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The Beauty in Balance
There’s a soldier (dirty and stained and tall) across the water, across miles and miles of water, and his arms are wrapped tightly around his waist as if frightened to lose something if he let go; if he lets go, he will, and it will kill him. Facing him on the opposite shore is a model, and she is as pink, prissy, and dull as the word itself; she is innocence to the camera, and she wishes she didn’t feel so fake all the time.
The soldier has fought for his life, feeling a dozen times that it would be in vain, and he’s fought for his friends’ lives and his country. There’s this pain, and pain is there, inside of his heart all the time; it’s herniated from sights of real gore and real cries for security blankets, infested there in his blood and it’s not just angst, it’s pain, it’s real pain. Sometimes he doesn’t know how to cope, and he begs his instincts to take over for him. It hurts that he even has to beg anymore.
The model doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror anymore -- she never recognizes herself. She doesn’t remember if she’s had plastic surgery, or if it’s just the make-up and material, or if she’s always looked that way. She doesn’t remember, and the thought scares her. She doesn’t know if she can turn back, if she can crawl back into her mother’s arms and sleep there for what will feel like a blissful eternity. She wonders if the only friends she’ll ever have are the camera and the lens.
The soldier knows that other world exists: that place of fake smiles and sparkling jewelry and painted muscles. He knows they suffer because of the mirror, he knows, but it’s never enough to overshadow the gun in his hands -- the lives in his hands. Beauty is insignificant to him, because across the water, across these minds, it does not exist.
The model knows that other world exists: that place that she’s too sick to describe, because she has a feeling that it’s too horrible for her to even speak of. She knows, because before all the overwhelming amounts of beauty surrounded her, she feared for her friends’ lives. She would cry in the bathrooms from the very fear of it -- the fear that her friends would grow up to fight, and grow up to die, and even though it was amazing and noble and honorable, she didn’t want them to die. Looking at their grinning faces, she forced herself to imagine them soldiers. It was reality, and reality scared her.
The soldier doesn’t remember what mirrors look like. He tries to think again about how they work exactly, but it is impossible, because the word mirror does not associate with an image in his head -- it’s just mirror, just a word to be a word with no other purpose or definition. It seems to be the same case with a lot of things around him -- there are rooms in isolated buildings that were made for no other purpose than to be a room, there are oceans separating him from home for no other reason than to be a separating ocean, and there are dark emotions set into the lines of his face for no other reason. Even though the rooms and oceans and emotions exist, and their purposes exist, he only ever thinks about the word mirror and what it could possibly mean. He has to admit: it is a pretty-sounding word.
The model has seen too many mirrors to care. She is just apathetic; she lets everyone else worry about her appearance, for what could it matter to her anymore? There’s a word in her head that intrigues her, because it’s the utter opposite of what she’s come to know herself as. It’s intriguing because it’s foreign to her -- what do politics matter to the beauty queen? -- and the word is war. She knows it’s dark and it’s depressing, but other than that, it’s just a word to her. Something in the back of her mind fidgets when she thinks it, and soon, faces of old friends become associated with the word. There also exists a word behind the word that she unconsciously keeps herself from thinking. Eventually it becomes impossible. If her life had taken another extra turn, would she be a soldier? Suddenly she’s screaming her mascara off in the dressing room, because the words associated themselves with each other. She despises reality with every atom of her being, yet with those very same atoms, she craves it.
As time wears on, and they’re still staring heatedly across the (miles and miles of) water at each other, they’re sharing this common thought: What is beauty, really?
Because it’s not mirror, and it’s definitely not war, either.
The soldier is shot, and his time is up. On the ship back to his own country, he’s under the impression that he’s not really alive, and that this ship is just a mental metaphor and he’s actually going home. When he uses the bathroom on the ship, he keeps the lights off -- it never crosses his mind to turn them on. If he thought about it, he’d think that something in his brain was telling him that there was something wrong, something he didn’t want to see. He spends all of his time out on deck, watching the sky and the sun and the colors they make, pondering how to describe it. What’s the word?
The model grows incurable bags under her eyes, and her modeling expressions are no longer exciting to the public, and she is let go. On the way back to her hometown, to her house by the docks, she’s under the impression that her life is ruined and that modeling was the only thing that ever made her happy. She’s unwilling to step out of that fake place -- fake skin is just beautiful, isn’t it? I want that back -- and she wonders if it’s still the fear of reality. She just feels numb, so she spends all of her time out at the docks, watching the sky and the sun and the colors they make, pondering how to describe it. What’s the word?
There something wrong here -- or is it natural? both of them think as the soldier’s ship pulls into the dock.
The soldier sees this lovely girl sitting at the other end of the dock, and she’s watching him. She’s in jeans and a tank top, and she’s not wearing any make-up, but he thinks she could be a model. He can see the sky behind her -- purple and blue and pink and red, and the sun is just a painter, it is not yellow. If he had a Polaroid camera, he’d save this picture in his back pocket forever.
The model -- except she’s not anymore -- watches a man her age walk off the recently docked ship. He’s in dark jeans and an army jacket, and she can see the imperfect lines on his face. The sky behind her casts light on his figure, and she can see every imperfection, every unbeautiful thing about him; he’s not ugly, he’s real, and it makes him a looker. She’s glad she doesn’t have a camera to tempt her -- she wants to see him, not a remake of him.
When he approaches her (somehow, they feel that they’re staring across an ocean at each other,) she asks him what he is, because she doesn’t remember seeing anything human since she was a kid and her friends smiled and looked like soldiers. “I am a soldier,” he tells her, and suddenly she’s not numb and he’s not a stranger. He asks the same of her, and she looks off to the side and tells him, “I was a model.” He sits next to her, and she is not a girl just to be a girl -- she is suddenly a girl to fit him, and she has a purpose for being in his life.
As they stare at each other, with the water beneath them (miles and miles of it), they’re asking what is beauty?
They’re telling themselves and each other that it doesn’t matter, because beauty is not a look; it’s a feeling, and they feel balance.