“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful teenage girl named Chrysanthemum. Her long, perfect nose inhaled the salty odor of the sweat trickling down her beautiful face. Chrysanthemum’s long fingers were clenched into tight fists, and her thin legs were driven into the soft carpet on her bedroom’s hardwood floor. Chrysanthemum breathed deeply and collapsed onto her hot pink bedspread. “
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful teenage girl named Chrysanthemum. Her long, perfect nose inhaled the salty odor of the sweat trickling down her beautiful face. Chrysanthemum’s long fingers were clenched into tight fists, and her thin legs were driven into the soft carpet on her bedroom’s hardwood floor. Chrysanthemum breathed deeply and collapsed onto her hot pink bedspread. Her dark red hair fanned out in wavy strokes, clashing horribly with the repulsive shade of pink that decorated her blanket. Chrysanthemum opened her deep blue and amber eyes. She got up and looked at the pillow taped to the wall. One of the pieces of clear scotch tape was peeling. Chrysanthemum pulled another piece of tape off of the roll, enjoying the sharp sound of the thin strip snapping against the tiny spikes that stung when they pricked the bottom of a person’s finger. Chrysanthemum grabbed as much tape as she could and reattached the pillow to the pale pink and white wallpaper. She would need a lot of tape. Chrysanthemum definitely punched hard enough to knock a pillow off a wall.
Chrysanthemum’s body might have been in her bedroom, but her mind was at school. Earlier that day, she had heard something that was… disturbing.
She was in the schoolyard at lunch, and her less-beautiful-but-still-pretty-and-popular friends ran up to her.
“Oh, honey, are you okay?” they asked her, looking worried.
“Of course,” Chrysanthemum answered, wondering what they could possibly be talking about. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
The girls whispered among one another, sounding much like a frenzied flock of birds. Chrysanthemum managed to hear a couple of sentences, however.
“She stubbed her toe. She is too delicate for that.”
“The poor thing is clueless, like always.”
Chrysanthemum backed away, horrified at how her “friends” thought of her.
And then, a final blow: “It’s fine. She’s too pretty to handle herself without any friends. She’ll come back to us.”
Chrysanthemum shuddered, remembering how angry and alone she had felt when she had heard this. Chrysanthemum collapsed back onto her bed and sobbed into her second pillow. Everyone wished that they looked like her. They thought it was so easy to be pretty. They had no idea how wrong they were.
Whenever Chrysanthemum asked her parents to go to the store after school, they said no. Their excuse was that they were worried that she would get hurt or lost. This was the store that was a block away from school. She didn’t even have to cross any streets to get there. Whenever Chrysanthemum was about to climb the big, fake spider web in the yard behind her school, her teachers would run up to her and tell her that it was too dangerous. When she protested with the argument that everyone else did it, they would tell her that it was different because the time for being outside was about to end, and so she didn’t have time to climb it anyway. Chrysanthemum couldn’t exactly tell the teacher to stop lying about how long recess was, so she had never once gotten to climb the spiderweb. Nor had she ever gone to the store near school. The worst part about her being pretty was that everyone was always watching her. Chrysanthemum didn’t have any friends who weren’t popular and pretty, because everyone would judge her if she did. Chrysanthemum couldn’t show that she loved math and hated art because no one would like her if she did. Why would they? The kids no one could stand were the math whizzes. No one realized this, but Chrysanthemum was just as vulnerable and exposed as a turtle without a shell. Chrysanthemum wished that she could be ugly. Just for a day, to see what it was like. When Chrysanthemum looked at the calendar, she came up with a plan. The date was October 20th.
Over the next few days, Chrysanthemum worked nonstop. She worked with the teachers to plan a Halloween party in the gym at school. She made a deal with an unpopular seventh grader named Seraphina who was about her height and who had widely advertised that she was going to be dressed as a character from Star Wars: the green woman who served Jabba the Hutt. Chrysanthemum then told all of her “friends” that she would go as a mummy, and told them that she would be covering her face. Then, she started to make her costume.
It was Halloween. Chrysanthemum was ready. She put on a green mask and a lot of green clothes, and got ready to see what it was like to be disliked. Here was her plan: she would dress up like the green servant of Jabba the Hutt in the place of Seraphina, and she would dress up like a mummy with its face covered in the place of Chrysanthemum. This way everyone would think that Chrysanthemum was unpopular and treat her that way, and they wouldn’t wonder where Chrysanthemum was because Seraphina would be dressed as Chrysanthemum had planned to. There was only one problem. And it was called her parents.
“Honey, it’s not that I don’t trust you to go to the Halloween party alone, it’s just… ”
“That you don’t trust me to go to the Halloween party alone,” finished Chrysanthemum.
Her mom looked apologetic. “Well, yes. And I don’t understand why you really want to. You can have candy here. After all, you get almost everything you want.”
“You have to let me grow up! My whole life you’ve been babying me. You expect me to act like a little girl and to always need you to help me with everything, but how am I supposed to get independent enough to go out by myself if you won’t let me go out by myself? You say that I get everything I want, but has it ever occurred to you that maybe I don’t like all the things you give me? I know that this will come as a shock to you, but I hate pink and Barbies and dolls and unicorns! If I had a choice, I would never in a million years wear a dress! When I see ruffles, I’d rather set them on fire than wear them! When I go to the shoe store, I don’t actually want the tiny pink slippers with sparkles on them. I want the practical sneakers! But if this ruins me in your eyes or whatever, well then, you have to deal with it.”
Chrysanthemum’s mom gave an annoying little giggle that made Chrysanthemum want to push her fingers into her ears and sing. “Honey, I know that’s not true. You asked me to give you pink wallpaper and pink bedding.”
“Really?” Chrysanthemum hissed. “Because I seem to remember asking you for white paint and a red rug and bed.”
“Pink is the girl version of red. I just made you happy.”
“Do I look happy to you???”
Chrysanthemum’s mother’s shoulders slumped. She sighed. “No. You don’t. I’m sorry, Chrys. I guess that I always wanted you to be like me, and I just didn’t understand how much it really affected you. You can go to the party.”
Chrysanthemum smiled and hugged her mother. “Thanks, Mom,” she said. “That means a lot.” Chrysanthemum then grabbed her bag and ran out the door. Her plan was in motion.
When Chrysanthemum got to the party, she immediately saw a girl dressed like a mummy, covered in linen from head to toe, but with slits cut out so that she could see and breathe. She gave little sign that she saw Chrysanthemum, except for giving her a small nod. Chrysanthemum returned the greeting and continued on into the party, bracing herself for whatever came next. But nothing came next, at least for a while. No one even gave her a glance. Chrysanthemum hated this. But it was a lot better than what did come next. Chrysanthemum was getting a piece of candy from the big bowl in the entrance when she was surrounded by a group of people dressed as a unicorn, a fairy, and a ballerina. These were the girls who she had previously called friends. Years later, this night came as a blur.
Chrysanthemum still could only remember one thing that they had said: “You’re nobody. You have no friends. So don’t expect sympathy from us.”
It was the first time Chrysanthemum had actually been bullied, so she ended up in tears. Tears that made the space under her mask hot and stuffy. Chrysanthemum ran to the bathroom, pushing people aside and forcing her way through the crowd.
There were drops of condensation on the dirty, cracked mirror. Chrysanthemum wiped away the fog and pulled off her mask. There were long tear marks on her cheeks, glowing in the fluorescent lights. Chrysanthemum turned on the facet and caught the glittering, transparent water in the cup of her hands. She poured the water on her face, wiping off the grime and snot. When she finished, it was impossible to tell that Chrysanthemum had ever been crying. Her skin was as clear and spotless as ever. Chrysanthemum steadied herself and turned to go back out. She was about to slip the mask back on, but was stopped. A unicorn, a fairy, and a ballerina were standing by the door.
“Oh my god! Chrysanthemum!”
“Weren’t you supposed to be a mummy?”
“We had no idea that was you!”
“I saw you dressed as a mummy!”
“We’re so sorry!”
“Yeah, guys, didn’t you see the mummy?”
“We would have never said those things if we had known it was you.”
“We thought we were talking to that dork, Seraphina.”
Chrysanthemum stared at them in horror. “How could you?”
“How could you treat someone that way? If you had been talking to Seraphina instead of me, would you have apologized? And why did you follow me to the bathroom in the first place? To bully me even more? I didn’t want to believe it. Seraphina told me that you guys were mean, but I didn’t believe her. I thought you guys were bad friends… but it turns out you are even worse people.” Chrysanthemum then ran out of the bathroom and out of the gym and out of the school and into the cool scene of Manhattan in fall. Chrysanthemum breathed in the fresh, crisp air and let the familiar scents make their way into her sinuses. Chrysanthemum heard the banging of the big wooden door that led to the school, and turned around, ready to lecture her former friends some more. Instead, it was Seraphina.
“Hey, Chrys. You okay?”
In the last eleven days, Chrysanthemum and Seraphina had become close friends. It had turned out that they got along well. They both preferred math over art; they both thought that dogs were (very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very) awesome, but snakes were cooler; they both despised pink but loved blue. Most importantly, they got along very well. Well enough to hang out outside of school. Seraphina had changed Chrysanthemum’s entire perspective on beauty. She had helped Chrysanthemum with her plan to switch costumes. She was the one who had warned Chrysanthemum about her so-called “friends.” As far as Chrysanthemum knew, Seraphina was the first real friend she had ever had. Apparently Seraphina hadn’t had many friends either, except for a girl named Harper, who had also been bullied at her school until she decided to stand up to those bullies. Seraphina introduced Chrysanthemum to Harper, so now Chrysanthemum had two close friends to hang out with.
Over the next couple of weeks, people all over the school heard about how Chrysanthemum had stood up to the (formerly) popular girls, and people wanted to become her friend. And it wasn’t just because she was pretty! Meanwhile, people heard Seraphina’s account of being popular for a night, and how no one would talk to her because they were scared she would judge them. Everyone was happy that Seraphina hadn’t been judging them. Chrysanthemum’s former “friends” were being treated fine, but they were no longer popular or particularly well-liked. Chrysanthemum rarely talked to them, and when she did, they treated her with respect. The teachers still treated her the same, but Chrysanthemum knew she couldn’t control everything. Only herself. Middle school always has its ups and downs. But at least for now… they lived happily ever after.