Envy is the four-eyed nerd, licking her pistachio ice-cream, who gazes with hungry eyes at the lovey-dovey couple who glide by. God, she's so fat, she thinks, wiping her creamy, pale-green pistachio moustache. And jeans tucked into boots? Ugh, that's so last summer. She's the closet fashionista, reading up about the latest trends in her spare time because there's nothing else to do, her advice never solicited. And the fat, frumpy girl – well she's walking arm-in-arm with her guy. Eyes shining. He smiles as he looks down at her, laughing at something she's said. Arm around her waist, his fingers interlocking with hers. The stuff of sickeningly cute, candyfloss photos.
Resentment is the girl grocery-shopping in the departmental store. One minute she's mentally debating the merits of rice Krispies over Cheerios, the next a joined-to-the-hip couple sails by. The girl totters on her stilettos, laughing crazily as her boyfriend steadies her – Look at me, look at my man, look and envy her laughter seems to say. Too many jangling bangles, too high heels, too long hair (that her boyfriend twines his fingers through while they browse through the yoghurt section)… the girl is a testament to the excesses and the lack of fashion sense of the present generation. Sickened, The Other Girl flings a cereal box, chosen at random, into her cart and leaves.
The Other Girl.
That is always how she thinks of herself. One by one her friends enter the land of couple-dom, drowning in an opium haze of cuteness. One by one they drift away from the table they'd all occupied during lunch in freshman year – The Rejects' Table, as the rest of the school called it – to their boyfriends' tables. Willingly, they accept the stereotypes of couple-ness – the complete package. The couple photos which will be put up as Facebook profile pics – windblown hair, blissfully happy smiles… Friday nights spent at the movies, cuddling up to your boyfriend in the dark. Weekend facials and manicures at girlfriends' houses abandoned in favour of 'date night'. Parroting 'well, he says' when music or sports crops up in the conversation.
And gradually, The Other Girl is left alone at her table, a surly junior in a crowd of rejected freshmen. But even sitting with freshmen is déclassé. So she brings a book with her – paperback Jane Austen romances mostly. With the glasses and the book and the sullen face she fits the stereotype of modern gooseberry. No one singles out the sulky girl who enters class ten minutes early, not when there are girls every bit as pretty – perhaps prettier – who are more available.
God, where'd she get her hair done?
Trudging down the school hallways, she looks at the girls entwined in the amorous embraces of their swains, and that's what she thinks.
I'm ten times as pretty as her. Why don't they look at me?
Always the same conclusion. She isn't pretty enough. If she's not pretty enough, she's ugly. Yes, she's ugly, she decides, critically examining herself in the mirror. She's fat, oh yes she's fat no matter what everyone says. They're only polite in front of her. No one wants her. No indeed, how could anyone want someone like her?
"Why do your tits sag so much?"
All the insults thrown her way since kindergarten whelm her. How come you always remember the things you want to forget the most? She waxes eloquent on Swinburne's poetry, a topic which had once interested all her friends. Now they only look pityingly at her and tell her to get laid, before beginning to wax eloquent about their boyfriends.
"Get laid, girl."
Sex. Sex. Sex. Endlessly, she obsesses about it. From the pulpits, preachers declaim man's carnal lust and reiterate the path of caution, of chastity. Demurely she sits in her pew and thinks about porn. Girls don't watch porn, a part of her mind whispers when she surfs online (door always locked so Mom won't interrupt at inopportune moments). But she dismisses it impatiently. Thou shalt watch porn with thy older brothers and thence thou shalt turn from boys to men – wasn't that the gospel that all middle-school boys were fed before entering high school? Still, shame eats her. It eats her as she lies on her bed in her underwear, masturbating in unison to the feral cries echoing from the online porno she's watching.
And at school, she purses her lips and wonders disdainfully whether boys ever think about anything but sex. Her girlfriends are quick to protest. Oh sure they do… music, pets, school, movies, sports…
"So he says," she says scornfully. "But all he wants is to get inside your pants, baby." That's the truth and well, her friends are stupid if they think otherwise. Men are just great, big hulking sex machines and she certainly doesn't want one shadowing her all the time, calling her every night, kissing her in the hallways when there are no teachers around…
Of course she doesn't.
"Why do your tits sag so much?"
Or maybe she doesn't want one because she can't get one. Maybe it's a defence mechanism against rejection. Maybe she was a Victorian spinster who spent her life in a stuffy house, playing the piano and wearing stiff lace collars and velvet gowns, in her last life – too ugly for any man to ever want her. Karma, karma.
And so she becomes the quiet girl sitting by herself, with only a Jane Austen novel for company, at break. Man-hater. Life as simple as sliced bread. Nothing interesting about her.
And around her, the Curse of the Couple-Ness blossoms till she can almost see hearts hovering over their heads. Her heart breaks, but as always she is the girl in the corner who seems above the cutesy triteness of it all.