Simple Yearning by Emmeline Clein
Dark room, purple pink lights, damp dress, well it’s really a slip, splashed by someone’s vodka soda, his camera pointed at me from across the bar –– was this it, after all that buildup? So, being briefly beautiful is a letdown, the camera pans away as soon as you get used to its glow. You know the drill: boys get bored, the black eyeball roves, muses multiply, get minimized, get married to the guy who’s got the glint in his eye, get uploaded to the cloud, get liked, get printed and framed, get bought, get divorced, get drunk. And maybe, finally, go home, get some sleep.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Remember Mischa Barton in 2003? Evenly tanned golden girl, spaghetti straps and that stretch of midriff, the curve of her backbone when she asked her OC love interest to zip her into her debutante dress –– now that was beauty, I thought then. Boys got in physical fights just to stand in her line of sight, invented fake identities to inspire her empathy, and in the end, drove cars off the road to keep her from leaving them. Less a letdown, more a murderous miracle, her character’s beauty kept her high on the fumes of being beloved until it killed her. Still, startlingly, what I felt as I looked at her dead body was simple yearning, smoggy, vision-blurring jealousy. Smoke rose from the overturned car, the boy she loved emerged from flames, carrying her splayed silhouette pieta style, and then she died for all those boys’ sins, for all the girls like me sweating envy even as we cried and the credits played.
Even back then, I knew beauty could break the body. I just thought it was worth it, as I threw away my lunch at school and tried to make myself throw up after dinner. There used to be a facebook application called ‘honesty box’ that allowed people to send you anonymous messages. Pandora as e-girl wasn’t the first to tell me I wasn’t beautiful, but she was more thorough than the averted glances or the wisps of insults murmured just loud enough, the laughter I could lie to myself about. So I’d refresh the feed and not feed myself, per my tutors on tumblr under #thinspiration, where Mischa’s corpse was currency.
God it hurts to want a feeling you’ve never felt. An alcoholic writer titled her memoir Drinking: A Love Story. She said white wine embraced her from the organs out, spread a you’ve finally made it home feeling from limb to limb, set a smile on her lips. All the screens I stared at and spilled my secrets into told love stories about teenagers who found their soulmates young, girls who converted womanizing bad boys to love-struck princes, stories that promised a love like an opioid habit with no side effects, a perma-high that didn’t cloud your judgment. The girls in these stories were gorgeous, needless to say, and sometimes their sidekicks weren’t quite, and simply, I was scared of ending up the girl off to the side, supportive and sweet, but silly and snickered at. All this alliteration, I’m always trying too hard, I’m told –– are you rolling your eyes?
A few moments that made my breath catch, hope-high. His hand on my thigh in the shallow end, champagne in my brain. Her eyes lighting up on the light up dance floor, her mouth on mine in the bathroom, her morning dream exhales on my hand. The way she looked at me in the back of the cab, the way he did in the middle of the night, the darkness cut with rainbow lights. The way they listened to me speak, like I was a fortune teller who’d been right before. But I was bluffing.
Emmeline Clein is a writer working on a book about body fascism, disordered eating, and girlhood.