This is the 5th in a series called, "Our Stories."
You tell them. I write them.
Lia entered the room alone and right away she could see that she should not have come. She should not have come and so she stayed close to the wall.
She stayed close the wall and stared into the middle of the bar where everyone had formed groups and they were laughing and talking and holding fancy purses and she wouldn't fit. She wouldn't fit because her hair was too short and her makeup was too dark and her shoes were too black and her dress was too tight, just a little too tight. Like her, it didn't quite fit.
"Lia," a voice called from behind, and Lia closed her eyes. She took in a breath that did not fill her up. Nothing did. Nothing filled her up. She turned toward her friend, kept her hand a moment on the wall.
"You made it!" Darcy said and the girls embraced. They embraced the way they'd been embracing since those early days on the school bus and Darcy felt so pretty and small in Lia's arms. Pretty and small. Lia would give anything to feel pretty and small and her throat closed so that she couldn't talk to her friend, but Darcy didn't notice because she grabbed Lia by the hand and led her away, away from the wall.
It was harder to hide then.
It was hard to hide crooked teeth with every smile.
It was hard to hide chewed off nails with every handshake and cheap cotton with every hug and it was hard to hide self-doubt and fear and never being good enough.
It was hard to hide the never being good enough because it was big, too big, so hard to hide.
"So what do you do Lia?" the girl with red nail polish asked.
Oh no. Not that. Don't ask me that. It's never as important as what you do and not the kind of money you have and I can't tell you about the money. I can't.
"Do you have kids Lia?" wondered the girl in blue satin.
Oh no. Not that. Don't ask me that. You never understand, but you pretend to and the pretending makes it all so much worse and I can't tell you about the pretending. I can't.
Where is the wall? Where is it? Why can't I just lean against the wall and watch you all with your high-heeled shoes and diamond rings and handsome husbands and easy stories? Why can't I just go to where I'm safe, with my back against the wall?
Lia starts to move in that direction then, to pull away from the questions and the hugs and the handshakes and the smiles, toward the edges of the room where she can be alone with her self-doubt and fear and with her never being good enough, the never being good enough that takes up so much space.
She turns and approaches the wall then and that's when she sees the mirror. There is a mirror and her pulse quickens and she tries to avoid it, but it is too late. She is right in front of it and she has to look. She has to look in the mirror and so she does and to her surprise the light falls gently on the lines of her face and they look softer than she remembers and for a moment her thoughts soften too. Her thoughts soften enough to stay with the mirror and suddenly she is surprised again. She is surprised by all of the women behind her in the mirror and how they look different somehow too. They look not as unlike her as they did moments ago and she sees them tug their dresses and smooth their hair and grasp their necklaces and avert their eyes.
For the first time, she sees them maybe holding some of what she holds. She sees them maybe holding a bit of self-doubt and a little fear and perhaps just a hint of never being good enough, the never being good enough that is big, too big, so hard to hide.
"Lia," she hears her friend call to her. "Lia."
She doesn't answer right away though. She doesn't turn around. She continues looking into the mirror and she sees things she couldn't see before and she wants to see more and she wants to understand and fit in and be OK. She wants to be OK and so she lingers.
She lingers with an unlikely friend.
She lingers with the mirror on the wall.