Separate States

handsThere 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.

  21 comments for “Separate States

  1. James Clossick
    May 6, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I’m so sorry you had to suffer that.
    I was an altar boy in the 1960’s. There were a few dodgy priests around, but the worst person I came across was the head altar boy, who was about 4 or 5 years older than me. He was one of those charismatic teenagers who normally wouldn’t waste his time on skinny, quiet, poor kids like me….until he got horny (not that I knew what horny was then) and suddenly there he’d be, offering to teach me what he had decided I needed to know. Horrible.

  2. May 6, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    We are taught to be appreciate to beauty. Physical, spiritual, emotional, talent, abstracted, poetic, musical, literary, there’s an enormous list of stances and approaches to take, to make the observation of beauty, even in the most vile and squalid of circumstances. To make that observation on those we love is considered to be a compliment, an assurance of our feelings toward them. Our education assures us of that, that it is okay and in fact expected to find beauty in those around us, especially in those we care about. It’s a part of the binding process. It’s almost second nature.
    The boy may have looked good, by whatever standard that could be so applied, but he was not beautiful. He was sick, a monster in hiding who preyed upon you by wielding whatever power he could to add a notch to his belt. He did not begin doing the atrocity he performed upon you with you, nor did he stop with you. He is the ugly thing here.
    I won’t insult you by saying there is a beauty to survival, to strength, to having the courage to reveal such pain, even after all this time. Can’t imagine that would help. There must, though, be some way to extend a compliment, to assure. Perhaps an expression of admiration, respect, awe. And leave it at that.

    • May 6, 2013 at 7:10 pm

      You know, I post stories on here. For the most part, I like to keep my own private history to myself. And yes, experience fuels fiction, but I really think fiction is more fertile for conceiving of interesting dilemmas. I’m glad the post made you think about the issue of beauty.

  3. May 6, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Wow. Thank you for sharing such a private part of yourself. I tend to stay away from the “beautiful” myself, for pretty much the very same reasons. One of my ex’s was an abuser (thought never physically), but of course he felt he was doing me the favor. Little, average, overweight me had a handsome, european, model and aspiring actor on my arm. Things got ugly when I finally asked him to leave my home and we were over. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized what he did to me would be considered a form of rape. Since my time with him, I no longer go after the “beautiful”. To me, they’re all jerks completely full of themselves.

    • May 6, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      Hi Mina, firstly I’d like to be clear, of course, my work is informed by experience but I really don’t want to get into whether this is autobiographical or not. It’s offered here as fiction. However, the discourse of ‘the beautiful’ and how being judged to be ‘beautiful’ by society really does mean that you live a fairly separate existence from the rest of us until something dire and universal happens to them, is definitely worth discussing. Beautiful people suffer through cancer just like the rest of us. Except it probably isn’t quite so devastating to us when the chemotherapy leaves us bald.

      I do think that many (not all) beautiful people do, even if unconsciously, think they’re indulging in some kind of benevolent act of charity when they register our existence. That being said, I’ve met some breathtakingly ‘beautiful’ individuals who were human, modest, and saw themselves as my equal. But not many.

      I often feel very sorry for beautiful women. My brother went through them like water, being on the edge of ‘beautiful’ himself. Society had tricked most of them into believing that was ALL they had to be, consequently he’d get terribly bored with them fast and dump them. Then he just went for men for a while. Now he’s enthralled by someone who is not at all beautiful. She’s caused him a great deal of pain, too. But he can’t let her go. Strange.

      Beautiful men are different. I tend, rather unfairly, to be immediately hostile and dismissive of them because they scare me. It’s not fair. People deserve to be judged as individuals and on their acts, not their looks.

  4. Korhomme
    May 7, 2013 at 2:19 am

    You have posted this in “Flash Fiction”.

    There are so many threads or hooks in the first half of this story; but I’ll stick to one. The idea that external “beauty” is a perfect marker for the internal realities, and how it can be false. Yet, we are all so accustomed, inured or “processed” to think in this way, we “accept” its truth when we look at a thing, an object, an artifact and think “design”, concluding that “design” is synonymous with perfect functionality. So, there is a profound disconnect between what we see in “people” and what we see in “stuff”.

    • Catherine Mazur
      May 7, 2013 at 3:33 am

      A+ comment, for realzies.

  5. Ximena
    May 7, 2013 at 8:02 am

    [I wanted to say something about the emotional effects of physical beauty on a person's emotional development, but I'm too tired for an essay right now.]

    There’s something incredibly powerful about nonchalant admittances of a personal tragedy. It’s like a backhand slap that moves people to stop thinking about themselves and engage you unselfishly – the comments on this piece are proof of that.

    Dropping a bomb in the middle of a conversation…”Yeah, it was a crazy night! My girlfriend’s asshole friend nearly raped me.”

    *crickets*

    I’m slowly starting to appreciate the value of silence. So much meaning can fit into it, slip through the cracks and fade to nothing. It’s a mercy in real life [and makes for great fiction too].

  6. May 7, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    This story made me wonder what kind of writer you were? As in do you write to express feelings or thoughts, in a cathartic way? My life colors my fiction (sometimes heavily), and that seems to be how I process things. As for the part on beauty, I half wonder if society instills that idea of entitlement in some. We innately offer more, better to beautiful people and many take. I’m leery of handsome men in general, but when they have an air of arrogance it both attracts and repels me. They tend to be aggressive and that scares me. Anytime someone nice who is “beautiful” initiates conversation, I’m confused because I don’t see us as equals. Well, this certainly made me thoughtful about the subject

    • May 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      I guess I do write for some form of catharsis inasmuch as I use the process of writing to examine my understanding of things. If you’re asking me whether the piece is autobiographical, all writing is to some extent based on the experience of the writer and that’s the most I’m going to say about it. This piece is filed under Flash Fiction.

      I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head with regard to how society’s treatment of the ‘beautiful’ constructs their understanding of how to behave in the world. It’s not a black and white thing.

  7. TFP
    May 7, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    RG,

    “Beautiful people”… Categorizing is a troubling thing to me. Its true, the cup may look clean on the outside, yet truly its the actions that reflect what it’s filled with. Who is “the beautiful one”?
    We know the answer…

    Thank you RG,
    ~TFP

    • May 7, 2013 at 6:31 pm

      All categories are troubling, and I think you know I am very much troubled by them. This is one written piece, one narrative. It is not meant to encapsulate anything more than the reflection of a singular moment in time.

  8. May 7, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Little to add to the conversation, but just to say wow. Powerful writing.

  9. May 7, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    ah – would that I had been as wicked smart. Idiot me, I wasted years of my life on one of the beautiful people before admitting that beauty seemed to come at a price of humanity and compassion :( in all honesty, rape would have been a quicker and less painful way of realizing what I had worked so hard to ignore. As usual, you made me think ;)

    • May 7, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      I tend to agree. Once quick lesson can teach you something for life.

  10. May 8, 2013 at 7:40 am

    I am really sorry about this happening to you. I had a similar experience but I was able to escape with my teeth. I fought back and bit him in the nipple. Then later in front of all the christian campers I called him out on his actions. Let’s say I never had to go to that camp again. It’s terrifying to have someone constantly do this to you and he did this to me every year. Feeling up my thighs in the long car ride, whispering in my ear if I liked it and telling me not to tell anyone. It was horrible. There’s no one to tell because you feel dirty and I was young with no real whits. I think the last statistic I heard was 1 in 4 girls get raped/sexually assaulted and it’s a very tragic statistic.

    I’m sorry RG. I feel for you. Thank you for sharing such a personal piece of your past. I just hope that fucker is suffering.

    • May 8, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      Thanks for the comment Gracie. You’ll notice this post is filed under Flash Fiction. I don’t really want to have a discussion as to whether this is autobiographical or not. Let’s just say that all fiction writing involves, at least to some extent, the writer’s life experience.

      My real interest in writing this is exploring what effects the way society treats ‘the beautiful’ has on them. I think it’s terribly politically correct these days to lay the entire blame at the door of the individual, but in truth, the rest of us have something to answer for. We creative an environment of privilege for genetically ‘lucky’ people. For instance, there is hard data that the taller you are, the more money you earn. For instance statistically, for men, over 5’6″, every inch of extra height tacks about $1000 onto your salary. Similarly, ugly women earn an average of 5% less than beautiful women doing the exact same job with the same qualifications. (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/everyday_economics/2001/07/hey_gorgeous_heres_a_raise.html)

      The truth is… we tell beautiful people that the rules are different for them in a thousand different ways. You can’t lay the entire blame on them when they actually believe it to be true and act accordingly.

  11. May 8, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    A fabulous piece! very thought provoking.I would like to be able to say that I rank among those who don’t care how I am perceived physically, and apply that to my judgement of others, but that would be a lie. We are all in our own way perpetuating this cycle though, regardless of how we see ourselves, or how we think others see us (and let’s be honest, unless we come across someone who is brutal enough to be so forthright, we can never truly know the extent of the latter)
    As a kid I used to dream that I could shed my skin like a snake. I fantasised that I could wriggle free, slough off the ugly, and that underneath the top layer would be a petite, blonde, slim girl with ‘normal’ sized feet. She would have eyes that worked properly and both pointed in the same direction and she could throw away the NHS issue pink glasses with obligatory sticking plaster patch over one lens. Her teeth would be straight and her nose would be small and ‘button like’. Once she emerged, no one would hurt me, everyone would like me and everything would be alright. I would be entitled to love.
    The only thing that I am sure of 30+ years later is that people have always treated/reacted to me the way they do because I have allowed them to. Low self esteem has contributed – in some way, however small- to every negative situation I have ever been in.

  12. May 9, 2013 at 4:22 am

    You hit a nerve and it tapped a vein, and I did write that for you. The silence on the list is deafening, and RG it’s time to speak about realities. Huggles forever.

  13. May 17, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Firstly, I’m sorry you had to experience this event.

    I’m pretty, and yes, I use to to my advantage. I’ve often been thought of as vain (which I can be), egocentric (which I can be), arrogant (which I am), cocky.. oh you get the picture here. However, I’d argue that these are simply accented by my face. We’ve all encountered the arrogant academic who didn’t have the first fucking clue which side of the mouth they were talking out of so long as they were getting attention.

    Not to play the ‘poor me’ card here, but I’ve also been asked to be the ‘face’ for things because I looked better in a suit. It’s the worst sort of insult for someone educated, to be disregarded as lacking the knowledge, skills or commitment because of their face… or gender… or race. However, it does happen. Thankfully, the upsides are there and as we discussed earlier, my face allows me outlets for some of my other proclivities, which I try to vent in healthy consensual ways.

    Thank you for taking the time to know me first, rg. That twat may have left an impression on you, but I’m fairly sure that my evil thoughts are making his dick rot off as we speak.

    • May 17, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      Don’t be sorry. I’m not. There are things in life that teach you incredibly important lessons very early, very viscerally, and they are of use for the rest of your life. I know you know this.

      Although I acknowledge that there might be pitfalls to being born beautiful, looking at society as a whole, I’d say you’re still at a tremendous advantage. And since I also know that you are a profound egalitarian who doesn’t believe that genes should give anyone the keys to the kingdom, I think you will agree.

      I’ll be honest, I have not known many very handsome men in any depth. I know a few who don’t know they’re handsome because they have other social inhibitions, but on the whole I give them a pass straight away and so I can’t say I really know them well. I do know some very beautiful women. I know them quite well. And I have had occasion to feel deeply sorry for each of them at one time or another. Because they felt like they were used as objects, or because people didn’t really ‘see’ them as individuals, but mostly because having learned to negotiate the world with that face and body, age threatens to take it away, and they become unable to face navigating their way through life without that advantage.

      And that, I understand, is terrifying.

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