Our eyes open to a teenage angel sitting at the edge of his keeper’s bed, hunched elbow-to-knee, watching the city beneath him. His wings are vast, mighty, ethereal; they belie his small, emaciated body.
He cries and the city melts in his tears, but his face remains expressionless. He gazes through his keeper’s window empty, statuesque. Eyes veiled in shadow, he does not blink. His tears reflect the moonlight.
A choral Requiem in D minor fills the bedroom.
“What the hell are you listening to?” asks a voice from the dark. His keeper.
The bedroom lights switch on, and the angel does not respond.
“Baby?” his keeper asks. “What’s wrong?”
The man kneels before the angel and looks at him with compassion. He cups the angel’s head in his palm and brushes away the tears. “It’s OK, baby boy. I’m here.”
Halloween 2005. I’m sitting on the edge of his bed wearing angel wings and glitter. Cliché, I know. But he enjoys it.
“Mama is dead,” the voice on the line told me moments earlier. My muscles gave way and the phone slipped from my hand and hit the floor, breaking on impact. My grandmother was the string tying me together. I needed her. And she was gone.
Now he’s kneeling in front of me, looking at me with those wretched eyes, pretending he cares. I’d normally run to him for comfort.
I’d invite him to join me, to lay a while and hold me. Not tonight.
I stand and walk away without acknowledging him. I lock myself in the bathroom, where a stereo plays Requiem in D minor, K.626—1. Introitus: Requiem. I listened to it to help me into character as I put on my costume.
I look at my underweight frame in the mirror. I’m boney. Too boney. I caress my ribs with my fingertips, sending chills through my body. I lean in to study my face. My hipbones grind the porcelain sink. It hurts.
My eyes are as brown as they’ve always been. My lips, just as full. My hair, just as brunette. But I’m not looking at myself. I’m looking at something else.
I lose my breath and am suddenly I’m lightheaded. What am I doing?
I starve myself to keep bone-thin. That’s how he likes me. That’s how my friends like themselves. That’s how I should be. So I am.
I’m wearing glitter and angel wings–little else–because men will like me this way. Right?
I realize in this moment that I’m consumed by appealing to everyone else. It’s expected. Who am I to challenge who I should be? If I want to be successful in life, I must be loved. And in order to be loved, I must give up myself.
I make fun of people who are socially awkward in these days. I laugh when people aren’t dressed well. I bully people who are perfectly beautiful. I’m part of the Cult of St. Vanity. Cold-hearted and ruthless.
My grandmother’s death puts things in perspective. She lived by the adage, “If you don’t pay my bills, I don’t give a DAMN what you think about me.” She was loved because she was strong. Because she was herself.
And what would she think of me now? Standing in front of a mirror belonging to my boyfriend who abuses me, starving for food and attention, desperate to be loved, insecure beyond measure. When all I’d really like to be doing is, well, anything else.
So things change tonight. A Requiem in one ear, my boyfriend banging on the bathroom door in the other, I remove my wings. I am no longer an Angel of Vanity. I am Justin, and I am Justin alone.
Saint Vanity is a contagious disease prominent among youth. Stereotypical of the young gay community. Symptoms: perpetual dissatisfaction, cruel thoughts or actions toward others, undue judgment toward oneself, affinity to the abusive. Cause: insecurity, pressure from one’s peers or perceived loved ones, absence of courage. Prognosis: loneliness. Treatment: admitting your mirror no longer reflects you, but someone else; then, opening your eyes. Facebook.com/JustinJonesWriter