There are really two parallel planes of existence; people who were born beautiful inhabit one, the other is for the rest of us. There is, of course, crossover, in the form of interaction at commercial establishments and the longing looks of the ugly as they jump dimensions and settle on impossible objects of desire. Sometimes, although very rarely, there is crossover in the other direction.
Hollywood is filled with ugly duckling stories of plain looking women who capture the hearts of impossibly handsome men and the reverse. But that’s a fictive opiate to keep us in our place as underdogs, literally. And you’ll notice that, by the end of the movie, it always turns out that the duckling was a swan anyway, which ensures we don’t get too high on the drug of dreams.
Of course, there’s commerce. Paunchy, balding men who sport a ramp model on one arm and a Patek Philippe watch on the other. I’m not saying this is not true love, I’m just saying it’s unlikely. Similarly, I’ve seen aged and unattractive women at tropical resorts trailing a lovely, tanned and buff piece of eye candy behind them. Perhaps those young men never quite overcame their Oedipal complexes, but it’s doubtful. The clue in all this is that the ugly person is old and has accumulated a great deal of wealth, or power, or both.
When I was seventeen, the most handsome boy in my class took it upon himself to secretly slip his hand into mine behind the bleachers at a school tennis tournament. His name was Anthony – Tony to his friends, not to me – and he was very handsome indeed. All sun-bleached blonde hair and azure blue eyes and the sort of bone structure you just knew would last a while. In truth, I’d never coveted him. The smartest of ugly girls learn early not to bother even looking, and I was part of that secret society of pragmatists. So when I realized what he’d done, I shook my hand free, glared at him, and asked him what the fuck he thought he was doing.
It was a very courtly, tender gesture, and instead of offering any explanation, he simply reached behind the bleacher and caught up my hand again, as if he had a perfect right to claim it and I should be flattered. I sat there perplexed as my palm began to sweat in the afternoon heat and my stomach began to feel vaguely nauseous.
I didn’t even like tennis. I’d come out of loyalty to watch my brother get beaten by someone older and with a far better serve. So when he was finally and thoroughly put in his place, I stood up, having forgotten the limpet hand attached to mine.
Anthony tugged at it until I had to bend over not to lose it and whispered. “Don’t tell anyone.” Who was I going to tell? Who would actually believe me? And, beyond all that, the whole incident felt strangely dirty, and not in a good way.
Three days later, after a history class on the First World War, he cornered me in an empty corridor and kissed me. Unlike the handholding, it wasn’t sweet at all. It was filled with the sort of feral hunger I learned to identify only much later in life as abject desperation. It was all teeth and tongue. The hand he used to hold my head still left bruises on the back of my neck.
“Don’t you fucking tell anyone,” he repeated when he’d finished.
I wasn’t nearly as skilled at the biting retort in those days. I stood there dumbfounded and wiped his saliva off my mouth with the back of my hand.
A week later, he raped me.
I’m fairly sure he felt, somewhere in his handsome twisted heart, that he was doing me the favour of a lifetime. I’m sure he read my swearing, my fighting, my sullen resignation as some feigned and over-dramatic gesture to protest the virtue I’d already lost to someone nicer and uglier than him. Afterwards – after the boyish smile and the wholly inappropriate post-rape kiss – he didn’t even bother warning me not to tell anyone. It was hardly necessary. I was wicked smart even then and knew, with blinding certainty, that doing so would hurt me far more than him. At best no one would believe me. At worst, I’d be an object of pity.
So I didn’t tell anyone – until now. Now I’m telling you. This story has no Hollywood ending; I never blossomed into a swan, despite Anthony’s unwanted magic sperm. I did, however, develop a pathological fear of beautiful people and the parallel but separate state of existence they inhabit.
They have their own rules over there.