The Day I Met Pecola Breedlove

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The Day I Met Pecola Breedlove

Muska N

I named her Cynthia and taped her to my bathroom mirror. In the picture I had of her, she was standing next to what I had imagined was her boyfriend—except that her boyfriend wasn't interesting to me, so I cut him out of the picture entirely. Now all that remained of Cynthia's boyfriend was one long, strong arm that wrapped around her petite waist.

I first saw Cynthia in one of my older sister's Seventeen magazines. I was twelve years old and my mom wouldn't let me read Seventeen, so I had to sneak around and flip through them when nobody was home. When my mom asked why a super model was taped to the bathroom mirror, I simply shrugged and pretended like one of my sisters had done it.

Cynthia caught my eye immediately. She was tall, skinny, big-breasted and always dressed in a glamorous evening gown. She had long, blonde, thick hair that draped down her back like a royal velvet cloak and her skin was always clear, flawless and white. But what I loved so much about Cynthia wasn't her hair, or her skin, or even the elegant dress she wore—it was eyes. They were cobalt-blue with a twinkle that beckoned you to notice them and then demanded your full attention. You could almost erase everything else in the picture because none of it was important except for her eyes. Cynthia was beautiful.

Every morning I would wake up, go to the bathroom, take one glance at Cynthia and then begin my daily routine. Make-up containers, foundation brushes and eyelash curlers were strewn all over the counter. I started by lathering creamy foundation all around my cheeks and forehead and then padded my face with pale white powder that caked my face with snowy dust. It made my skin look a few shades lighter, although my ears and neck were always brown and tan in comparison. Sometimes people at school would laugh and call me Ghost Face, which only made me defensive. "It's not make-up!" I'd shout back, "I naturally look this way!"

After putting on my white foundation, I ironed my hair straight. It was something I had seen my two older sisters do on special occasions. My oldest sister, Roya, would lie down on her back while my other sister, Najlla, would collect all of her hair and drop it on an ironing board and then iron it as if it were a wrinkly blouse. Roya would then sit straight up and shake her pin-straight hair around, like a model on a shampoo commercial. So I tried to iron my hair as well, except that I refused to ask for either of my sisters' help, which always led to big disasters. Some mornings I would hold the metal frame of the iron onto my scalp for too long and then feel a sharp burning sensation on the top of my head, only to find that I had burned sections of my hair off. To make it worse, even on the days in which I managed to iron my hair without burning myself, my hair still never looked sleek and shiny like Cynthia's. My straight hair fell limp and dry, like a ratty doll's head that had been untamed by its owner for years. But yet, I would not give up the pursuit to look like Cynthia—the pursuit to look beautiful.

Ironically, my mom didn't take much notice to my white face and straight hair. She assumed that it was some sort of trend or phase that middle-school kids were going through, and that eventually I would be back to my normal self. It wasn't until I confronted her about my eyes that she began to realize that what I was going through wasn't just an innocent pre-teen phase, it was a serious problem.

I ran up to my mom one day after dinner with a magazine in my hand—I had forgotten that I wasn't supposed to let her know that I was reading them. I flipped to a page with another model—who ironically still looked a lot like Cynthia—who held a contact lens on the tip of her finger. Beneath the model and the contact lens was a sentence of text: "NOW YOU CAN MATCH YOUR EYES WITH YOUR SWEATER", and to my amazement the model's blue eyes did match her blue sweater!

"Look mom, colored contacts!" I shouted emphatically, "Now I can match my eyes with my sweater!"

My mom looked down at my florescent pink sweater, and then back up at my eyes, and just smirked.

"But Muska, you don't even need contacts. You have perfect vision. Why are you reading that trash anyway? I thought I told you not to read your sisters magazines. Why don't you go read a book?"

But I most certainly did not go read a book. I was furious with my mom for so casually tossing my idea aside. Didn't she know how important this was to me? Didn't she realize that I wanted cobalt-blue eyes like Cynthia? But instead I decided that getting blue eyes was much like putting on my white foundation and ironing my hair—I had to do it on my own if I ever expected to be beautiful.

So I added something new to my daily morning routine. I woke up, went to the bathroom, took one glace at Cynthia and then stared directly into the high voltage ceiling lamp for ten minutes. This will ruin my vision, I thought to myself, and then Mom will have to get me colored contacts. Then I proceeded with the rest of my routine of caking on white foundation and trying to iron my hair straight.

I didn't tell anyone about my new trick to get blue eyes. If I was walking to the school bus, I would keep my eyes glued to the bright sun. If I was in a classroom, I'd keep my eyes at the ceiling lights. One day my seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Deagan, stopped me after class and asked me why my eyes were drifting away from the chalkboard whenever she taught a lesson. I hadn't planned on telling her the real reason, but I decided that if there was anyone I could tell, it was Mrs. Deagan.

"My mom won't let me get contacts unless my eyes are messed up, so I'm messing up my eyes and looking at the light," I said and then pointed to the flickering lights above us. "They have new colored contacts; I saw them in a magazine."

"And what's wrong with your eyes now? You have beautiful green eyes," Mrs. Deagan said with a concerned look on her face.

"Nothing's wrong with my eyes. I just want blue eyes. I think I would look better with blue eyes," I said, while suddenly realizing that I probably shouldn't have told Mrs. Deagan my plan.

She wrote something down on a piece of scrap paper, "Have you ever heard of Pecola Breedlove?"

I shook my head and thought she was crazy.

"Well," Mrs Deagan said as she handed me the scrap piece of paper, "I want you to look up Pecola Breedlove, read about her, and then get back to me. Until then, please keep your eyes on the chalkboard before you get behind on your schoolwork."

I nodded and felt a bit of relief. Mrs. Deagan wasn't going to tell my mom about my plan to ruin my eyes, and that's all I cared about. But in the meantime, I ran to the school library and decided to look up the strange person with the strange name that Mrs. Deagan wanted me to read about.

I typed "Pecola Breedlove" into a search engine in the library computer, and to my surprise she wasn't an actual person. She was a character in a book called The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I had never heard of the book or the author before, but decided that if it was about blue eyes then I might as well read it.

I remember it exactly—I was sitting in an alcove in the library, next to a window that overlooked the school parking lot. Students were hopping onto buses or getting picked up by their parents, and I just sat looking over them with the book in my lap. The book was fairly new—the only signs that the book had been used in the past were a few dog-eared pages and some underlined sentences, but besides that the book was brand new.

I searched for Pecola, because that was the person who Mrs. Deagan told me to look out for. I found her right away. She was a little black girl who wanted blue eyes and was somewhat obsessed with Shirley Temple and her curly blonde hair and blue eyes. "Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs—all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured. 'Here,' they said, 'this is beautiful, and if you are on this day "worthy" you may have it." When I read that sentence my heart stopped.

Suddenly, I realized the tragic self-hatred that Pecola must have felt that lead her to desire another ideal of beauty—a white ideal of beauty. She was an intelligent girl who had managed to survive an abusive father, a life of poverty, and endless ridicule, and yet she could not see the beauty that she possessed. Instead she began to believe that she was inherently ugly and unworthy, which ultimately lead her to idealize blue eyes as the symbol of beauty and freedom. It wasn't until that moment that I realized that I had been doing the same thing. I was just like Pecola Breedlove.

I'm not sure if it was that day or perhaps a few days later that I took Cynthia's picture down from my bathroom mirror. The day I saw myself in Pecola Breedlove, I realized that the most beautiful things on earth are not physical. They cannot be torn out of magazines or taped to mirrors or mimicked through make-up. It was through Pecola's mental destruction that I realized that there was such thing as "superior beauty." Superior beauty is the beauty that blossoms from human connection and love. Toni Morrison, through her words, transferred beauty onto Mrs. Deagan, and Mrs. Deagan, through her love and concern, had transferred the beauty of Toni Morrison's words onto me. And now I hope to someday become a writer and perhaps through my words I can transfer beauty to other people and connect with them through our mutual struggles. It was this kind of superior beauty that changed my life forever, and hopefully someday I can teach everyone how to find nothing more beautiful than the eyes they have.


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