This story happened not a long time ago. There are not princesses nor evil queens here, but real people and awkward situations between adults who are opening their paths in the world.
My name is Julieta. The eldest child, the eldest sibling, the eldest grandchild. The first everything. Normally, traditional fairy tales involve the youngest brother successfully passing his tests and achieving riches. I suppose it happens because, by that point in life, the first children in many families are already too mentally burnt out to try it themselves.
I was the first in college since my grandfather. As such, there were so many expectations that the crash with reality couldn't have been harder. For the daughter of a single mother with two younger siblings, a career in humanities wasn't the wisest choice, according to my small social circle, but then, I never had a head for numbers.
University is a curious experience.
You are naive and transitioning into the world of proper adults, people put their distances and the first awakening of cynism comes when you start receiving intuitions of friends you once dearly loved making comments behind your back.
First jobs come too, and you find yourself being fresh meat of bosses, aggressive customers and jealous work colleagues.
This story has a lot to do with jealousy and envy.
And loneliness, too.
My career of choice involves a lot of fieldwork with outside communities. It means that you have to travel with a group of classmates out of the place where you live and document things. Interview people, take pictures with permission, write your reflections and such.
The realisation of how similar it sounds to the classical high school trip from movies causes a chill to run down my spine. We all grew up seeing movies that involve coming-of-age stories, about leaving stereotypes behind to grow over the cliché Status Quo. In high school, we are reminded of the fact we are graduating, entering the world of adults and about the responsibilities and independence it will demand.
By 25, I had not graduated college yet. A lack of money, stable jobs and a demanding family greatly contributed to it. Needless to say, this was a source of great anxieties for me.
Unlike what teen movies and motivational discourses express, college is still a time where a lot of differences become obvious. People see it, people like to be exclusive, and, most of it all, even if they don't say it aloud, people like to have a sense of intimacy and kinship in the fact they can define themselves as what the others are not. I believe togetherness comes more from differences than similarities.
When you have to live in an external community with individuals you barely know, life can become torturous. It didn't help that I was the eldest student there and naturally had more experience. I had no issues getting along with the professors and the other adults of the place where we resided, but when you can not connect with your immediate colleagues, it's sad.
It all started bizarrely. I talked about my experience while giving a final exam some years ago and one of the girls loudly interrupted me saying my words weren't true. It all gave way to an uncomfortable silence.
For most of the rest of the trip, she started to give me dirty looks every time I took the initiative to talk.
'For fucks sake, we are adults!'I thought and tried to ignore it.
Later I found out she hadn't even taken that course yet...
My immediate colleagues were two girls and a guy. Martin was my same age, but his interactions with me were awkward and later, the glances he shot me showed apprehension. The girls, including the one who interrupted me, were younger.
They couldn't be more different too: Anne, the aggressive one, was a passionate beauty reminiscent of Arwen Udomiel. Emile was a blonde hippie with dreadlocks who told us things about her trips to Latin America and every once in a while announced her intentions to light a joint after work.
'Man, you are not 16. Just go and do it'
Part of my issues come from my reserved personality. I have troubles opening up to others and making friends wasn't easy for me. But if I tried to talk, they would remain silent and Anne would shoot me dirty looks. Once, they went to the closest town with the professor to buy groceries while I was showering and they didn't even tell me so. Therefore, I found myself alone at night, in a place without electricity and loudly asking where everybody was until the dots connected in my mind.
But this type of things can't happen to adults.
That night was then the ticklish sensation started on my feet.
The next day, after work, Emile suddenly came (followed by Martin and Anne) and asked me why did I not work anymore at my last job. I was jobless at that time and during a free weekend the girls wanted to go out but I declined because I did not have that much money. Anne got mad and asked if I even had brought money with me in front of the professor.
I felt humiliated because everybody was looking at us.
I am an adult woman. This is not supposed to happen. Everybody should be able to go at their rhythm.
My last job was a part-time activity in a bank. To say the truth, the working conditions weren't the best and we all knew it was temporal the moment we entered: the contract came through an agency. We never worked for the bank, even if we were inside its buildings, we worked for the agency. I remember telling it to my group once. Martin said it was too bourgeoise. The girls' expressions showed they didn't believe me.
As if customer service jobs were something to brag about. People treat you like shit. I bet the contracts were temporal because no one would have lasted more than three months there.
The following night, the ticklish sensation reached my legs below the knees. It was a funny feeling as if my bones were becoming softer.
We studied a career that involved connections to Others. Ironically, my direct colleagues disliked me. If it hurts to be alienated as a teenager, it feels worse as an adult. Pathetic.
I never was one to make many friends in life, and the few friendships made in high school turned apart when they lost interest in me. My small group chose the same career and I was the one who diverged for a different discipline.
Loneliness is the path for Julieta Ardinghelli, I suppose.
Being left aside it's an interesting experience if you see it from a certain angle. One day I realised most of my colleagues thought of me as insincere. It was expressed in the thin lines of their lips, the sights they shoot each other when my words reached them and the positions of their bodies.
My life is a mess. And I am not smart enough to lie. Plus, why would I lie about my experiences?
We are adults, for fucks sake.
That following night, the funny ticklish sensation reached my thighs and the next day I had trouble waking up from bed. We did not have access to hospitals there, you see. And embarrassment soon followed my predicament. Anxiety flows in me by nature and I very much dislike drawing attention to myself.
One is not supposed to feel their bones, but mine felt lighter.
The professor came to ask how I was feeling and told me to wait until midday. Then they left for work. The side glances Anne and Emile threw to my side made me feel deeply uncomfortable.
It wasn't until I was alone that I saw her.
Pointy ears. Wavy red hair. Sparkling green eyes.
It was so cliché.
The fairy laughed at me. We were in a small cabin in the woods. My emotional disposition wasn't the best and an ugly gut feeling told me the creature enjoyed the situation.
''So, this is how you ended up like''
Her voice was like a song. The mouth emitted normal words, the syllables were melodic. It's hard to describe.
Needless to say, I was stupefied. And whatever answer might have come from my lips, it would never have been enough.
''Hey. I know you can see me''
'What can I do for you?'I wanted to say, but the sounds stopped when I realised my voice was hoarse.
''What can I do for you?''
To be honest, it was the most polite thing that came to my mind.
But she understood.
''Do we know each other?''
''Oh, I do'' her voice was haughty ''I've always known you. You can't normally see me, but I've been with you since you were born''
She was amused.
''I am your fairy godmother''
I lacked a proper answer to that.
Oh, man. She was late. She was so late in my life.
And the whole situation felt artificial.
''Yes, I know haven't been the most generous lady with you. But you are not the only child I have to look after, so, it's exhausting''
I instinctively knew she wasn't lying.
''I am 25''
''Well. compared to my age, you all are toddlers to me''
Silence surrounded us.
''Well, I'll get straight to the point, Julieta''
She sounded slightly disappointed. I'm not the most stimulating person to be around and an awareness of the situation didn't help my anxieties.
''You've been cursed by your classmates and I came to inform you before it's too late''
''Yes, Julieta. You've been cursed and it's my work to end it''
''How could I have been cursed? They don't seem to be into esoteric stuff''
The fairy gifted me with a malevolous smile.
''Oh, but they did. For it is their energy the author of it all. It has started by your legs and I have to make it stop or else things will get really bad for you''
''Child, let me tell you something: sometimes, people dislike you and that's all''
I was about to replicate, but she was faster.
''I know you are already aware of that'' she put a hand in her hip and snapped the fingers of the free hand ''but the thing is, it has gotten especially bad now''
Memories of awkward moments flew to my mind. I am a sensitive idiot. It was even more poignant here, in an outside community with no internet access nor phone signal. We had to rely on each other for immediate and domestic tasks and it hurt to be left aside.
I'm an adult. I should deal with this.
But it still pained me.
She gave me a sad look that I didn't like.
''If you live with people who give you bad looks, this sort of thing can happen. It became a curse''
''But, why would they curse me?''
'How much can they dislike me?'I wanted to say
That level of animosity felt unnatural.
But I had an idea of where it came from.
I have the disgrace of knowing Anne from a previous course. She was rather arrogant. I knew she and Emile were ''best friends from college'' or some stereotypical white girl stuff. Anne probably talked bad things about me to Emile, which made her reject me. And then, they both went to Martin. And Martin had an obvious crush on Emile.
Fill in the empty spaces yourselves.
It was some bizarre Mean Girls material. But in real life. Between college students.
'I am too old for this, man'
''That's the issue. You are in trouble, Julieta''
''What can I do? I don't want to end in a wheelchair''
Goodbye to my career. Goodbye to my dreams. You need your legs to work in this field. I could imagine my mother's disappointed expression. And my grandmother telling me I wasted lots of years and money without a stable job since I was 18 and yet, I managed nothing. And then she would tell to the rest of my extended family.
The fairy's expression was grave.
''You won't become disabled. You'll become a mirror''
I pictured a long rectangular mirror in my mind. With a simple black frame.
''Sadly, Julieta, some curses are more about the people who cast them than about the cursed one''
''Let's say this... in Snow White, the Evil stepmother cursed the princess out of jealousy. In Sleeping Beauty, the Evil Fairy cursed the princess because she wasn't invited to a party. She didn't like being left aside, so, she probably felt jealous''.
''Hey! But I am the one being left aside here!''
Emotion sprouted from me.
So, I was cursed but also the one with reasons to be offended. I got both of the bad conditions and none of the good.
''Why would I become a mirror? The girls of those tales only slept''
It was a mess. Yet, I believed her.
''Because this is an unconscious cursefrom themandabout them''
''But why? What did I do?''
I felt miserable.
''You triggered something in them. I can break the curse, but I need to know what did you do to them''
''But how can I know? I am an adult yet they make me feel miserable. As if I were inferior''
''And can't adults be miserable too, Julieta?''
There was something in the tone of her voice that made me stop.
''Child, you've been repressing yourself too much. And it's normal to feel this way. But why do you feel inferior to them, you'll have to see yourself''
I thought of my mother and grandmother. They said I complained too much, did so little, and yet, I was so tired... Nothing I did to advance in life was enough to satisfy them in the long term.
Tears started to appear. I did not want to talk about that. I did not want to think about that. And to cry in front of someone else is something I hate.
The fairy smiled lovingly and it made me feel worse.
''You can allow yourself to feel that. You can cry''
She touched me. It was a calm tenderness similar to motherly affection. Her clothes were archaic and one of her bell sleeves fell on my back. It felt delicate.
If someone looked like a fairy tale princess here, it was her.
I don't remember when I fell asleep. The Professor awakened me and inquired my state. Surprisingly, I could stand up again. She said the colour returned to my face.
Was I pale that morning? I never noticed.
I started moving around. I had to be useful.
We reached an agreement: I would be left putting order to the cabin when they returned to work.
The lunch was awkward. They talked about their families. Both Anne and Eline were the youngest of their families and Martin was an only child. The girls commented on their older siblings. I, dealing with younger siblings since I was young, felt a bit awkward talking. No one related to me. Even the professor was the youngest sibling in her family. Martin only talked about how it was to be the attention of his parents for himself. They lived in another town, but despite his words about how his male friends always helped him find jobs (He quickly cast me a glance), intuition told me he probably received money from them.
The conversation switched about other topics. Inclusion, the help to those who need it more, bourgeoise society and the wrongdoings of the right-wing political party.
I couldn't help to think that despite their words, they were the type of people who benefitted from the social classes they very much criticized.
And then, an interesting thing happened. Another professor asked about a small excursion to a close town. I knew from reading beforehand that the public transport couldn't directly reach that place unless you specifically arranged a particular car beforehand, yet, Emile said they already had done that.
Then, she swiftly looked at me.
Why would she look at me if she was saying the truth?
'She is lying'
But, why would she lie about something like that?
Well, it wasn't my business anyway. The professor only smiled because she liked that place and we kept eating. I was too deep into my thoughts and started to wash the dishes once they were over. Emile kept throwing glances at me, but I ignored them.
Could they have been accusing me of being insincere because they were dishonest themselves?
How toxic. How insecure.
And how stupid I was. These types of things happened to confused teenagers.
A feeling of certainty opened a place for itself in my stomach.
I was to become a mirror because they projected their issues into me. I've already had a couple of jobs. Sales promotor. Babysitter. Customer service. Sampling sharing. Anne never worked before and Emile commented on a few activities she did.
The moment I commented on my work at the bank, they didn't like it. I know too the world is full of shit, but at least I experimented with it first-hand. I don't like upper-middle-class people commenting on their leftist utopias when they haven't left most of their comfort zones.
They disliked me, yet, they were envious.
What a paradox, huh?
The fairy appeared, clapping her hands.
''Good girl, Julieta!''
I felt like a dog.
''You found out the source of the course!''
''Would I really have turned into a mirror?''
''You'd be asleep before that. You wouldn't wake up. And then, your body would slowly convert... people are not ready''
Her tone changed.
'So, this isn't about my safety'
''Why did you appear now?''
''Because you can not turn into a space for projection''
Then, the fairy blew into my face.
It all turned dark.
Thank you for reading!