Made in America… a Rewrite
I remember writing this story in 2000 and being moved by it (perhaps just the arrogance of youth talking). Upon re-reading, I was horrified. The editor that I am now never would have let this piece fly. So I ripped it apart and rebuilt it as best I could while maintaining the feel… this was what remained.
Made in America
She sat at the vanity, her simple, beautiful face staring back in the mirror. Gently, she withdrew the kushi from her hair, letting the raven black streamers fall softly down her shoulders to her back. The light from the dusty lamp reflected off the black rivers of her hair; it appeared to flow, an undulating current all the way to the tips, as they brushed against the small of her back.
With a shiver, she dropped the kushi. It fell to the floor with a hollow clatter. She picked it up and turned it over in her hand again and again, tracing the intricate design with her thumb. Her lip curled at the corner in a sneer, and she hastily threw it into the drawer and slammed it shut. But hiding it in the drawer could not hide her heritage.
Resting both hands on the bureau, she lifted her eyes to meet their reflection. Her eyes hid hazily behind the sheet of black that engulfed her head.
Shoulders thrown back rigidly, she grabbed her hair and pulled it up into an untidy ponytail like the girls at her school often did. She palmed the rosewood eye shadow and, with skin stretched taut, applied it carefully. If she pulled on her eyelids just right, she could get the crease to hold for a few moments before it would disappear again. She filled her lips in with the color of eggplant. Her lips were slim, but pretty; now they resembled a thin, tender bruise. To her, they weren’t enough – faint and shallow, hardly like the kissable lips she saw in the magazines. But after much practice with the directions she found online, she was able to create some of the fullness she longed for. Her fraudulent lips smiled back at her, piercingly dark against her milk skin.
She sat, judging her reflection with a small turn of the chin to the left, then right. She wasn’t convinced by what she saw, eyes tracing flaws that couldn’t be changed. The makeup did nothing to hide her features. Beneath her thinly veiled illusion was the ugly face of a Japanese girl.
Her body, her face – they were not like everyone else’s. The dark brown, uncreased, slanted eyes, and wire-thin lips were not like those of America. Her petite, lanky body frame was not like that of the other girls. Her breasts were small and lacked the curves that the others’ had. She longed to have their body shape, their facial features. Instead she was stuck with a face that spoke only of the rigid traditions of Japan. The girl’s supple face distorted into a frown. She touched the corners of her eyes, vainly pulling upward in hope that her identity could be erased with a few simple tugs. A small crease appeared, then smoothed, disappearing. A few more tugs did nothing but smear her makeup. In disgust, she roughly wiped off the makeup with tissues and tanked the elastic hair band out, letting her hair fall again in an ebony tsunami. She ran her fingers through her disheveled hair to straighten out the devastated strands.
With closed eyes, she covered her face with supple hands, feeling the sharp cheekbones, which her mother thought to be her best feature. She pressed on them with long, slender fingers, feeling the bone underneath. Maybe if she rubbed hard enough, the hard ridges would soften. She wished it desperately. Then she could be anyone.
She hissed reprimands at her reflection in the mirror. Flipping through the pages of Vogue, she tore out pages and cut out the pictures carefully, pasting them to her wall. It was nearly half filled with a photo montage. They filled her with a warmth like nothing else. She’d been saving her money for five years now, and soon she’d be able to afford the surgery to put creases in her eyelids. Her parents had agreed to help pay for the surgery, and had contributed nearly a thousand toward the cost. Soon she’d have eyes like that of her classmates. She’d be another step away from the Japanese culture that had her trapped.
It was surprising that her parents had agreed to let her get the surgery, let alone help pay for it. They said that it was important to fit in – she could get further in life if she blended in and looked more American. Her parents thought her beautiful, but she despised the body, the face, with which she’d been burdened. She sat back down in front of the mirror and bent down to brush the trampled cherry blossoms off the bottoms of her feet. She smiled to herself. Soon she would be able to brush off her old culture with its old traditions. She would be just another face in the crowd, and no one would be the wiser.
Settling into her bed, she listened to her heart beat at her ribs. Her blood was a reminder of her history, her nature. Closing her senses to the world, she drifted off and away from her past. Tomorrow would be a new day. She wanted to be anyone, and soon she could be anyone. She walked through dreams filled with hope, eyes clouded by the mirage that had become her.
© 2000 by Michelle Ferris