Mother insisted on a pristine white dress for my former cotillion. It was traditional. The way things were always done was the way we were always to do things. She pursed her lips as she plucked away at the taffeta poofs that decorated the skirt and tugged against the tight lacing on the bodice, as if determined that her daughter’s waist should be even a centimeter thinner than all the other debutants. She plucked my hand away from the folds of the fabric where I’d buried them like a dark secret.
“Really, darling? Rose gold? I thought we agreed on rose pink.” She tutted at the color of my fingernails.
“We didn’t. I wanted to paint my nails black. You said no.” I tugged my hand out of her grasp and wrapped it back into the fabric. I didn’t like rose gold, either, but small rebellions are still rebellions.
“This is a party, not a funeral.”
“You didn’t let me paint them black for grandpa’s funeral, either.”
Mother scoffed. She picked up her wine glass from the counter and eyed me over it without taking a sip. “You’re not some hellion. What is this obsession you have with black nail polish? It’s unacceptable.” She spat the word unacceptable as if it was an insult. As if anything not normal was untrustworthy and wrong. To her, it was.
“I dunno, mom, maybe I just want my nails to match the color of my soul.”
She gasped. An honest-to-goodness gasp with one hand pressed to her sternum like a 1930s church lady. If she had a fan she’d wave it at her face and talk about how I’d given her the vapors. As it was, she set the wine glass back down a little harder than she should have, spilling bright red droplets over the counter.
I rolled my eyes. “It was a joke.”
“Jokes are supposed to be funny.”
“I’m surprised you even know what that word means.”
She flicked my ear. I smirked. Small rebellions, and all.
“I’d better not hear of you making any such jokes at the cotillion,” Mother chastised. “You have the family’s reputation to uphold.” She stormed out of the room before I could utter a word of retort.
I looked in the mirror at the soft, pretty little girl that my mother had styled me into. It’s not that I didn’t like to be pretty. I just didn’t want to be pretty like this. I didn’t feel like the girl she wanted me to be.
If I was a different person, maybe I would have torn the dress a little. Or a lot. I would leave it in pieces on the ground and run out of the room in the tattered remains. I would smear it with black eyeliner and brightly colored eyeshadow. I would be the hellion she envisioned. I would be worse than anything she could have imagined. But I wasn’t a different person. I was my mother’s designer daughter. There were expectations to be met, and no room for outlandish revolts. Only small rebellions.
My eyes lingered on the wine glass Mother left behind in her frustration. Normally she didn’t trust me around alcohol. Not that I’d ever imbibed. She didn’t trust me with much of anything, really. I traced my fingers through the red droplets on the counter, then slowly dragged the same fingers over the skirt of my dress. A streak of rose pink followed the trail of my fingers.
“Oh no! A stain!” I said quietly. Another small rebellion. Just like all the others. Little, pointless acts of civil disobedience to maintain my sanity. Some days, those small rebellions hardly felt like they were enough.
I touched the rim of the wine glass, considering. There were expectations of me. Those were important. My family was relying on me to…
To do what? To look good? To make them happy?
To be perfect. Even though I so clearly was not.
A slow smile spread across my face. The glass tipped precariously toward one edge, balanced carefully by my finger. The small rebellions were getting boring. Was it time for a revolution?
Mother stormed back into the room. “Well? Are you coming, or not? We have to leave in five minutes.”
I sighed. “Coming, Mother.” The wine trembled in the glass, still safely inside its container. There would be no revolutions today.
I wished I could shed my skin. Shed away everything that the world knew of me and live as the person that I felt like on the inside. I wished I had the strength to be unacceptable. Maybe then I could feel alive.
I had one of those days where living in my own skin felt a bit overwhelming. My whole life I’ve struggled with the feeling that I need to pretend to be less than I am in order for people to accept me. Today’s story was meant to embody that desire that exists within me to be unapologetically human in a way that I’ve never allowed myself to be. If I could find the strength to be unacceptable, something tells me I might finally be able to find the place where I can truly be accepted. But so often, just like with the character in this story, fear wins out.
Maybe one day we can all figure out how to shed our skin and transcend those limiting ideals that stop us from ever achieving the truest sense of our personhood. I hope that’s the case. Fear is our most debilitating emotion, but it’s certainly not our strongest emotion. So I’ll hold out hope.
In the meantime, I wish you luck with all of your own small personal rebellions. Thank you so much for stopping by to read my story!