Empathy Has a Price
Victoria the Beautiful
Victoria sat at the back of her calculus class, taking in what the teacher was saying, but not really understanding a word. She wondered why she ever signed up for the class. It wasn’t required for graduation, and she doubted she would ever understand any of the abstract theories the teacher was laying out on the dry erase board.
Three rows in front of her, and nearly at the front of the class, she watched with envy as Grace Stevens nodded in understanding as one particular problem was presented and she solved it without even writing anything down. How was it possible somebody could be that much more intelligent than she was?
Victoria was not dumb, she just had a problem with math. In fact, she carried a 3.7 cumulative average. She wished there was some way she could simply opt-out of the class.
“How is it you make this stuff look so easy.” She asked as Grace passed her on the way out of the classroom.
“It’s not hard, if you just allow your brain to wrap around the figures.” Grace explained. Grace was surprised that a popular girl like Victoria Price would even take the time to speak to her.
Victoria did have a certain reputation as being one of the prettiest girls in school. She had long blonde hair that seemed almost too perfect to be real, the face of an angel, and almost every guy in the senior class lusted after her.
Grace, on the other hand, was barely noticed by anyone. Her mousey brown hair was cut into a chin-length bob that hung limply over her ears, which seemed to poke through rather evidently. She never wore makeup, and her complexion was a bit ruddy for a girl. She wasn’t very tall either, standing only five foot three, to Victoria’s nearly six-foot frame.
So, when Victoria was pulled away before she was able to respond, Grace wasn’t all that surprised.
“What on earth are you doing talking to ‘Greasy’ Stevens, Vicky?” Amanda Cook asked, one of Victoria’s teammates on the cheerleading squad.
“Don’t call her that, Amanda. She seemed nice enough.” Victoria insisted, pulling back from Amanda’s persistent grasp.
“You better stay clear, Vicky, or some of that ugly will wear off on you.” Amanda chortled. Unfortunately, Grace had heard some of the comments made by Amanda, and slipped by Victoria with what looked like tears in her eyes.
“You hurt her feelings, Amanda. Why don’t you just lay off? I’ll talk to whomever I please.” Victoria sighed, walking away from her fellow cheerleader.
“Whatever, girl. It’s your funeral.” Amanda shook her head, disappearing into the crowded hallway.
The next day, Victoria decided to take a chance and have a seat next to Grace in calculus. Grace seemed daunted, and almost moved when Victoria sat down.
“It’s alright. Grace, I am so sorry for what Amanda said yesterday. Sometimes she can be a bit cruel.” Victoria offered.
“I’m kind of used to it, you know,” Grace admitted. “Kids are always picking on me. I just ignore them, for the most part.”
“Why do they pick on you?” Victoria asked.
“Seriously?” Grace questioned. “No, I guess you really wouldn’t know, would you?”
“You mean because of who I am?” Victoria assumed.
“Not so much, who you are, but how you look. I mean, you’re beautiful. How could you even know what it’s like to be ugly, like me.” Grace put forward.
“You’re not ugly, Grace. Why, if you knew all the things I have to go through to look like this, you’d probably laugh.” Suddenly, Victoria had an idea. “Tell you what. I make a deal with you. I’ll do everything I can with what I’ve got in my arsenal of beauty products to make you like me, if you’ll help me experience what it’s like to be in your shoes for a day.”
“You can’t be serious. Why on earth would you want to be like me? You’ve got everything, Victoria.” Grace was skeptical.
“I want to know, because sometimes, Grace, beauty is a curse,” Victoria admitted.
Just then the teacher appeared, and class began, so both girls had to sit on their hands for forty-five minutes; Victoria wondering whether Grace would accept her proposition, and Grace wondering what the punch line was.
“So, what do you say?” Victoria asked, catching Grace on the way to her next class.
“Listen, Victoria. I know you’re just trying to be nice and all, but I think I’m going to pass, okay?” Grace turned and quick-walked away from her, leaving Victoria baffled by her mistrust.
Victoria the Guilty
A few days later, Victoria began to feel guilty for thinking that she had anything to offer Grace. Maybe she was happy the way she was? The guilt began to bother her more and more as the day went on. Finally, by the end of the day, she had decided what she was going to do. With or without Grace’s help, she was going to experience what it was like to be anything but the popular, beauty she had been all her life.
Frustrated, Victoria threw her bookbag down on her settee and stared at herself in the mirror. Flopping down on the padded bench to her vanity, she began to roughly remove the makeup that hid so many evils. The small chickenpox scars that dotted her forehead, the strange café-au-lait spot on her cheek that had been such an embarrassment since she was a child, and several zits that were the latest to pop on her face, seemed harshly revealed by the astringent makeup remover.
She sat and regarded herself in the light-framed mirror, only marginally satisfied by her humbled appearance. “Not enough,’ she said, resolutely. She ripped off the top she was wearing, and then the padded bra, which had given her the appearance of being well endowed. The small bumps that were all her breasts had ever amounted to, poked out like little cones from her otherwise flat chest.
Victoria grabbed the four bras that had cost her mother a fortune, and snipped them in half with a pair of manicure scissors, tossing the remnants in the garbage. ‘That was one farce she was done with’, she thought.
Although the image that now presented itself in the mirror was a far cry from the beautiful heartthrob she had been only thirty minutes before, Victoria still felt there was more she could do to humble herself.
Grabbing her car keys, she headed out the door. She knew what she had to do, and it would be the most difficult of all. She drove around for a little while, knowing that going to her own salon was out of the question. They would never do what she wanted to do. No, she had to find some small, out-of-the-way place to take care of this issue.
Finally, Victoria found just the place. Set back into a corner of a strip plaza, was “Julie’s Cut ‘n’ Curl.” She said it out loud as if to drive home where she was about to go.
As Victoria stepped through the door to the small salon, her nostrils were assaulted by the harsh smell of perm fluid and hair dye. She looked around the place and noticed that there wasn’t a person in there who was under the age of forty. ‘This is perfect’, she thought.
“Can I help you, young lady?” A woman with purplish hair called out to her from beside an older woman with jet white hair she was cutting.
“I need a cut and color,” Victoria said, hesitantly, realizing what she was about to do.
“Well, have a seat and Rose will be with you in a minute, dear.” The woman directed.
Victoria was surprised that she didn’t say she needed an appointment, but maybe they just didn’t get that kind of business. She looked over at the other stylist, who was just finishing up on an extremely short haircut. The woman must have been in her fifties, and the cut she was getting was only a little longer than some of the buzzcuts she’d seen on the guys in school.
As Rose shook out the cape she had just swept off of the woman, she nodded to Victoria, who was too nervous to acknowledge the gesture. She watched intently as the woman paid for her cut, and then walked by her with a grin, as if she knew something Victoria didn’t.
“I’m Rose.” The woman held out her hand, which Victoria took out of courtesy. “Cut and color?” The woman asked.
“Hi, I’m Vicky.” She sounded so ridiculous, but it didn’t matter. “Yes, a cut and color.”
Rose led Victoria to her chair and directed her into it, swinging it around so that she faced the small mirror, while the cape was placed around her neck. “We should do the cut first, and then the color.” Rose insisted, taking charge. “So, what did you have in mind.”
Victoria thought for a moment, struggling to imagine herself with the cut she pictured in her mind. “A chin-length bob, with bangs.” Victoria managed, inwardly grimacing.
“That’s a big change. Are you sure?” Rose asked, carefully.
‘No, I’m not sure!’ Victoria screamed inside, but whatever resolve had grabbed ahold of her back in her bedroom prevailed. “Yes, quite sure.”
Victoria watched as the woman gathered her waist-length blonde hair into a bunch at the base of her neck, and reached for a pair of scissors. “I’ll get rid of the bulk, here, then we can get to the cut.”
Victoria tried not to wince as the crunching of the scissors sent shivers up and down her spine. She could feel the cold metal against her neck as they worked, sawing laboriously through her luscious hair, that had been the envy of every girl in school.
“There.” Rose held up the impressive ponytail in her hand so Victoria could see it plainly before her. “Do you want this?” She asked. When Victoria shook her head, Rose unceremoniously allowed the mass of hair to fall with a thud into a nearby trash can. “Okay. One chin-length bob, coming up.”
Victoria watched, fascinated but terrified, as more and more of her hair was cut away. As Rose began to cut the hair to its final length, Victoria was amazed at how thick her neck was. She had always imagined herself with a long slender neck, but with her hair as long as it had been, she just never really knew. It was a strange feeling to have the air breeze by her neck unimpeded by her hair. Victoria was so taken aback by the severity of the cut, she barely noticed the clippers.
“I’m going to have to thin things out quite a bit here, Victoria. You have very thick hair, and it just doesn’t suit this bob.” Rose explained as she began sawing into Victoria’s hair, from top to bottom. For a while, it was raining hair all down the sides and back of the cape as the thickness was stripped away from her hair. Only when Victoria’s hair lay limply against her head, falling jet straight from the sides did Rose stop with the menacing thinning sheers.
“How short do you want the bangs?” Rose asked. Moving the scissors to varying lengths on Victoria’s forehead.
“Better be shorter.” Victoria sighed, as she surveyed the hair that just clung to her head. She watched in shock as the scissors made a blunt cut straight across her forehead, an inch above her eyebrows. The hair had been thinned so severely that no other adjustments were required. The bangs just hung here, limp against her face.
“Let’s talk color.” Rose finally said. “I’m thinking maybe jet black would look trendy with this cut.” Of course, it was the logical color for so radical a cut. Bur, Victoria had other plans.
“Brown.” She finally said.
“Well, that’s easy,” Rose admitted, as she gathered the supplies from beneath the counter. “I have a nice amber brown, a golden brown, how about…”
“Just plain brown.” Victoria interrupted.
“Plain brown, huh?” Rose mimicked. “Okay”
Victoria the Ugly
Victoria sat staring at the reflection gawking back at her in her vanity. The flat brown color that Rose had given her had no life whatsoever. It was horrible. At the same time, it seemed to have quelled Victoria’s guilt. She no longer felt guilty for being beautiful, because she wasn’t anymore.
The t-shirt she wore revealed just how flat-chested she really was, her face was pale, blemished, and plain, and her hair…, well. Victoria’s hair was the ugliest cut and color she had ever seen, on anybody, anywhere, ever. the chin length bob revealed the lobes of her ears it was so short, and her nape had been clippered to the skin to allow the bob to be as short as it needed to be. She still remembered Rose’s parting words after she had paid her the eighty dollars plus tip.
“I can’t for the life of me figure you kids out. I thought I’d seen everything until now.” Victoria knew she had succeeded in her quest, but at what cost.
The following day when she showed up at school, Victoria found out exactly what it was like to be ridiculed, picked on, and humiliated. None of her friends would have anything to do with her, the boys all laughed at her, and to top it all off, she was booted off the cheerleading squad.
Perhaps the most shocking thing of all, was when Grace Stevens caught sight of her. Rather than the accepting kindness Victoria had expected from her, Grace reacted strangely. As Victoria sat down to the stares and comments of the rest of the class, she looked over to Grace. “Hi.” She said, hopefully.
Grace just shook her head. “You are such an idiot.”
It was then that Victoria noticed Grace’s hair. It was a little lighter, and a little fuller. Her face bore the unmistakable blush of makeup, and her eyes sported the slightest hint of eyeshadow and mascara. She had done what Victoria had wanted to do, all on her own.
As Grace stood and moved several desks away, Victoria realized, to her dismay, that the tables had turned and there was no going back.