Seeing myself in that three-way mirror was like seeing myself for the first time. All the ways I’d placed myself in the world suddenly gave way.
We were at Jessica’s house in her mom’s bathroom trying on the eyeliner I wouldn’t be allowed to wear for another year, curling our eyelashes, giggling and gasping as they caught in between the metal clamps. I moved a panel of the mirror and suddenly a different me appeared. My nose slanted across my face rather than running straight down the middle. I noticed how slender my face was, thin and long and the way my jaw rounded gently, no strong lines. Until then, I’d only known myself straight on, unaware of my asymmetry. It stunned me, this three-dimensional view of myself, like staring at a stranger then realizing I’d known them all my life.
“Try this one,” Jessica said, passing me a glittery baby-blue shadow. “It’ll go good with your eyes.”
Richie picked me to be his girlfriend for two weeks that spring. It was my turn, after all. He went through us like a tornado through the farmlands of Kansas, picking us up, swirling us around for a time, then depositing us unceremoniously at the edge of the football field after a game, the sidelines littered with paper cups. “I don’t think we should go out anymore” was his standard line. All the girls knew it wouldn’t last, but we longed for our turn anyway.
Richie was broad shouldered with a big, charming smile and the captain of the football team. Caught up in his attention, I practiced my French kissing and endless hours of small talk on the wall phone in the kitchen, the long cord twisting around itself as I sat on the floor with my knees pulled up to my chest leaning against the Marimekko wallpaper. We could go minutes without saying a word, sighing into the receiver, neither of us wanting to hang up.
In those minutes, I began to believe we’d make it past the unspoken two-week limit. I thought maybe, just maybe, Richie didn’t notice that one of my ears was higher than the other, that my nose was too big or that my upper lip was so much thinner than my lower one.
The first weekend we were together, he asked me out to the movies with another couple from our class. We pressed ourselves together in the plush velvet seats, getting as close as the armrest would let us. Richie sat with his muscular legs open wide and his arm tossed casually around my shoulders, pinning down the collar of my pink Le Tigre polo. I sat paralyzed in my seat unable to concentrate on Dustin Hoffman prancing across the screen in drag, wooing the beautiful Jessica Lange, scrambling gender roles. Every few minutes Richie stroked my neck with his thumb or leaned his head against mine. A few minutes before the movie ended, he pressed his mouth hard against mine and didn’t stop until well after the credits rolled.
We finally pulled apart when the lights came on and the ushers started sweeping up. “Why do you like me?” I asked as we stared importantly into each other’s eyes. Later, I’d learn to never to ask a boy that question, but back then, when I was 14, I had to know.
Ten days later Richie was going out with Teresa. It was her turn.
I watch my daughter at the mirror now, a few weeks shy of her 13th birthday. Her bathroom time has doubled in the last six months. Long after the shower’s stopped running, she stands at the vanity, staring through the steam, trying to see herself. She brushes and re-brushes her hair, unhappy with a renegade wave I’d kill for. She scrutinizes her skin, bringing her bumpy cheeks to me with a worried look. “It’s nothing major,” I tell her. “Just don’t pick.”
She already wears a little mascara and pale pink lip-gloss. She asks me when she’s allowed to wear eyeliner. “Not until high school,” I tell her, hoping she’ll hold out that long, knowing she’ll probably sneak it before then if she hasn’t already. She is just getting to know herself, piecing herself together. Soon she’ll stumble across the small bump in the bridge of her nose, the slightly goofy tilt of her chin and that thin upper lip just like mine. I hope it doesn’t throw her for a loop like it did me. I hope she’ll see the beauty in the new discoveries, fall in love with the unfamiliar and make it her own.
More than anything, though, I hope she never needs to ask anyone, “Why do you like me?”
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers finish a sentence and link up their posts. This week’s prompt is “When I Was 14…”.