Pressed Paper

January 7, 2012
By Daniel C., Westfield, New Jersey
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Daniel C., Westfield, New Jersey
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Author's note: This was actually an assignment from my English teacher which I was super ecstatic for. The assignment was rights of passages for cultures.

I watched myself in the mirror, inspecting every detail, identifying any flaws in my beauty and quickly adjusting it. The fear of something going wrong today, right now, was too great. I grabbed my bag, terrified that a slow mist would rise up from the ground and take it away when I wasn’t looking. Opening the latch, I saw the envelope, once again in my hands; the sharp edges now dull because of my fascination, and the crisp, sealed close now flimsily sticking to the base in a desperate attempt to hold on. Holding it in my hands, it felt, was the safest place for the document. Like so many times before, I unclothed the piece of fine printed paper and scanned it with my eyes.


“You, Ms. Bridget Dubois, are formally presented as a member of The College of Technology in New York, New York,” the words stated in a black font that seemed to weight the paper down. I didn’t need to read it, I knew every inch of that paper, because minute by minute I studied its authenticity, fighting my urge to yell to the world, to scream my victory roar, my eagerness to just take off and run to the next train leaving Lafayette. My dreams were being touched by the hand I never knew could be mine. I thought a sort of deity, much larger than I, hell even Louisiana, was the only one that could come in proximity with my dream. I could DO my dream; I was the best one in Mr. James’s mechanics class. I was smarter than anyone of those pot smoking, mollycoddled idiots in that class, yet they were better than me, because they had something between their legs that I didn't. I will forever be second in that aspect, always the rib of Adam. Mr. James was the only one who gave me a chance with my talent. And I took every chance I could to repay him for putting me in that class. It paid off, New York was asking, and James was answering, with a resume with MY name on it! Can you believe that! If I, little sunshine girl, triple pageant winning, daughter of two French aristocrats in crappy, high end Lafayette, could one day be a mechanic, than who else knows what could happen! And guess what, after praying every day to Jesus, I knew someone heard me, because that resume, like Mr. James told me, was a diamond in the rough for them. They sent a letter back to me so fast I thought I threw my 6 year old cousin’s Australian toy.


But something was stuck like a dead animal on the tracks to New York…that something was Mother. She loved me and looked out for me as every Christian Louisiana mother does; the situation is just that, she thinks I'm stupid, and all beauty. She thinks women in general are the offspring of man. She'll never see through the sexist screen that is the Louisiana air, and give me her blessing to go. But this guilt outweighs any pain I might receive from her, the guilt of celebration, of accomplishment, of leaving a mother without her goodbyes like I planned. I thought once I was done with this party, the train at 10:00 to Charleston followed by the one at 6:00 the following day to New York with a wad of money I knew those heavy pocketed aristocrats would give would do, but I now see she must know, no matter what I do, I cannot live with the guilt. To know that after Father died, God bless his soul, she would be missing another of her own. I just couldn’t.

I finally stood on my heels, already feeling the pain travel up my ankle. Once more I looked at the mirror, inspecting myself, the gems on my clothes made the dress sparkle like a flamboyant rooster pecking a diamonds in the earth. Make-up, so heavily applied to face, it looked like it only consisted of a nose, eyes, and a bright red mouth. My hair was enslaved by the many applicants and bobby pins that tormented it to an unnatural shape, with bright blonde streaks running through it like skid marks. Expensive and superficial cold stones pressed my skin, unfamiliar to the touch, everything but the emerald ring my father gave to me. A green that seemed to permeate the pounds and pounds of priceless tradition tied around my body, inscribed with French dialect even the oldest Cajun woman in rural Louisiana couldn’t understand. With one last glance and kiss on the jewel, I left the room. My debutante was the last interaction I would have in familiar ground.

Walking into the hall, I found the food being set for the guests onto silver platters polished finely. The music furnished the room and every step brought me closer to the source, with very traditional Cajun drumming and fiddling vibrating through my bones and exiting through my fingers and toes. French language my mother failed to teach me rhythmically saturated the music. Finally at the climax of the noise I opened the doors only to be comforted by the beauty aristocratic society could bring. Bright lights permeated my eyes, flooding the dark hallway with light. A crystal chandelier rained over us, temporarily distracting me from the faces that now looked behind their seats to see the prized guest. Tall walls enclosed the space, lined with gold paint and yellow leaf wallpaper. Tables surrounded a stage that held many presents evenly and carefully assembled, mix-matching patterns, one larger than the next in a never winning competition of size. I examined the center-piece of a large Queen Anne Lace, surrounded by acacia’s praying to the large flower, dotted by small white lilies was stationed at each table, with a silk table clothe under the flowers so soft and smooth to the touch that felt it like a sheep’s underbelly.
To my right stood a podium now pointed out to me by nodding heads, unwilling to break the tradition. I quickly remembered the steps of the part I needed to play and climbed slowly up to the top the structure. The patient yet excited guests lined up as they had done so many other times to greet me as a new woman introduced to them by my Mother, a tradition that has never been overcome and never will be in indestructible Southern culture.
Like an unwanted day coming unexpectedly and surprisingly, my Mother stepped behind the podium and confronted her nervous daughter of things she couldn’t yet guess. Her dress, less dazzling but still as obnoxious caught my eye; not until I could define the wrinkles in her face did I look up. We, daughter and mother, would now interact.
“Bridget,” she began calmly at first, “You are beautiful; the picture of perfection none of us could ever dream of,” she stated in a weak, struggling voice, trying desperately to hold on to her calm. “Now, let’s begin.”
Slowly, each person was introduced to the new Bridget, the better, more mature Bridget.
“Welcome, Miss. Dubois,” said my mother with a thick French accent.
“Pleased to meet you Miss. Dubois,” said a guest, or “Nice to make your acquaintance Miss. Dubois,” or even, “Welcome to Lafayette Miss. Dubois.” All showing acceptance in their eyes, a new found respect even I, a rebellious woman, still wished as a little girl I would receive. Their greetings soon became less of a celebration and more of a chore as more and more of my mother’s friends kissed my hand, which I desperately needed to sanitize. After the long greetings, a formal presentation was in order, with me still looking to the ground, working up the courage even to look into my mother’s brown eyes. Walking to the stage, everyone settled to their seats, awaiting my word to continue the celebration. After a few words of untruthful smiles and giggles of gratitude, the guest continued their socializing.
I felt the need to speak to her. “Mother,” I said slowly,” I have absolutely wonderful news to share with-” I was cut off by a mother’s love and appreciation for a daughter’s right of passage.
Touching my hair she stated with tear-filled eyes, “I’ve never felt so proud of you, you’re becoming the woman I always knew you would become,”
“Thank you mother,” I said, disregarding everything I planned for the day in that sentence. Only after sitting in a chair, watching the celebration go by did I realize the importance of my future decisions. Yet the quote hammered in my head, my mind drift to a less eventful time, I saw myself as a child. My short brown hair wasn’t tampered with as mine was currently. As I played with the dollhouse, I pictured the ceremony. Dazzling colors, a huge, towering cake, my friends, and my favorite; the elegant ball gown, all cluttered my mind. I drew for days the gown I would wear; a poufy, princess like gargantuan that seemed a little overdramatic as I see it now. I was enclosed in my room, praying for a magnificent debutante, like the girls before me. Only a large sigh from my mother besides me as she signaled me to stop day dreaming made me realize reality. I was entirely present in my words this attempt.
I stood up, “Mother, I want to tell you something I couldn’t keep away, it’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful news,”
“Well, don’t leave me in tension dear,”
“I applied to a school and I was accepted! Oh Momma they’re gonna ship me to New York. They want me that bad!” the words left my mouth, and I felt my tongue trying to grab the sinful phrase as it left.
Mother didn’t yell. She didn’t smile either. She didn’t throw something in anger, or dance in pleasure. She stayed there and…stared. I looked at her with an ever-present grin; my mind reeled of her reaction. I didn’t care, I wanted her to REACT.
“Bridget dear,” she said leaving her trance, “If we’re having problems at home let’s talk at home,” without moving her paralyzed smile. She began to walk away, unaffected by the situation. After processing her lack of an answer, I quickly chased her direction.
“Listen to me,” I said, unable to keep my voice down. “I’ve been accepted! I’m going to New York.” I stared at her now, waiting for the response. What felt like hours now were interrupted by me, surprisingly enough. “Can you please say something, this is a joyous occasion, you should be proud.”
Finally opening her mouth, her wrinkles moved slowly and gently with every word she said. “I don’t know what you want me to say, this is so unexpected, so…so not what I planned for you. We talked about this, you love modeling, you want a family, and you’re just going through a rebellious stage. Listen to me, I know you more than anyone, I’m your mother for God’s sake. Listen to me,” She reached out her hand, as I fought the urge to be comforted and kept in my mother’s arms, I recoiled. This was unexpected for her. Her face had changed, her wrinkles were still and tamed. The mood changed. “Listen to me,” she said, in a more assertive tone. “Think for a second, you are walking away from everything you ever wanted, you are pecking at the hand that feeds you. This decision is a mistake that will separate you from your future. “You will regret it, now be a good girl and follow orders,” once again raising her hand. I recoiled a second time, pushing the crown like Caesar did. The temptation needed to be conquered.
“This isn’t a phase Mother, I was meant for greater things-“
“Pride is a sin my dear,”
“This isn’t, I’m going to New York and I’m going to get a proper education,” I barked. I felt my face to make sure I was saying this, not someone behind me.
“You’ve always been disobedient, and look at what it’s got you so far, 18 and still never a steady relationship with a gentleman. I’m seeing you in a whole other light,” Truly hurt, I attacked twice as painful.
“I am willing to learn so I must be taken from this place. Lafayette isn’t the home for anyone willing to be true to themselves, only New York will ever untie the knot this community has put on all our tongues,” People began turning around, intrigued by the lady’s statement. It offended some, pleased others.
“Who’s got all this engineering crap in your head Bridget, is it that teacher. He only likes the way you look, he wants to get your pants off, this college stuff is just a cover-up to get you in bed,” her wrinkles echoed. An unsettling murmur ran around the thick crowd now huddled besides us both.
“He’s given me a chance, a chance to be truly smart, I am smart Mother,”
“Please, you’re just another Louisiana candy to his eye, another woman who’d clumsily fall into a trap of self-indulgence,”
“I’m a new chapter Mom; I’m not your past.” The crowd stopped dead in their tracks. Mother looked at me dead on.
“You are nothing without me, how dare you offend the one who kept you alive and well for 18 whole-“
“And now I ask nothing from you. I’m going to New York today, I’m leaving you.” I stated calmly. I left the room, grabbing the money on the table that the guests provided unknowing of its true purpose. I ran through late Lafayette, the cold biting into my skin, penetrating my now useless dress.

Unable to take the pain, I grabbed my shoes and took of the pointed knives stuck to my feet and carried the inhumane high-heels in my other hand. Arriving at the train station, I awaited the already planned train at 10:00. With the unwanted argument I was earlier by 3 hours. Huddled against the wall, I cried, wetting my dress with the pounds of make-up meant for me to look flawless. It was counterproductive when wet. I cried because of my response to my mother. “I should’ve been more mature, I should’ve been more respectful,” I chanted. I never felt more like a child, even when I needed the breast of my Mother to survive did I feel more independent.
The traffic crawled by as the crippling sunlight raining upon the steel city I now called home 3 long years later. Entering the building, someone got my attention.
“Another letter arrived for you,” the landlord proclaimed handing me the piece of neatly pressed paper, smoking on his favorite cherry-scented cigar. I tried balancing my weight to my left hand so that the baby would be undisturbed as I reached the letter from his lazy hand. The weight started to cough.
“Burney, please blow that thing out, chivalry is dead,” I stated, gently putting the blanket over my child’s mouth, wiping the new saliva sticking to its lip with every cough. Walking up the stairs, I struggled to properly balance myself out, very cautious with the little one. I opened the door to the apartment only to be greeted with the too familiar smell of alcohol. Dropping the letter in the pile created over a year, I walked to place the weight to its scheduled slumber. Slowly, its breathing got slower and slower, until I could hear nothing but a gentle snore from its stuffed nose. I smiled instinctively at the sleeping weight, a sight of pure beauty indeed as my Mother described it. I walking back through the kitchen situated in front of the door. Slowly, I organized the bottles placed out onto the counter into the cabinet, all with a very thick smell. I grabbed the letter placed down on the table to read the outside. “Another of Mother’s pleas for forgiveness, which I have yet to respond to,” I said to myself. She felt her actions will forever define how I view her, but that wasn’t the reason I wasn’t writing back. The embarrassment was too great, stronger than guilt in my opinion. The smell of failure was the overwhelming smog of alcohol floating through the apartment, leading me to the bedroom. I followed the track to see the man I will forever be reliant half-naked sleeping, drunk of course. This was my dazzling engineering career, my rebellious decision to marry a liberal ass I thought I could relate too on the college campus. The end result was a beautiful burden resting in the small pen in the other room. I now knew how it meant to fail; it was like the bitter smell of liquor in the tight room.



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