Legal and free to use

She breathed a long sigh of exhaustion while lifting her hair in a messy bun. Dirty, lifeless, dark hair whose wisps stuck out around her childlike face. Under her tired eyes, the residues of mascara rested. She wasn’t sure when she had applied it to her eyelashes. Could be yesterday morning, or even the day before. It didn’t really matter. At the moment, other things demanded her attention. Like the fact that she could feel her fingers stiffening from the coldness in her small studio apartment.
To warm herself up, she reached for the only thing that hung on the bathroom door; an oversized grey cardigan, chunky knit but lightweight. Her mother had bought it for her for Christmas. Unwillingly, of course, and only because she demanded it. It was beyond her mother’s understanding why somebody would want to wear several sizes bigger clothes.
“It’s a fashion, mom!” she tried to explain, but knew very well that any effort is futile. It was the same when she wished for a piercing in her nose. The small, discreet one, nothing dramatic, but her mother made such a big deal of it.

She tapped with her finger over the piercing now, examining in the bathroom mirror couple of spots she so vigorously tried to pop. She was in her late teens. A young girl with a little life experience, as her mother liked to point out. Still, her eyes told a different story, the one that made most people avoid her look. That steady stare of hopelessness and despair you could only have if your soul were familiar with a dark and blurred state of mind.
She scrutinised her reflection, trying to silence the noise in her head. The relentless stream of dark thoughts that appeared louder and louder, the more she tried to shush it. Like a mischievous child, her mind raced, refusing to obey.
“Oh, you disgust me!” she spat out the words into the mirror with a contempt one can only nurture for oneself. Her cramped bathroom suddenly became stuffy, making her yearn for fresh air.

Tripping over the mess in the room, she reached for the window handle and opened it. The rush of cold air swamped in, and she shivered, wrapping the cardigan around her tiny body. She wasn’t unfamiliar with the outside noise, yet, it took her by surprise. Sounds of traffic mingled with diverse voices and footsteps. Some hurried, some hesitant, some slow-paced like it’s a brunch time on some idle Sunday. None of them was heading to her. To this shoebox of her living space for which her parents paid a fortune every month so she could attend her dream college in this vibrant city, miles away from her hometown.
“It was supposed to be fun,” she thought while trying to find connection with a liveliness that flew down the main street like the light in motion captured by some photographer at night time. Being on her own, independent and all grown up, far away from overly caring and painfully traditional parents. But student life turned out to be harder then she had expected it to be. She knew nobody, and making new friendships was a challenge for her quiet and shy nature. Soon, she found herself spending her free time behind closed doors with a phone in her hand, scrolling down the social network feeds. Suddenly, all those glamorous pictures she used to admire while still living in her hometown and looking forward to the day when she’ll be a part of that wonderful life students have, proved to be false. She could hardly find anything photogenic in her studio with cracked tiles, scraped floors, a rusty faucet that dripped and drove her insane with its steady sound, and curtains with the pattern even her mother would find old-fashioned.

No one wanted to see that. No one wanted to know how much she struggled with some subjects, spent her afternoons in the library trying to do research, to learn something. No one wanted to know her fears, doubts, to see that thorny road that apparently led to any kind of success. No one wanted to know a country girl, as one girl from the class called her once, alluding at her accent, plain clothes and ruddy face. That same girl had thousands of followers on her Instagram account. She checked. She stalked her for months, allowing jealousy to creep up on her while looking at the posts that brimmed with fun, entertainment, and perfect life.

She reached for her phone and rechecked the girl’s profile. There was a new post from this morning. #Iwokeuplikethis and girl’s face hidden behind filters that made her look like a goddess. She was aware of this fake reality on social networks, but this awareness didn’t help. All she could see was that huge gap between her actual life ant the one she would like to have. Feelings of insufficiency and guilt stirred inside her, treating to condemn her existence to one more day of crying and wailing in her bed. Under the blanket whose smell reminded her how she obviously can’t keep up with the simplest things in her life.

She tossed the phone on the bed between wrinkled, damp sheets that craved to be washed. A pile of dirty clothes on the floor next to the bed appeared to be sending disapproving vibes towards her. Leftovers of fast food on the table, crumbles on the cold wooden floor, a crooked picture on the wall. They all reprimanded her just like her mother did in the past when she’d leave her room messy. She wondered what her dear mother would say seeing this place. Witnessing the misery of her present life. These thoughts were disturbing and only made her feel worse, so she dismissed them with a motion of her hand, like swatting an annoying fly.

She knew what would make her feel better in an instant. At least for a while. What would give her enough energy to live through the day. It was like drugs, but more sophisticated. Legal and free to use.

Diving deep into her fantasies, she went back to the bathroom. Slowly, she washed her hair. Put her makeup on. With meticulous care, she chose her outfit. While roaming through the pile of clothes on the floor, she found an empty Starbuck’s coffee cup. It was stained with coffee drops, she removed them by licking her finger, her lips now a deep shade of red.

The rush of excitement passed through her. She searched for her phone and took an endless number of selfies with her back turned to the open window. To the urban city and its diversity that promised bliss. #livingthedream she wrote beneath the picture enhanced with filters and posted it on her Instagram profile.

Likes began to lash. Unwillingly her lips curled upward. Once again, she was loved.

Brankica Stanic
November 2019

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