Rose scanned the crowd at the gala with disdain, no longer impressed by the sights of sweeping staircases, grand pianos, or glittering ballgowns. Another weekend, another pompous gathering of the elite pretending to care about the cause of the week. She smoothed down her own dress, a strappy black Givenchy specially made for the event, and offered a quick fake smile to a waiter who crossed her path. She continued her way through the crowd, eyes darting from one side of the huge room to the other, searching. At last, she spotted a gold elevator in the back corner, next to a door marked “STAIRS”. Of course, the giant spiral staircase in the center of the ballroom was purely ornamental, as useless as the millionaires dawdling around in their tuxedos, scouring the room for their next trophy wives.
The door to the stairwell turned easily and quietly, which worked in her favor when it cast a sudden stream of light directly onto her husband’s hand, cradling the bare ass of a woman half his age. There was no room for denials or explanations. The girl didn’t even bother to pull her dress back down. She simply stood smirking at Rose while the great Jameson Sturgeon Jr. unceremoniously struggled to zip his fly. “Rose!” was all he managed to stammer before she was back out the door with hot, humiliated tears burning down her perfectly powdered cheeks. She jogged into the ladies’ room, stilettos be damned, and locked the door behind her.
A gold trimmed toilet. Oodles of black and white marble. Mints. A shelf neatly lined with various types of cell phone chargers. Organic cotton tampons, pads, and pantyliners nestled in solid gold boxes that probably cost more than her first car. The scenery blurred into a mascara fueled grey blob as she made her way to the sink, holding onto its edge and leaning in toward the mirror above it. She stared at herself, taking it all in. The bleached, perfectly toned, icy platinum hair supplemented by extensions. The shortened nose. The plumped lips. The hollow cheeks; malnourished chic.
The tears kept coming as she stared into the mirror, but she no longer saw her reflection in the glass. In her mind, she watched a version of herself from over a decade prior. Her nose was a bit long, her lips a little thin. Her cheeks glowed, naturally rosy and nearly chubby. She had never even heard of Armani and happily trotted around her small hometown in her chunky thrift store sweaters, ripped jeans, and Chuck Taylor until she met Jameson. She had never felt particularly self-conscious before he walked into her local dive bar that crisp November night.
He made no secret of the fact that he was less than thrilled to be spending the night in such no-name small town. He also didn’t hide the fact that he was staring at her, sizing her up, and judging her appearance from the moment he walked into the bar. There was something about her he couldn’t look away from. Later he would tell her he knew from the first time he laid eyes on her that she had potential, as if that were an actual compliment.
Her mother acted as if Rose had won the lottery when Jameson asked her to move in with him after only seven weeks of dating. He immediately took control over what she ate and, more importantly, what she didn’t eat. He convinced her to get veneers and have her hair bleached, in the name of sophistication. It took six months for him to talk her into a nose job. Four months later, she booked the appointment for breast implants. Three months after that, cheek implants and lip fillers. The surgeries were traumatic and the recoveries miserable. She hadn’t recognized herself in years.
Still staring straight ahead into the mirror, her reflection came back into focus. All she could do was wonder whose features she had allowed to take over her face. A shaking hand rose up to her right cheek, red stiletto-nailed fingers curling into a bony claw. Her gaze never left her reflection as she dragged all four nails slowly down toward her jaw, their pointed tips disappearing into her flesh. Once her hand slipped over her jawbone, it fell back to the sink below and was quickly rained down upon by bright red blood droplets. She didn’t feel the stinging of her tears flowing through the newly opened wounds on her face or see the blood flowing from them, though she hadn’t looked away from the mirror.
She had taught herself to purge when she lost control and went off Jameson’s diet plan. He rewarded her with a $200,000 engagement ring. The first time she caught him with another woman was at their extravagant wedding reception; Michelle with the red dress and the collarbones that protruded more than hers did. Worried about what her family might think, she had hidden in the coat room, breathing into an overpriced giftbag until her panic attack subsided. When she confronted him afterward, he convinced her that the girl had simply tried to kiss him. He had pulled away, of course, and Rose simply walked in at just the wrong time. The next 13 years would prove that she was incredibly gifted at walking in at precisely the wrong time.
Snapping back to her reflection, she examined the bleeding gashes on her right cheek and smiled softly, feeling a bit closer to her true self already. She raised her bloody fingers once more and then sent them tearing through the flesh of her cheek again, intersecting the existing wounds and creating a pattern of gruesome red diamonds. Splashes of warm blood dripped from her face. One landed on her right collarbone, triggering the memory of Michelle and her perfectly underweight frame. Her hand followed. She pressed down on her index finger with all her might and dragged it from the inside of her right collar bone out toward her shoulder. Just as the blood spilled over onto her gown, the door’s lock clicked loudly.
Rose turned toward the door just in time to face the horrified custodian. The elderly man was so shocked by the sight that he dropped the heavy ring of keys he held onto the floor. He sputtered a slew of half-words as he fumbled in his pocket for his phone. Behind him stood a plump middle-aged woman. The urgent wiggling dance she was performing in her too-tight dress made it clear that she was the one who had gone in search of someone to unlock the bathroom door. Craning her neck to peek around the man, she finally caught a glimpse of the bloodied young woman inside and let out a scream that brought the night’s charitable festivities to an abrupt halt.
Rose gathered supplies from the grey cabinet on wheels: a glossy white poster board, markers, glue sticks, and a stack of old magazines. Scissors were strictly prohibited, but she had gotten quite skilled at ripping out the pictures without damaging them. She headed to the back corner, where a half circle of empty metal folding chairs faced a wooden easel. Using the chairs on either side for tables, she seated herself in the middle of the row and got to work. Every few moments, her index finger lightly wandered over the scars covering her right cheek.
By the time Nurse Warner announced another weekly meeting of the “self-esteem group” to the women roaming the room’s various activity centers, Rose had already been set up for nearly an hour. All the usual girls clamored over to the chairs. Every week, Candy, Toni, Marge, and Alyssa showed up to do the work, for which Rose was eternally grateful. This week, however, there was a newcomer headed toward the corner. Jane had arrived to the facility a week ago and hadn’t said a word to anyone since.
Throughout her 30-minute presentation and the 30-minute group discussion that followed, Jane said nothing. She did, however, nod and take notes throughout, which filled Jane with a purer joy than she had experience for years before arriving at Ferndale. While she wasn’t always comfortable with nourishing her body with food yet, she nourished her soul every week by helping these women learn how to love themselves.
Unfortunately, Wednesday wasn’t only her day to conduct the voluntary group meeting. It was also visiting day. Every week, without fail, Jameson would saunter into the visitation room in his designer suit, sneering at the nurses and trying not to touch anything. Each week, Rose would be guided into the room by a nurse’s aid and sat across from her husband at the visitor’s table. Today, he only made it seven minutes into the allotted hour before losing his composure.
“Goddamn it, Rose! I know you can talk. The doctors have told me!” He looked around, lowering his volume, and leaned in across the table. “Listen, I can get you out of here. I can bring you home. All you have to do is talk to me.” Rose tilted her head at him like a confused, mute puppy, blinking slowly and looking through him. He wasn’t sure why he bothered, other than keeping up appearances. Divorce wasn’t an option, if he wanted to preserve his access to his old-school Catholic parents’ fortune. The cost of keeping her here was nothing to him and he could do whatever he wanted anyway, short of remarrying.
“Fine,” he huffed, abruptly shoving his chair back and hopping to his feet. His long coat swished past her, enveloping her in an overpowering cloud of Tom Ford cologne. She stifled a gag and flicked her gaze to the window facing the parking lot. There, sitting in the passenger seat of the familiar black Jaguar, was a heavily made-up young blonde wearing a large shimmering diamond necklace. As she looked up from her phone screen, the two women made eye contact through the glass. Rose smiled coyly at the girl, turning her head slightly so that her scars were on full display, and quickly wiggled her fingers in a wave before she was ushered out.