by Anna Kiesewetter
When you wake up, it’s as if someone has doused the world with ether and smeared its runny colors into an Impressionist painting, a Monet-esque blur with a touch of Whistler’s darkness. You slap the nightstand once, twice. It tinkles in response, Celexa pills rattling in their cages, plastic bracelets and brass keys clinking against one another. Your hand roves over wads of gum, balled-up tissues, crinkly candy wrappers crusted with sticky residue. But no glasses. You sweep through once more, the bristly crumbs of a day-old croissant leaving tiny indents in your palm. Nothing.
Your breath tastes sour as you hoist yourself up. The faint electric glow from your charging toothbrush is enough that, when you squint, you can just make out the bathroom door’s frame. Leaning heavily against the bed, you feel your way forward, a moth drawn towards light. When the icy tiles slide beneath your scabby toes, you let out a breath that’s somewhere between a sigh and a shiver. The bathroom light comes on, your clothes come off, and in you step to the watery cubicle.
This, at least, is a familiar scene. The shower controls and tins of soap are always a blur. You smile a bit at the friendly colors: the cinnamon smudges of your feet, the pink traces of mold beneath them. Sometimes, you feel like the art of compensation is at work here. Surrounded by myopic haze, every other sensation is magnified. As the fragrant steam envelops you, you bask in its tangy orange-blossom scent, the tingling of bubbles unfurling across your skin.
Too soon, it’s over, and you’re doing that fumbling half-dance of somehow edging your leggings back onto your dripping legs. Finger-combing your hair, you bring your face an inch away from the mirror until you can finally see her staring back: a little girl pretending to be a woman. The leftover pudge of childhood hasn’t gone away; neither have the remnant pocks of acne scars, although moving your head back works beautifully to blur out these offenses. You do this a lot, actually: peering at yourself through the filter of acute myopia, realizing with a drop of chagrin how flawless this smudged version is. Monet called his painting Impression, Sunrise; you suppose you could call this Impression, Woman. Without the imperfections, without the glasses, you look almost like you’re supposed to. It takes you a minute to remember this is only a mirage, as you said: an impression.
When you finally step out of the bathroom, you find yourself hesitating. You don’t like to admit it, but there’s something oddly comforting in the peach fuzz that coats your surroundings. With your glasses on, the bruised flesh at the core of your life always seems to become clear. Perhaps you’ll take your time rummaging for the specs.
Unfortunately, it’s rather easy to make your way through the hallway. You’ve been living alone for too long; even with the world faded into one long smudge, you can navigate by memory, limbs falling into a familiar pattern. When you reach your one-floor flat’s tiny living room, right away you can sense where they’ll be. If they weren’t on the nightstand, they’ll be nestled in that tiny alcove where you always fall asleep reading, a faded rug worn from hours of time-wasting.
And you’re right. Here they sit, a chocolate smudge atop a blur of crimson: round frames that are supposed to look distinguished but instead accentuate your immature features. You prod at them, dust them off with the corner of your t-shirt; then, finding you’ve run out of ways to stall time, you slip them onto your face.
Suddenly, this cube of an apartment feels stiflingly small. Like you’re a child trapped within a toy block. Or perhaps you’re a ballerina in a snow globe, only it’s a brick made of plaster with only dust in place of snow. With your glasses on, everything is frighteningly clear; you can see every corner, the limits of the four walls enclosing you. Once again, you’re only pretending to be a woman: what adult would suffocate herself within a playhouse?
You venture back through the hallway with growing dismay. How short it is—how childishly short. Everything is crowded, like a little girl’s closet; your hyperactive eyes flit from mess to mess. Unpaid bills litter the floor, wilted plants drooping from the windowsill. You can see flecks of mildew staining the dingy walls in stark detail, months of grime and neglect infesting this pretense of adulthood. It’s more of a Bernardi still life than a Monet: in this painting, every rampant flaw is crystal-clear.
As these details conquer your vision, all at once, it’s too much. Just like that, you’re a child again, huddled in the hoarded remnants of your last episode. When you wring your hands, you can see the raw flesh hanging off your cuticles, the uneven curve of bitten nails. It’s disgusting, yet you find yourself nibbling just like before, the surrounding disorder seeping into your skin.
So when you reach your bedroom, you squeeze yourself back under the covers, place your glasses in their rightful spot on the nightstand. As the room blurs back before your eyes, that fuzziness like a welcome blanket, you let out a breath.
Perhaps like this, the world will cease to matter. Like this, the walls will extend a little wider.
Your head sinks into the pillow as you decide to hold onto an impression of womanhood. Just a little while longer.
About the Author
17-year-old Anna Kiesewetter is a high school senior from Issaquah, Washington. She is a 2020 American Voices Award nominee for the West region of the Scholastic Writing Awards, and her work is published or forthcoming in the Blue Marble Review, the Trouvaille Review, Hypernova Lit, and elsewhere. A biracial Taiwanese-German-American, she often delves into the nooks and crannies of her identity through writing.