Primp and Polish

by Suzzette Jimenez

[Trigger Warning: Domestic Abuse]

She blew out her bangs with a large round brush as she got ready for work.  She feared the thinner round brush could not do the job of elongating the hair enough to hide the bruised bump that lies beneath it.  The curl could rise up too much leaving the remnants of last night’s argument with her boyfriend of two years protruding for the world to see.  The feeling of utter disappointment would sink in with each stroke of the brush.  “What would my mother think of me now?”  A nagging question festering since that first moment she reluctantly decided to stay and work things out with him.  Festering to the point where the stench of it suffocated her as she got ready in the spacious bathroom of her ground floor one bedroom apartment.  Since the day they first toured the apartment she loved the bathroom most.  It was nothing compared to her old one back in her sixth floor walk up in New York City.  She could actually walk in it!  It had a huge tub you could pretty much sleep in, which was actually how she spent some of her nights since moving in.  There was plenty of counter space for toiletries or succulents, one of the largest mirrors she had ever seen in a bathroom, and enough wall space to fill with frames of cliché love quotes: such as the one currently hanging on her beige painted wall with the words that said “Love will set you free.”  A creature comfort that made staying in this place with him a little more tolerable.

She moved to the other side of the country a year and a half after meeting a Phoenix boy who swept her off her feet.  She met him on a cold, winter night in the city that never sleeps, but the flame that sparked between them burned any thought in her mind about going back to what’s his name.  Bright eyed and ready for a new start.  Eager to make a new life.  Eager to forget her previous seven-year relationship.  She remembered when she first landed in Sky Harbor International how the coolness of her skin from the airport’s air conditioning was greeted by a thick wall of almost unbearable heat once she stepped outside.  It felt like opening an oven door in the middle of a heat wave.  The asphalt was so hot you could literally fry an egg on it.  The blurred heat rising from the red rock formations in the backdrop, a change of scenery from the concrete jungle she came from.  The brightness of the blazing sun casting a shadow behind her like the devil’s tail. An unbeknownst red flag of the hell she was walking into.  Still her sense of adventure overpowered her need for straight hair and blow dries.  

As she carelessly rolled the brush with her left hand through her coarse hair, the heat against her face brought her back to that first day she stepped foot off the plane.  Contemplating the girl who walked through the revolving doors of that airport and the life she left behind.  Despite the shared bed with her mother back home, the constant sightings of her ex with his fiancee in the neighborhood, the tiresome hours of that old retail job, her spirit was never broken.  She started each day on a positive note.  Who she was then looks nothing like the person she is becoming now.  “What happened to that girl?” she thinks over and over.   Her mother’s daughter.  Strength of a lion.  Confident.  Driven.  Always objective and clear headed.  She frequently tried to emulate the woman who raised her.  Her mother had left her own husband after 20 years of misery, learned English through a GED program persevering until she received her Bachelor’s degree, all while raising her and her four siblings. 

Her brain bombarded with questions as she applied her mascara.  “So, what has changed?  Is this what love does?  Is it supposed to change who you are to the point where you are unrecognizable to yourself in your oversized mirror?  Does it make you completely lose sight of your moral compass?  Is it supposed to make you second guess what words you choose to speak at any given moment?  Does the need to be entirely enveloped by the passion and adoration of another, subdue and stifle the person that dwells within your own heart?  Does it give you the right to think that you could change the sins of your father? That you could right the wrongs of your mother’s past?”  These thoughts raced through her mind like a high speed bullet train. It made her dizzy, her head pounding with such powerful intensity that she thought it might explode.  She stops, places the brush in its designated basket, to take a look in the mirror.

As she gazed at her reflection, near perfection in appearance, all she feels is disgust for having lost her power to fight back.  A rampant repulsion coursing through her blood from her brain, to her toes, and back up to her heart.  An ugliness has planted itself within her and has brought upon guilt for the soul that she now carries.  Like vigorous, twining vines growing on the side of a brick building it creeps into the crevices and cracks of her foundation.  Slowly breaking her spirit.  Eroding away the very essence that makes her who she is.  How much longer could she keep this façade of a happy life for all to see?  Suppressing a sick and twisted love to look like an epic fairytale.  More questions.  More racing thoughts.  Are the answers in this mirror?  Is the person on the other side living the life she came here to find?  Is the young woman in that world living a life of uncried tears and reverse heartbreaks?

  If so, she longed to switch places.  As she rubbed red lipstick onto her pale lips she yearned to be the girl on the other side.  Become who she imagines in her mirror image.  She was so close she could reach out and touch her.  She raised her hand to meet her reflection’s, as if placing her hand on the mirror could transport her to this alternate reality.  What if she broke this magical looking glass?  Would that release this imagined utopia?  Would it spill out like a rushing river into this 7 x 10 room that she has used as her place of sanctuary for months now?  Would the colors, the laughs, the warm sunbeams of morning light, the love, the flowers, the symphonies of music, and the whispering words of sweet nothings at night, escape into the dreariness of this agonizing actuality?  Or would it shatter to pieces and leave her with nothing but false hopes?  Broken shards of a made-up existence.  Silence.  She removes her clammy palm from the muse like image that stood before her.  Snapping out of a trance like state.  Nothing happens.  Everything is the same as it was.

After the primping and polishing is complete, she slowly walks from the bathroom through the L shaped hallway to her living room, to her front door, places her hand on the cold metal doorknob, and pauses for a moment.  “What if today was the day?  The day she finally decided to leave.”  These thoughts rapidly entered her mind like neurons firing in her brain.  She could make this the last time she’d ever walk out this door again.  No longer would she have to submit to the rule of his iron hand.  She could walk off into the fiery sunset amidst the mountainous range in the backdrop restored, renewed, reinvigorated.  Yet the nagging feeling deep in the pit of her stomach reminded her of the fear of having to face alone what grows inside her.  Quickly, she snaps out of her trance, takes a deep breath, and puts on a brave smile.


Suzzette Jimenez is a student at LaGuardia Community College who found her passion for writing at a very young age. Over the years, most of her writing consisted of personal pieces, including published works for local community organizations, and her travel blog. In 2018, she created “The Working Wanderer,” a blog dedicated to her other passion for traveling around the world, all while working a full-time job in New York City’s hospitality industry. She wanted to illustrate that you didn’t have to trade one dream for another; you could work in a career that you love and live out your passions. As a mother of one—with another on the way, Suzzette realizes the importance of demonstrating this balance and hopes to expand her writing career in the years to come.