de Nelson Febo 

 

She stared at the mirror as night invaded the house. Tears would fall down her cheeks as her thoughts would desecrate her reflection. She was beautiful to all, but ugly to herself.

Over a dozen magazines were on the floor. The women in those pictures were all so happy and joyful; she could hear their distant laughs and comments as if they were actually there with her. Before these magazines ever came to her life, there used to be a grandmother who would actually show Belinda what real beauty was every day after she came home from school. “Do not hide under masks of makeup, but rather, love yourself. ¡Ahí está la belleza real!” Then she went on to a better place to teach other angels the same thing, leaving this fallen angel with only memories. Her mother and father tried to replace the loss with little trinkets, with money, with clothing, and expensive trips to psychologists. Her father was the least interested in paying another person to tell her what he could easily say to her himself; “straighten up and live with it!” Her mother, though, often used to stand in front of the same mirror with her, going on and on about how beauty comes from within, not from the outside. But the small and disoriented child would close her eyes and dim the sound that was her mother’s voice. Still, they tried their best as parents just to keep her from falling apart, up until she went off to college. They cared for her and called every day, but they didn’t understand; no one did. And even though she was already grown up, studying what she wanted and trying not to fail, she could never shake off the idea of getting rid of the ugly herself, to finally feel beautiful.

Fat! Ugly! Pitiful! Disgusting! She would close her eyes and that’s all she would hear coming from the women in the pictures. The same words her classmates used to torment her with throughout high school. Insults that came out of girls who, as they grew up, ended up getting pregnant, broken, out on the streets… their old selves deformed by the love of their lives. Perhaps, after all was said and done, they’d finally see that she was just as beautiful on the outside, like, supposedly, they all were.

They all said beauty was something you were born with, inside and out, and that she had none. No matter what, she couldn’t even pay the price for beauty.

As she grew up, there were no brown eyes to look back at her, no long black hair that rested on her back, no lips of perfect symmetry, no cute nose, and no slender caramel-skin body. Belinda had completely blinded herself wishing for an image that would never be hers. Every day, the same skinny blue-eyed blondes would diminish her thoughts, and weaken her heart with the same words: “Too bad that she can’t pay for real beauty.”

One day she realized, that she didn’t need to spend much to change her look and kill the ugly. Should she do it? Today? Why shouldn’t she? Belinda tried and tried to look and look at every mirror, every reflection, just to find what many people, including her family had told her forever. She couldn’t, she was never able to see it. Belinda struggled immensely to answer these questions. If she did it today, it would result in a new her. After a painful process, Belinda would finally be able to feel pretty, like the girls in the magazines and in the billboards. Of course, once she did it, there would be no going back to the person she was before, but what did it matter? Her parents would still love her, regardless of her choices; her friends, if they were real friends, would understand why. The only thing that mattered was her own satisfaction. What would they say when they saw that there were no more brown eyes looking sad at the world? They’d finally say she’s beautiful, really beautiful, or perhaps, they would say that she was still ugly. Her best friend would always try to snap her out of that thought. Maybe if Amanda saw the “new me” she would stop freaking out every time I mention something like that. Amanda had always maintained a strong bond with Belinda, especially whenever she would doze off in a trance in front of the mirror.

“Belinda, you are not ugly. You are not pitiful. You are not who you think you are.”

But as she did with her mother, she’d nod and listen only to the mirror.

Maybe, with her new body, she wouldn’t space out when she looked at herself. Maybe she would finally smile to herself, finally find real happiness and maybe even get married. People would stop and stare at her like they do with models or very attractive women. Maybe she would finally be treated as part of the “in crowd” back home. The possibilities were limitless, the perks were endless. Being a Puerto Rican in America was hard, but it was harder if you were ugly as she thought she was. She knew it was that drastic move from a small land to a bigger one that had contributed to her problem. As she grew, the white blue eyed blondes had acted as if they had never seen a Puerto Rican, or in her case, an ugly Puerto Rican girl. Luckily, in college nobody really cared for how you looked nor where you came from, but that still didn’t help her.

Belinda earned enough money to buy the magazines and the Beauty Kit. She didn’t care how much it would all cost her because it was all a small price to pay for true beauty. When she was younger, she wanted to buy them all –Cosmopolitan, Women’s Fitness, People, and so forth-, but when her parents found out that she had spent a lot of money, in what they believed was unnecessary, they cut her off. In order to pay for the magazines that she desperately craved, Belinda started working in high school. She earned a lot of cash and her parents never found out. She had worked very hard, graduated top of her class with many recommendations from professors and even with all of this, she still found herself unworthy and unattractive. It was very hard on her, but now that she was about to end it, she wasn’t going to look back.

She opened her brown eyes and stared vaguely into the mirror. She was about to enter into a world of beauty, where the roads where golden and everybody accepted you. She grabbed magazines and cut off the pictures of the most breathtakingly beautiful women only to glue them all around the mirror. Their eyes were all staring at her and this seemed to put her on a trance. Different eyes would slowly judge her current persona, as she would too. She could hear them all saying “We can make you beautiful, we can help you,” and she believed them. At the end of the day, they were, the world’s most beautiful women, so why would she doubt it?

The procedure was very simple. She had bought dye for her hair, a sharpie, scissors that supposedly cut through anything, needles, syringes, morphine for the pain, bandages and a beeper that would contact any ambulance in case anything went wrong. She didn’t remember where she first got the idea to do this but, in any case, it was cheaper than plastic surgery. Of course, she begged her parents to help her afford it, but when they found out how gruesome the situation truly was they took her immediately to the best psychologist in town.

“These people are not beautiful, they are all just fake copies of what we want them to be.” said the doctor, but for Belinda, this was only an old record stuck on repeat.

Night had finally set in the entire house. The only light in the whole place was behind a closed room. Belinda grabbed the sharpie and started drawing lines through her body. Some lines made a circle on her stomach, on her breasts, legs, nose and lips. Her whole body looked like a map with specific spots as to where to dig. Belinda injected the morphine without flinching. Her breathing and heartbeat slowed down. Belinda didn’t seem as nervous as she thought she’d be. Once again, a soothing sensation took over her, as if dancing with her soul. She remembered when her grandmother would dance like this with her in the living room. They danced to all sorts of baladas from Puerto Rico. She remembered her father trying to teach her the proper way to fix anything that was broken, and that she didn’t need a man to do everything for her.

“You are my beautiful princess” they would both say.

Belinda grabbed the scissors and sat in the tub filled with iced water. As she mumbled to herself a lullaby her mother would sing to her whenever she was afraid at night, she began to cut the skin marked throughout her stomach. Her eyes showed no emotion, and that dim light that was still lit in her brown eyes, vanished. The blood started to flow in the water, dancing in ceremonial joy around her. Belinda kept going. Even with the excruciating pain, she didn’t flinch. Her father had always told her, “It’s okay to cry, but try not to let your heart feel any pain.” She looked at the photograph of the sexiest model of 2007, looked at her waist and asked if she had also taken out her heart in order to not feel any pain as she did.

“Don’t change, don’t ever change for anybody.” Amanda had told her when she left to college to start her new life. “Always remember who you were before they told you who you had to be, Belinda.”

She didn’t realize she had touched so many hearts. The same hearts that once tried to show her that the world wasn’t as dark as she believed it was. Their voices would come inside her mind as a waves would rush to the shore. She held her chest tightly and felt… nothing. There was no life, there was no emotion. She was completely numb to the sadness, to happiness, and to her own destruction.

She felt the agonizing pain and injected more morphine into her system. She cried without feeling anything but the cold sharpness of the scissors. Careful! You have to be careful! The procedure went on for 40 minutes until the pain was too much to bear. She sewed her skin back together and applied bandages to her waist. The scissors were dripping small drops of blood into the water. Her eyes, lightless, stared at the mirror covered with pictures of beautiful women. Beauty was the only escape from her own demise, from the unhappy life she didn’t want to live. Why should she live it? She had every right to happiness as anyone in this world. She pressed the beeper, and started to fade into an empty darkness. Belinda’s eyes felt heavy, and every nerve in her body was dying along with all the ugly she had gotten rid of. Her grandmother would not let her die in this tub until she was finally beautiful. If this was the end, she thought, at least my grandma would save me and hold me in her arms where I’ll be beautiful. Grandma will save me.

***

She stood in front of the mirror for the first time in days in her grandmother’s house. It was a small house in the eastern side of Puerto Rico, near a beautiful beach and underneath a Caribbean blue sky. She held up her shirt and started looking at her waist, grabbing the skin and pulling it as if trying to unstick it from her own skin. A woman on TV had just lost forty pounds of unnecessary fat in order to impress a major producer and getting the final spot on a show. Through those wide brown eyes all she saw was layers of fat and nothing else. Her grandmother walked in on her and only looked at her with pain. She kneeled in front of her eleven-year old granddaughter and pulled down her shirt. She said nothing.

“Grandma, why are those people so pretty? Why can’t I be like them?” asked the 11-year-old girl with tears almost falling off her face. Her grandmother caressed her cheek with her soft black hands, looking into Belinda’s beautiful eyes. She turned Belinda around and alongside her looked at the mirror.

“Because those people don’t have what you have. A beautiful heart that can’t be seen in clear view, not through this mirror, nor any other.” She held her granddaughter closer. “It can be looked at by staring deep into your eyes. Try it! And tell me your heart isn’t beautiful.” Belinda got closer to the mirror and stared into her own eyes. She squinted for a while and ended up smiling, with a great expression of joy.

“I see it! I can see my heart grandma! It’s very pretty and it glows!”

Her grandmother smiled and kissed her head. “People put a price on beauty, but few know what it truly is. Some let beauty put a price on them, and sometimes the price is their own life. But Belinda…” She looked at her granddaughter with her own beautiful green eyes. “Don’t let beauty put a price on you. Don’t let it take your heart. God blessed you with an extraordinary beauty that many will love and many will hate mija. But never let them put it at risk.”

She nodded to her grandmother’s final words and looked at the people on TV. Her grandmother was right, these people didn’t know what real beauty was, and probably never will. A young woman was shown crying on the show as she wasn’t allowed to be a part of it. The judges quickly stated it was because she didn’t measure up to the standards of real beauty. But, what is real beauty?

***

“Clear!”

They placed the paddle on her chest and let out the volts. There was still no heartbeat, and she flat lined in the ambulance. They tried it again, this time with a higher voltage.

“Clear!”

Her body thumped, and her heartbeat rose slowly. “Alright, we need to take her to the hospital.” Belinda opened her left eye and was immediately blinded by the light on top of her. She breathed with difficulty, and felt the pain coming from her waist. She looked at the paramedics and was greeted with the most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen. The paramedic whispered in a hushed tone but Belinda couldn’t understand what she said. It was her grandmother’s eyes, it was her grandmother’s hushed voice, and it was her grandmother who was holding on to her hand. Belinda knew it was her as she felt her heart glow for the very first time since her grandmothers passing. She felt an unexplainable sensation coming from within, as if the torches inside her body lit, restoring hope to her soul, until she finally closed her eye. The last thing she remembered was the echo of her heartbeat in a heartless world.

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