I look at the clock. It reads 3:10. I haven’t had any food since yesterday’s school lunch - which never truly fills you up. I hope they decide to feed me today.
At five-thirty neither one of them even so much as came into my room to check on me. My stomach is rumbling so loud it sounds like an earthquake is happening. I decide that I have no choice but to go into the kitchen myself.
I have the same strategy as this morning - to go throughout the house quickly but quietly. I tiptoe in the hallway and practically act like a ninja as I go down the stairs. I look left and right and see no one, so I proceed into the kitchen. I quickly lean over and grab an apple. Then I run back over to the stairs and race back to my room. I take large bites and finish rather fast, but even after I eat it I still feel starving. I guess it doesn’t matter for now.
The rest of the night passes by slowly as I wait for my usual bedtime to come. I don’t interfere with Marlene’s parents at all, thankfully. At 8:30, I gather into Marlene’s purple covers and close my eyes. I wish, I think. I wish I could go back to my own life again, where I have my amazing mother and family who cares about me very much. Although it means I will have all of my old problems back again, at least I won’t be hiding from them in another person’s life. Then I lay down on the bed, and fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning I didn't realize where I was. I go over to find the light switch, but then once again I cannot find it. I bump into several things along the way. The room feels cramped. I don’t remember Marlene’s room ever having this many things to run into before. Then I found the light switch. And I scream.
The room has faded blue walls and is way overdue for a new paint job. There is a red bunk bed and a lavender twin bed across from it. A black dresser sits in the corner overflowing with all kinds of clothes. I touch my hands all over my body. I’m back. I’m back!
I race out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. Mom stands there looking exactly the same as she did two days ago. I run to her and pull her into a tight hug. When I let go, she stands there, surprised by my sudden action. Then she shakes her head and chuckles. “What was that for?” She smiles.
“Oh, nothing. Just a hug for my favorite mom,” I tell her, smiling back.
“Well then maybe you should hug me more often. Come here, squirt.” She reaches out her arm to me, offering another hug. I gladly embrace her. I would never be ungrateful for my life again.
At school, things are much better. Marlene is no longer teasing me since we have both come to an understanding of each other. After we switched back into our bodies, we both went to the principal together after school and told her about how her mom abuses her each day after school. Marlene showed her the bruises that her mom had left her and the principal started making some calls. Now she is in the foster care system living with a new family who she told me she enjoys being with. I’m happy for her.
I feel that this experience has had a big impact on both me and Marlene. I feel that this whole thing was meant to happen for a reason - so that we could both learn a lesson. And I believe that my lesson was to learn that everyone fights their silent battles. So to be grateful for your own life no matter what you are going through because someone out there is going through the same thing.