The short story, “Moxie,” is part of TLR’s current issue.
“Moxie” began as a response: my partner told me I was losing my looks due to drinking. He had made this remark in anger and dressed it up in concern. “I’m only telling you because I care about you.” Self-righteous, self-delusion is a fortress.
My whole life has been a quest to be pretty. Growing up, my sisters and I were the smart, ugly grandchildren while my much more well-to-do cousins were the pretty, popular ones. These prescribed roles lasted through college. I graduated top of my class in business and had no idea what to do with my life. It was 1989 and my outlook was myopic. I’d look in the mirror, see my big nose, and wonder if I’d ever be pretty.
I took a job at Mobil Oil Corporation, the ultimate white boy company, though I longed to be an actor. Gazing at a Vanity Fair Vanities photo of a pre Steel Magnolias/Pretty Woman Julia Roberts, I wanted to be her. I auditioned for my first play the day after.
My desire to be an actor was a quest to be pretty. I thought being an actor would magically transform me. Being an actor made me hyper-aware of what I looked like. I was always well-dressed for auditions, spent a fortune on hair and eyebrow upkeep, religiously worked out. Inside I still felt like the unattractive smart girl—the proverbial fat chick standing in the corner of the party. In the back of my mind, I knew I’d never be a pretty woman.
I’ve been working abroad for most of the last ten years as a teacher, with a non-governmental organization (NGO) volunteer in Europe and the Middle East. As women age, stereotypically they become less physically desirable. To quote Samantha from an old Sex and the City, “No one wants to fuck grandma’s pussy.” Women get cloaked in invisibility. Living abroad postponed that type of irrelevance. As a foreigner or other, you garner a certain amount of attention. Next year I turn fifty, so there’s no denying my heyday is over.
I don’t feel fifty. I don’t act fifty. I have none of the place markers that announce one is fifty: I have no husband, no children, no home. I have been living like a nomad for over a decade. My possessions fill a borrowed closet in someone else’s home. Nonetheless, my skin is lined (I have not taken the Botox plunge), my hair gray (I dye it every three weeks) and menopausal hot flashes burn me from the inside out. I think about all that energy I put into trying to be beautiful, and I cringe at the self-absorbed, consumptive excess. These days, the energy is spent on writing and trying to be happy.
Jax, the main character in “Moxie,” questions if she was happy when she was beautiful. For a long time, I thought if I could be beautiful, I would be happy. Because I was never beautiful, was I never happy? Being in community and producing words that others find worth reading make me happy. I’m extending “Moxie” into a novel. I don’t know if Jax will find her happiness. Her story, like mine, is incomplete.