Beauty is a light in the heart. – Kahlil Gibran
The swimmer could have focused on all the positive signals she had ever received regarding her physical appearance. She had chosen instead to focus on the few negative ones, starting with that thing Chuck Bartlett said about her chest being flat as a board in the seventh grade. Chuck Bartlett is a scrawny little four-foot-seven butthole whose prick can’t possibly be bigger than the stub of a broken pencil. The quip shuts him up. For good. But it doesn’t matter; the damage is done. The swimmer is flat as a board, the flattest in her class, if not the entire middle school. That jerk Chuck Bartlett has only said what everyone is thinking. The swimmer is abnormal. The swimmer is ugly.
A few years later, it’s Roxie Orville’s turn to throw in her two cents.
“Still a growing girl,” she says to Melanie D’Ambrosi with a head nod to the three empty cartons of milk on the swimmer’s lunch tray.
Why did the swimmer sit at this table with these raunchy whores again? She doesn’t know why. Certainly not for the conversation; Roxie Orville and Melanie D’Ambrosi are as dumb as bricks. Regardless, the comment is astute. The swimmer, who hates nothing in the world more than milk, has been obsessively downing a ton of it every day now for the past couple years because she’d read somewhere or heard somewhere that it might help her grow some boobs. It’s not working, as Roxie Orville with her perfect little tits has just pointed out. The swimmer is still flat as a board. The swimmer is still abnormal. The swimmer is still ugly.
At a different lunch table, in a different school, a couple decades later, the conversation turns to the subject of plastic surgery. Andrew, science teacher, has just met with a student’s mother. Her face, apparently, too grotesque to be human; he hadn’t known where to look. A shiver of disgust from Andrew, a flood of judgments and insults from everyone else. Everyone, that is, except the swimmer.
They’re all being catty little bitches, she could tell them. They have no right to judge other people’s decisions to have their bodies surgically modified, that in some cases it’s the best thing they ever do for themselves when those selves harbor the kinds of genetically inherited imperfections that make it hard to look in the mirror every day. The swimmer, for example, with her pockets of silicone gel tucked up behind the walls of her pectoral muscles. Were they going to tell her that she was vain? Shallow and superficial? Weak and soulless? Insecure and fainthearted? Sick with a cancerous self-loathing that blinds her to the true meaning of beauty? Were they going to judge her, their friend, in this way? Maybe not. But she’s not going to give herself the opportunity to find out. In any case, the swimmer doesn’t need anyone to judge her; she’s perfectly capable of doing that herself. She’d cry if she brought it up anyway. It’s all true. She is shallow and superficial and weak and soulless and insecure and fainthearted. She doesn’t love herself. She hasn’t for a long, long time.
She never really loved the man she’d married either, she tells the shaman during their first session a year into her life as a divorced woman. At least, she adds, not in the way she knew deep in her heart it was possible to love a man. Why, then, had she let it drag on for seventeen years? Why had she wasted so much precious time?
“It took the time it took,” he says, and something inside her breaks.
It’s nothing, really. Hardly a fissure, barely a crack. Imperceptible to the swimmer. Not to God, though. Here, finally, the opening he’s been waiting for. One into which he can insert a finger. One into which, eventually, he can plunge his entire hand, from which he can fish out the poison and the bile and the toxins that make her sick in the heart. Sick in the soul. From which, also, he can extricate the child: the beautiful, lovable, perfectly imperfect, pure-hearted little Toothpick. The swimmer will not be able to resist her. The swimmer will not be able to do anything but love her, this child whose light shines so bright. It will be the fiercest of loves, the kind she will do anything to keep. Anything. Cannonball, for instance, into her mid-forties naked as the day she was born.
1. Thank you to Holly Richards for requesting a second piece featuring this character, and thus making what I originally took to be a stand-alone piece into the ultimate six-part series.
2. La Baigneuse I and II were created in the weeks leading up to my surgery to have my breast implants removed. La Baigneuse III – VI were made during my week of recovery. They became the feature of my exhibit Soupirs éphémères which opened on 3 December 2022 at AS220 in Providence.
3. Thank you to Dr. Zienowicz and his team at Body By Z in Providence for all their attention, love, and support throughout the entire process. They are the best! Fattening myself up by eating bacon and fatty beef steaks for an entire month prior to the surgery, which included a fatty tissue transfer from my stomach, underarms and knees (of all places!) was amazing!