Practicing in the Mirror

By Kate Ringer

Note: The following piece is a fictionalized account of real events.

There was once little that I cared more about than the eyes of men on my body, smiling knowingly as I rubbed Warm Vanilla Sugar lotion on my fresh, shaved legs, calf supple with a youthful curve. I stood in a park; it was August so my collarbones glistened with moisture, and my back was exposed, the only blemish a black bra that striped against the paleness of my skin. I was with friends that I trusted when one of the boys twisted the clasp of my black bra, breasts falling as the structure collapsed. I laughed as the boy grabbed my now unprotected body, giggled, “Oh my gosh!” as I grasped my breasts to my chest and asked one of the girls to put the pieces back together. I knew then that my body had power, and I laughed off the invasion because I had what I wanted: the boy’s attention.

I follow him into the house, standing hesitantly behind as he says, “Is anyone home?” I carry a backpack, evidence of my commitment to school despite my feigned indifference. My hair is straightened, the tips frizzled and dry, and my foundation is heavy enough to hide my skin underneath, raw from acne treatments. I stare at the floor, longing to be invisible yet needing to be noticed, as I bite the chipping pink polish from my nails (Ironically, the shade is called “The Color that Keeps on Giving.”) Seeing that we are indeed alone, he leads me into his bedroom, shutting the door quickly. The bedroom is littered with crumpled napkins and plates with stale leftovers; it smells of Shopko cologne, unwashed sheets, and blinds that are forever unopened. I question if I really belong in this place. I wonder, how many girls have been here before me?

Older now, I look back at this girl that I used to be, and a word shimmers menacingly in my mind. Slut. It dirties me. I want to believe in the autonomy of this woman, that she has taken hold of her sexuality and doles it out purposefully to the men whom she deems worthy. But, I know that these young men were not worthy. “Why are you here?” I want to ask her, “What do these young men have to offer you?” I try to remember being fifteen, to feel some empathy. I remember the man I sought. I was his third choice, after two of my thinner friends. He used to thread a shoelace through his belt loops, shorts hanging off his frame and exposing the golden skin of his marble stomach. I knew that he was trouble, and that was all the more reason to want him. I paraded him like a trophy when I thought he was mine; I allowed him to use me while I used him. I loved his danger, and I try to remember that feeling, to think of my former self as a person, an attitude that feels alien. Did I know that I was nothing to them, that someday soon I would be discarded and replaced?

I remember stripping off my clothes at fifteen, practicing taking my shirt off at sleepovers, crossing my arms at the hem and turning my shirt inside out, avoiding at all costs the tangle of removing my arms from my sleeves, the awkwardness of my body. I remember practicing in the mirror; I remember showing off my breasts in my bright, purple bra like they were trophies that I had won to a group of men that I called my friends. I wish I had known that I didn’t need the eyes of these men on my body to be worth something.

Around boys, I was usually silent. Sometimes, I would whisper to the young men, but when we sit on the couch, I do not look at anyone. I stare at my phone uncomfortably, I do not talk to him. I do not know us outside of the bedroom.

When I come to dinner, I do not eat. I nibble silently on a cracker. Older now, I know what is going on here. I remember being fifteen, and I remember the girls who refused to eat in front of boys. With BMIs of 20 or 21, we knew that we were fat because we had seen the beauty of the girls with BMIs of 17. We were afraid of making a sound, that a boy would hear the crunch of a chip, that pieces of it would fall in our hair or graze our chest. We hid from our needs, from our bodies, and we didn’t want the men to see that we were human. This is why I silently allow a cracker to dissolve to mush in my mouth before swallowing. I lie and whisper that I am not hungry. Now, I want to shake her, to pile food on her plate and scream, “You don’t have to be afraid to take up space! I know that you are hungry!” When I leave this place, I will find my voice and my body. But this person that I once was will always haunt me, how could I have once been so weak and afraid when I am now so strong?

I’m sitting at the corner of Apple Street and Boise Avenue. I start to slouch under the steering wheel, peeking out of the open window as I linger at the four-way stoplight. Changing my mind, I sit up suddenly, resenting that I see him and he doesn’t see me. I crank the lever on my left-hand side, rolling up the window as I begin to scream. He’s standing coolly, holding his skateboard at his side as he waits to cross. My eyes catch the shoelace tied around his hips, his shorts settling in comfortably. And then I wail even louder, punching the steering wheel and kicking the floor, “F*** YOU A**H***! F***. YOU.” He never notices me.

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