BEAUTY IN ELEVEN ENCOUNTERS
- i could blame it on the culture of america, korea, science, but i boil it down to being the first korean word i learned, yeppuda yeppuda rolling off the tongues of halmonis and imos and echoing around the room like a bullet: beautiful beautiful. they flap sun-spotted hands to my sister’s and my hair, our flat stomachs, our long legs, and the only word i could understand was yeppuda. i begin to think of it as a science, as a fact, a ledgehold in the vast canyon of earth and universe. sun is yellow. clouds are white. i am beautiful. yeppuda, yeppuda.
- it takes a little time but i discover tragedy backwards, and suddenly i’m a victim of a crime i didn’t even know existed and i can’t stop thinking about my mother crying into the golden light of a therapist’s office. (no matter how hard i try the image sticks in my chest and stays there, makes a home against my heart.) it’s an awareness i didn’t ask for, and now i’ve lost my fingers, my collarbone, my hipbone. i avoid mirrors. i let my body bloat & stagnate, burrowing deep inside what is now spoiled flesh. yeppuda begins to skip over me at dinner. my sister keeps her flat stomach and grows into her long legs and i begin hating her.
- she practices smiling and her reflection glows and she cultivates makeup brushes for fingers. i throw my makeup in a box and hide it away. the shame of being unbeautiful takes root somewhere in me and sprouts until everything i am transforms into a devotion for hiding. i become a study in survival and i see strangers behind every door in my house and sometimes it feels mysterious and painless and thrilling. other nights i lock my doors and sleep on my face and i can barely breathe.
- i am asked to winter formal and called beautiful for the first time in years and it just feels dirty and transactional, like he’s trying to take something from me, like him being the one to call me beautiful means that now some part of me belongs to him, is beholden to him. no. i’m done with losing my bones.
- i take jazz for p.e. and the walls are covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors. i refuse to look in any of them. instead i watch the dancers in my class unfold their arms and legs like paper origami and try to pretend i am born of the same airy yeppuda, attach myself to rhythm and cadence and beat. they give their skin away in little slivers against their navels, their shoulders, and i begin to hate them too because the dull pain inside me is too airless and solid. we have changing rooms. i change in the bathroom.
- an eighth grade boy asks my sister to kiss him, asks her if she ever thinks about him, tells her she’s the most beautiful girl he knows. she tells him no. now he laughs at her in the halls and tells her he’s never met anyone so desperate. when she comes home crying, i’m torn between telling her it is her fault she is beautiful and punching the boy in the face.
- all the beautiful girls in my dance class who gave away their skin eventually hand off their bones too. sometimes their boyfriends don’t know when no means no and all i can do is write and write and write, stab my fingers into the keys, and i want to talk to them to tell them it gets better but it’s not something you talk about and i’m not sure how much of it would be a lie. maybe it would be simpler to tell them it’s better to be ugly.
- and then one of my friends begins to tell me gently i am beautiful. i have been brushing off compliments for forever now, not letting any of them catch my shoulders or twist my tongue. i think i laugh in his face. but over the next few weeks, without pointing at my hair or my legs, he just reminds me: hey you know you’re really pretty right?
- i say thank you and he says why are you thanking me?
- he says it until i respond with i know.
- and it shouldn’t mean that much but it does; beauty with nothing but me attached to it, and not even beauty but just prettiness, the cool breeze of a smile and the comfort of falling onto familiarity. it’s just something in his simplicity, in the factual way it was, like the sky is blue. grass is green. and you can just be pretty.
Ollie Dupuy is a junior at Orange County School of the Arts in Southern California, where she studies creative writing and is an editor for Inkblot Literary Magazine. She enjoys history (America’s, the world’s, yours) and opportunities to overdress. Her work has appeared in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review and gravel.