It was the eve of her 40th birthday. Christine sat at her vanity ready to brush her long wavy hair. She gripped her brush, a hand painted ceramic antique, given to her by her grandmother when she was seven.
"You have beautiful hair nieta. Your mother had hair like yours," her grandmother told her.
Christine stared into the mirror. She looked at herself, eyes blank, and quickly averted her eyes to the vanity. Her wedding ring and pearl earrings sat waiting to be picked up and put on.
The sound of the door knob turning and her husband's footsteps knocked Christine out of her daze. She put on the last touches and turned around to face John.
John graced Christine's cheeks with his palms and gave her a soft kiss.
"You look beautiful," he told her.
Christine smiled but it was not the type of smile that lit up the room. She smiled more to please him and show that she was appreciative of his comment but the truth was that she always had a horrible time accepting them. Compliments made Christine feel uncomfortable.
"Say thank you nieta!" her grandmother scolded. Christine felt her hair whip against her face. The very same hand that gently brushed her hair had just struck her. She felt a tear drop down her cheek as she gasped for breath. "When someone calls you beautiful, you say thank you!"
Christine never knew why her grandmother struck her. Perhaps she was too young at the time. All she understood was that from an early age on, people would always stare at her.
Beauty was something Christine never accepted. She never felt that she had style, grace, or a face to look at. When she was 12, Christine used to flip the pages of the family photo album that was hidden in the bottom dresser drawer of the guest room of her grandmother's house. She studied the pictures of her mother, a stranger to her in many ways. Christine had never met her mother. She learned about her through family and the neighbors. Her grandmother made references to her from time to time but never fully divulged. Christine always wondered what happened to her mother. Some said she moved to Mexico to work as a secretary for an ambassador. Others told her she ran away nursing a broken heart. After what seemed like a lifetime of chasing secrets, Christine gave up. The whereabouts and absence of her roots left her feeling empty.
"Here. Have a slice of tres leches cake," her grandmother said lovingly. She set the plate down in front of Christine. "Talk to me. Tell me about your day."
Christine always looked forward to coming home from school. Her grandmother stood waiting in the kitchen so that she was the first person she saw when she walked in through the back door. It was a comforting routine and something that gave Christine peace. It was ironic that the same memory that gave her so much joy also gave her grief.
"Here. Eat your carrots," her grandmother said sternly. Christine put a carrot in her mouth. She tasted the sweet juices. It was cold and snapped when she took a bite.
Christine felt as if she was being punished. She had come home crying. The stares at school made her want to run and hide. She felt paranoid that people were talking about her and the unwarranted attention made her cringe. Christine did not know how to deal with the whispers or the rumors. Not knowing the truth made it impossible for her to fight back nor was she brave, articulate, or extroverted enough to look her classmates in the eyes and say something. The afternoon slices of cake became outlets for Christine and it began to show on her body.
"What have you done to yourself nieta?" her grandmother said accusingly.
Christine felt shamed and for many years could not shake off the cake she used to absorb her tears. She thought about her friend Lucy at work. They had started running together in the evenings for fitness. Christine remembered her first mile. It was the first time, in a long time, she felt free and at peace.
Christine picked up her sterling silver locket and then put it down. The locket was a gift from John for finishing her first marathon. Again, Christine smiled gently but not fully. She wanted to smile bright and with teeth and feeling so much that it gave her crow's feet. No matter how hard she tried, she could not because she would not allow herself to.
Christine pounded her fist on the vanity in anger and knocked over her glass of water. It fell to the ground and shattered. She felt the pieces of charred glass cut her foot. Christine looked down and saw droplets of blood grow into a thin stream of wet warm liquid. Tears began to fall simultaneously as she felt the blood drip to the floor.
"Honey, are you okay?" John asked.
He frantically grabbed Christine and wrapped his arms around her. She was shaking and, like many times before, all John could do was hold her. He had tried to console her with words but never got anywhere. Christine was lifeless and unresponsive. He did not understand why his beautiful wife faded in and out.
Only Christine knew why pink bunnies go to their graves crying gravy tears.
Image Credit: cold shoulder by ozan balta