Playing Princess

May 26, 2014
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For the first ten years of my life I always imagined myself a princess. Then in the tenth grade Bobby Monroe called me a hag and I realized I wasn't a princess after all. It's amazing how quickly someone can defeat your dream with the utterance of one word. Twenty years later I cringe whenever I hear it and am immediately brought back to that rainy afternoon when my love for myself faded. That's why when I opened up my mail and found an invitation to my high school reunion I immediately threw it in the trash. I couldn’t face them all again. By now they were probably all married with kids or had fabulous jobs as partners in law firms or top surgeons. While I was a waitress and living alone in a lousy apartment with no social life to speak of.

I sighed and stared mournfully at the glittery invitation sitting atop the pile of grease smeared plastic plates and frozen dinner wrappers. I reached into the trash and gingerly picked up the now slightly damp piece of cardstock and put it on the counter. An idea began forming in my head and to the empty apartment, but mostly myself, I said aloud “This could work.”

I ran to my tiny, unkempt bedroom and lifted up the bottom right corner of my unmade mattress. I fished around until my hand grasped the crumpled white envelope that housed my life savings. Seven hundred and fifty dollars. It wasn’t much but it would be enough to fool them for one night. I put the money back in the envelope and returned it to its hiding place. Tomorrow was going to be a fun day. I was going to blow my savings just to prove a point; a point that wasn’t even true.

The sun filtered into my room through a tear in my old blinds early the next morning. The pigeons had already started congregating at my window knowing I would give them whatever leftovers I had. I pulled on the only clean blouse I could find and shuffled around in the back of my closet for nearly twenty minutes trying to find the only skirt I owned. I ran a brush through my untamed, curly black hair and did my best to apply liquid eyeliner that was way past its expiration date. Finally satisfied with how I looked I grabbed the envelope and my purse and went outside to hail a taxi. I decided against driving my beat up old ford to the high end shopping center I planned on visiting.

I would need a new dress, fancy heels and someone to professionally do my hair and makeup. I was determined to show up to the reunion looking like a perfect ten. I would fabricate a glamorous life for myself and make them feel ashamed of how they treated me. I would become the wife of a renowned brain surgeon with a lavish mansion and three vacation homes; one in Barcelona, one in Maui, and one in Fiji. I would have private drivers and personal stylists. I told them I would be princess and now I would make them believe that wish had come true.

The dress shop smelled like a perfume factory had thrown up somewhere in the vent system. My eyes watered and for a few seconds I could barely breathe. By the time my vision had cleared a petite blonde packed perfectly into a short, skin tight navy dress was standing beside me. She had sugary sweet smile plastered on her face and in an overly cheery voice she said “Good morning, Ma’am. Welcome to Debra’s. My name is Stacey. Is there anything in particular you are looking for that I can help you find?”

I paused for second letting her words sink in. I had never been called ma’am before, and it felt good. I tried setting my face to a look of confidence and coolness. I’m pretty sure I just ended up looking constipated. “I’m look for a dress to wear to my high school reunion.”

“Do have any particular style in mind?”

“I want something that will really wow them.”

Stacey smiled. “Follow me.”

She led me to the back of the store to a line of fitting rooms. “Wait here. I’ll be back in a sec.”

She disappeared behind the wall of clothing racks that formed a labyrinth around the store. I was left with nothing to do but stare at the walls and occasionally my fingertips. I gazed glumly at my messy cuticles and bitten nails. I mentally added 'get a mani-pedi' to my list of things I needed to do before the reunion. Princess didn’t go around without perfectly cut cuticles and polished nails.

Stacy returned with a pile of dresses almost as tall as her. She hung them over the back of a nearby chair and in a no nonsense tone she said “let’s get to work.”

The next few hours were horrible. I loved buying clothes but having to try on everything was exhausting. Nothing fit right and if it did it was too expensive or not the type of dress I wanted. After about two hours we were down to the last few dresses. I was sure I had tried on everything in the store. I picked up a short, black dress with an A-line skirt, a key-hole neck and rhinestone studded straps. It looked promising. Stepping out of the dressing room I felt like a supermodel on a runway. Stacy gasped and in the most sincere voice I’d her heard use all day she said “it’s beautiful!”

I blushed and did a little twirl in front of the mirror. This dress was made for me. “How much?”

Stacy checked the sticker in the back. “It’s normally six hundred but it’s on clearance for half off.”

I did the math in my head. Half off meant three hundred which left me with over four hundred to spend on shoes, hair and makeup.

I could make that work.

I think.

I hope.

“I’ll take it.”

“Great. Bring it to the register when you’re ready and I’ll ring up for you.”

Five minutes later I was walking out of Debra’s with the most expensive dress I had ever owned swinging beside me in a paper bag. Next I went to Fancy Feet where I found of a pair of patent leather black pumps for only a hundred dollars and then I went to the jewelry store where I picked up a pair of costume earrings and a matching necklace. I would have liked to get something real but unfortunately my budget didn't allow it. By three o' clock I was home and completely exhausted. I was also on a high. I had never spent so much money on myself before. All of my clothes were basically t- shirts and clearance jeans from the nearby Target and I'd worn the same pair of ratty sneakers for nearly three years. I was a far cry from the princess I'd hoped to be. But the new cloths and a face full of makeup would hopefully be enough to fool my former classmates. I was also hoping, somewhere deep inside; I would somehow be able to fool myself into believing I could be a princess again.

I grabbed a quick shower, changed into my uniform and rushed out the door, already late for my shift at the diner. I spent the entire evening taking orders and waiting table but while by body was doing the work my mind was someplace else. I thought back to all the school dances I'd skipped and parties I'd missed out on. All because I had been too scared to show my face. If I had gone who knows what might have happened. I might have accepted one of the many dates offered to me and possibly have been married by now. I may even have had kids. I shook myself out of the past and instead focused on the future. In three days I would be back in the large school gym. But this time I wouldn't be cowering in the corner trying not to get hit with a dodge ball. If all went according to plan I would be the center of attention. I would walk with my head held high, with poise and confidence in every step.

Assuming I didn't get laughed out of the gym first.

Three days passed a lot quicker than I expected and before I knew it I was sitting in the hair salon with suds in my hair and some Russian lady chattering to me while I smiled and nodded, hoping she wouldn't shave me bald. Forty five minutes later my hair had been blown out and pinned up. My face was covered in makeup and my red nails glistened in the fluorescent light. Looking in the mirror I didn't recognize myself. The makeup artist had done something to make my blue eyes stand out against my pale skin and my lips looked like twice their normal size. I was beautiful. My dress fit like a glove showing of curves I didn't know I had and the tall shoes made me feel like a giant. I was ready.

The gym was decorated with streamers and cheap banners. A disco light had been hung up in the middle of the room but it seemed to have stopped working. The room was full of people chatting and catching up. I stood in the door way not sure where to go. Then I spotted Bobby. Only it wasn't Bobby. At least not his body. In high school Bobby was tall and athletic. He had huge biceps and a six pack that most girls drooled over. Now he was, well, fat. He wore a maroon button down shirt that was bursting at the seams and a sports jacket with frayed cuffs and two missing buttons. There was no ring on his finger and he seemed to be here alone. I made my way over to the table his sitting at. He was staring at his drink and didn’t notice me sit down. I cleared my throat trying to get his attention but it didn’t work. “Bobby?” I said.

He looked up, surprised that someone was talking to him. He was extremely different from the charismatic boy in high school who had always been the center of attention. “Amanda? Is that really you? You look amazing!”

I blushed. “Thank you. And you look-”

“You don’t have to say it. I know.”

“What happened? You were supposed to go to the U on a sports scholarship weren’t you? And eventually play for the state.”

“They made me take a physical exam. Since the scholarship they were giving me was in sports they wanted to make sure I was healthy. The doctor found something wrong with my leg. If I continued playing the muscles in my leg would eventually just stop working. I didn’t have enough money to pay my own way through college so my application was dropped. I went to work at the local McDonalds. A few years ago I was promoted to assistant manager. I get free food whenever I want. Good for the wallet but not so good for the waist line.”

Bobby took a swig of his drink and sigh. I was too dumfounded to speak. Bobby had been voted most likely to succeed in our senior year book. And now he was an assistant manager at fast food joint. It made me wonder how everyone else had fared these past few years. Maybe my life wasn’t so bad after all. Bobby finished his drink and asked “So what have you been doing? Looks like you became the princess you were always talking about.”

“You remember that?” I had almost expected most people to forget my dream.

“Of course. I’m sure everybody does. We always spoke about it. About how sure you were of yourself and how you dressed up fancy everyday just to come to school. And you spoke with a large vocabulary and always corrected our grammar. You always said 'a princess knows what to speak and how to speak what she knows'.”

I was shocked. He remembered that? I barely remember saying that and yet he remembered it perfectly. It was so odd seeing the man who called me a hag practically praising me for ‘being a princess.’ “If you were all so impressed why was I always made fun of?”

I tried my best to keep the hurt and pain I was feeling out of my voice.

“We were jealous. You knew exactly what you wanted to be and you didn’t care what anyone thought of it. You were proud to be you. And as hormonal teenagers we all felt jealous of that confidence you had.”

“But, why did you call me a hag?”

Bobby’s face turned red. “That was something entirely different. If I recall correctly I called you a hag a few days before spring formal. You had been asked to the dance by Ryan Davidson and I was jealous. I wanted to go to the dance with you."

"So by calling me a hag you thought I would I would dump Ryan and go with you? That's some pretty poor logic."

"I was teenage boy. And as they say - hindsight is twenty-twenty. I thought if I pulled your spirits down a bit you wouldn't agree to go with Ryan and few weeks later you forget the whole thing and I would be able to ask you to the end of year dance. I'm sorry if I hurt you. I didn't really think things through. But you seem to have turned out alright anyway. You're still that princess."

I squirmed in my seat. I wasn't that princess anymore. In fact I was the exact opposite. I wasn't happy with who I was and I had changed myself just to stand out at the reunion. I was anything but the princess I had once been. Bobby continued, "You know, I don't really know why I called you hag of all things. You were beautiful. You still are beautiful."

"Really?" It had been years since anyone had called me pretty, let alone beautiful.

"Yeah. You've got nice hair, big eyes and you just sorta glow."

"I glow?"

"Not like a light saber. You have this inner glow. I don't mean to sound cliché but you always gave off a kind of confident glow and you were always so nice to people. Even when everyone in the class was making fun of you, you wouldn't insult anyone back. Ever."

I could feel tears in the corners of my eyes. "I have to go." I abruptly got up and left the room, keeping my head down as I walked. I got into my beat up old car that I had parked three blocks away and slowly made my way back to my lonely apartment.

As soon as I walked through the door I went to the bathroom and started washing the layers of makeup off my face. As I did so I glanced up into the mirror. What I saw was my face, but it was somehow different. I realized that all the make-up the lady in the salon had put on wasn't to hide my ugly face but to bring out my already beautiful features. I had long, silky, black hair and large, clear blue eyes. My lips were large and a natural shade of light pink and my skin was flawless. For the first time I was seeing me, not the hag I thought I was, but the real me.

It dawned on me that the reason I was princess was because I cared about myself. I made choices based on my likes or dislikes rather than those around me. I was comfortable in my own skin which in high school and in the world beyond is a very rare thing. I carried myself with pride and I wasn't scared to show the world who I really was. That's what made me princess. Not looks or clothes. Not high heels and tubs of makeup. My contentedness with myself and who I was is what gave me the title princess. And If I could just remember that and not forget myself I would always be that princess.

As I went to sleep that night I realized I was happy. Happy with who I was in high school and with who I am now. I was no longer playing princess. I was one. One the inside and out.

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