Narcissus, a Girl
Self-loathing, at its purest, tasted like soap. Ruby remembered. She used to eat it. Her mother had been that breed of corporal sadist. They used floral scented bars, candy-colored and functionally harmless, and her mom wielded them like a nurse with popsicle sticks. Ruby would foam at the mouth and hold her breath because breathing meant swallowing suds, which left her dry heaving and spitting for hours.
Self-loathing gained a second flavor in middle school, not parent-sponsored but peer-enforced. Sugar. Ruby, who had previously considered herself a connoisseur of cavities, felt that love die like the slamming of a locker. She was introduced to calories. She was sanctioned for the size of her jeans, which weren’t cool because only hippies wore flare-legged jeans and fat hippies are the antithesis of good conversation. Syrup learned the aftertaste of suds. She’d find herself in sleazy stalls dry heaving and spitting after mouthfuls.
At the age of seventeen, self-loathing was a term Ruby had scourged from her vocabulary. It was a violent pursuit. She sat crisscross in her bathroom sink in shorts and a ratty bra, and her nose floated inches from the glass. She had lit nearly sixty scented candles and they sat to either side of her, dripping wax onto the porcelain, lighting the pink-tiled room. The soap she wasn’t eating sat in its dish.
She had curled her lashes, painted them, stretched them long as daddy long legs. She penciled her brows and powdered her nose and now, feeling like Boadicea, she glossed her bottom lip. There would be no scratching, pinching, peeling, only admiration for the face staring back. Look, she whispered, how pretty I am. Look what they never showed me.
They can’t make me hate me anymore.
Ruby kissed the mirror and God, how it felt for the mirror to kiss back.
She leaned closer, pressed her arms against the glass. She pressed so hard that the glass cracked, then shattered, and she threw her arms around her reflection and pulled herself tight. Ruby tasted like candy. Why hadn’t Ruby kissed her before? She wound her arms around her waist, the glass grinding between their stomachs, pressing wounds like smashed raspberries into their skin.
“I love you,” Ruby said, sucking hickies into her neck.
“As you should,” Ruby replied. “I love you too.”