Lila Herzog was the younger of the two sisters with ashy blonde hair, freckles, and green eyes that could rival a Brazilian emerald. She laughed easily and had a heart bigger than her years. She played piano well, sang, and was a good student. School was not only a favorite past time it was an escape. But when she wasn’t in school, or doing chores, she was a mermaid. Her mom and dad never knew. She never told anyone. At night after she forced her food down, she would hurry to her bedroom, shut the door and transport herself into a watery wonderland where she could swim and float and be beautiful as a mermaid. In her "dry" world she was the talented one, her sister was the pretty one. She never knew she was pretty. No one ever told her. Lila was nine and ugly, at least in the mirror.
When she was eleven her sister was thirteen and had breasts. Lila was skinny. She was so flat all of her clothes bagged. Her sister’s clothes looked like they had been stitched to her curves, and boys looked at her. Lila was jealous. She gave up being a mermaid, and became Marilyn Monroe. Under the covers at night she would close her eyes hard and she would see herself with breasts and silky undergarments and the cutest boy in class rescuing her from some great danger…or he would just accidently see her in her sexy chartreuse lace-trimmed slip. And fall immediately in love with her. Her dreams told her she was pretty.
Lila followed her sister in high school. Her sister was popular. Who wouldn’t be with big breasts and eyeliner. Her mom told Lila she wasn’t allowed to wear makeup. She believed she was uglier in high school than ever before. The redhead boy with thick glasses and plaid pants liked her. Jack Kenney: bad skin, and teeth that didn’t know each other.
The richest girl in the school was in Lila’s English class and she was beautiful. Lila decided to become like her. Jennie Lou wore expensive clothes, and had breasts. She didn’t wear bobby socks and poodle skirts. She wore slim hugging skirts with matching sweaters and tiny black patent flats with little bows. The ribbon in her hair was made out of the same material as her skirt. Lila tried to be friends with her, but that was like trying to move Appalachia to Rodeo drive. Jennie’s pale blonde hair was never out of place, her purse matched her shoes and she never had a pimple. Jennie Lou was a cheerleader. Athletes and cheerleaders ran for school office. The shy and ugly kids joined the choir. Lila became an alto.
A miracle happened when Lila was seventeen. During the summer she grew breasts. In three months she went from a set of nipples to a C cup. In her senior year she was popular with the boys. Lila was a good girl, and a virgin. She went to dances with the hopeful adolescents, but she never had a steady boyfriend. She dyed her hair deep red and only wore her glasses in the classroom.
The semi-beautiful girls took modern dance. For the spring talent fest, Lila choreographed Sea Dreams, a dance with five mermaids. She made the costumes with the fish tails covered in green glitter. Everyone clapped, and some people told Lila what beautiful legs she had, and she felt pretty.
After graduating, Lila got a job with a finance company, met a guy and got married. He told her she was beautiful, even with her glasses on. Most of the time he was nice. Sometimes he would make fun of her. In the sixties they believed you teased the people you like.
They had a small wedding. As she approached the altar, deserving of the white dress she wore, she felt more like a sacrifice than a bride. They moved away from her family. Lila tried to become the perfect wife.
After a few years, he quit saying I love you and you’re beautiful. She had a baby and he called her fat. He started seeing someone. Lila figured it out when they went to dinner for their anniversary, and he seemed too friendly with the cocktail waitress, who wore eyeliner.
Most nights he was late for dinner. Lila didn’t ask why. If she did he hit her.
He told Lila she wasn’t exciting anymore.
On a Monday while he was at work, she bleached her hair platinum blonde and bought a leather halter top with the front cut in deep V. It was the first time she showed her cleavage outside the bedroom. When he saw her he said ‘Wow! You should have done this a long time ago." That night she really felt like Marilyn Monroe. She was ready for romance and raw sex. He ran his fingers through her hair and said, "I want you to file for divorce as soon as possible. I’m leaving."
She asked when he was leaving and he said "tonight." He packed a big box and left.
Lila began to hate her body. She didn’t want big breasts anymore. Men would bump into her on purpose. Her boss would stand close enough to nudge his arm against her breasts. She would find notes written between the men in the office commenting on her over-sized breasts.
Marilyn Monroe died that year and Lila understood why.
Lila changed her wardrobe, and learned to use eyeliner. She kept the blonde hair. She couldn’t afford to go back to school because she had a child to raise. She began to read a lot of books on manners and etiquette, and worked hard to improve her vocabulary. She studied Shakespeare and read James Joyce and Jack Kerouac.
Her ex-husband didn’t pay any support so Lila took on extra jobs. She vowed to never be a cocktail waitress.
The bar she escaped to on the weekends had a band. She flirted with the drummer and drank too much. She was lonely. They went to her apartment and he stared as she stripped off the plain bulky clothes. Her young figure was still firm. She braced herself for the same old words: wow…huge... I can hardly wait to get my...
He didn’t say any of those things. He held her and kissed her everywhere and pressed his body into hers. Their moans were antiphonal. When they were finished, he looked into her eyes, smoothed her damp hair and whispered, "you are so much woman." Those words were etched into her soul, close to the surface, so she could call on them any time she needed. And she would. She only knew his first name. He told her "I love the way you smell." They enjoyed each other just a few times. Each time he smoothed away deep winkles in her emotions. He said "you have beautiful lips and you use them well," as he traced them with his fingertip and then kissed her for a long time. He took his band to Palm Springs. He left his beautiful words, which left something beautiful in her.
With the extra jobs she worked, Lila saved enough for contact lenses. She threw away her glasses. She bought pretty dresses and got her ears pierced. Lila took ballroom dance lessons, and joined a Parents Without Partners group. There were a lot of nice men who were boring and just wanted to get laid. She quit attending and enrolled in a gourmet cooking class at a local restaurant.
By the time she was twenty-five everyone from pre-pubescent to Geritol noticed her. Men in the office, in stores, and on the beach scrambled to get to Lila. She would only date lawyers and doctors. She felt she was refined enough and well read enough that they would be see her as a person. She still had big breasts.
In the next two years, Lila was raped three times: once, by a doctor she went to dinner with. He tore her dress, and her new silk bikini panties. She showered for a long time, meticulously cleaning every orifice, and scraping her soft skin with soap and a pumice stone desperate to wash away the shame. The hot water stung her tender flesh. She hardly dried herself, and didn’t use any lotion. She didn’t want to touch herself and feel anything. She found the plain cotton underwear her ex hated and pulled them on quickly. She couldn’t stand to be naked. It was too hot for pajamas. Lila put the flannel ones on, and socks, and crawled into her bed. She soaked her sheets with tears and gut-powered sobs, and tried to escape to the sea as a mermaid.
Lila never complained to anyone. She still laughed easily. There were enough people at work who carried a suitcase full of poor-me stories. She would just smile and do her work, and strive to become better. She worked hard and loved her child. Time with her daughter was a respite.
Several years later, she did get married again. He was good to her. He told her she was beautiful everyday. He told her he loved her everyday. Several times a month there would be roses and a card left in her car or on her desk. He took her to romantic places for dinner to celebrate their love.
His mid-life crisis came as a shock. He started buying magazines that had more pictures than articles. Lila’s forty-something year old body couldn’t compete with the colorful, airbrushed glossies. They had Jennie Lou hair and small firm breasts. He began to spend more time with himself than with Lila. It felt the same as if he were having an affair, and their romantic life died. He criticized almost everything she did. They were watching a playful romp on a TV sitcom and she asked him, "why don’t we have fun-sex anymore?" He fired words into the deepest bruises of her heart, "Frankly, I saw you in the shower the other morning, and your body disgusted me."
Lila didn’t cry. She ripped apart. The couch became her bed that night and for many nights after.
She didn’t want another divorce. Her friends said, "fight for him, it will pass, don’t give up." She fought hard. She tried to be the best, prettiest, smartest woman around. Every muscle, nerve and fiber strained to make the marriage work. It stressed her physically developing heart palpitations; gave her IBS, frown lines, and thinning hair. And somehow piled more shame on her withering self-esteem. She hurt knowing that she would neve be truly desirable or sexy again. This shame – the shame of being ugly couldn’t be washed away with the pumice. It had soaked through all the layers of her skin and stretched across her soul. She didn’t like being naked. She didn’t even like showering because she had to be naked. She told him she was leaving. He begged her to stay and promised he would get counsling. He went for several months. He grew up and threw away the magazines. He started going to church and telling Lila that he was sorry and he loved her. He worked hard on their relationship.
That was then.
They are still married. He says I love you to her everyday. Lila still has big breasts and her husband likes them. They are bigger and softer and lower. Lila is old now. Sometimes with enough wine – if it’s very dark, she can hear the words, "you are so much woman.." Now she just wants to be a mermaid.