Ella doesn’t need a mirror to understand the effect this war has had on her. Beneath her fingertips, she can feel the raggedness of the lines marking her stomach like trenches on a battlefield. They extend up her arms and down the tops of her thighs, losing their depth, but still touched by the fight.
Of course, the mirror makes it easier, reflecting the impact of 10 years of strife back at her. Shiny and opalescent under the light, it tracks across her skin and her eyes follow them until they can no longer stand it.
The conflict that spurred the marks is older than they are, almost as old as she is. She was eight when the first shots were fired without any warning. The aim came from a different enemy then, over what she had only known as a peaceful boundary built of wood, metal, and crayon. It was quiet — just a decibel louder than a whisper— but when it made impact with her gut, it felt like an explosion.
Before, Ella had never seen the person on the other side as different from her. She thought they looked the same, their bodies similar. But when the shots branded her as ‘other,’ she could see it was not true. The space of commonality shattered, any semblance of self with it.
As the war intensified, it wasn’t long before she joined the insurgence, taking the weaponry into her own hands and turning on herself. She rationed food, instituted a schedule of labor, operated a system of mental warfare. Look at yourself. You are nothing. You are worthless. Who would ever like you? You deserve this.
It worked. For a while, at least. Her body thinned and with her no longer deemed inadequate, the tide turned, resulting in a near peace time. Safety crept in again, comfort. The voices lessened, the rations increased, the labor slackened.
It was her demise. The enemy strengthened and drew her back in.
The next few years alternated between losing and holding ground. She shrank and she stretched. It marred her skin to the point that even when she was winning the war, the opposition remained in her head. She was imprisoned, the rations down to nearly nothing. She broke.
When the medics pulled her out, she didn’t fully leave. They pumped her with fluids and nutrients to save her, and from the edge of a hospital bed, covered in white, scratchy sheets, a therapist told her of the trauma inflicted on her system and psyche, and how she was going to work through it.
In front of the mirror, she forced herself to lift her eyes. “If you’re going to heal, you need to come to terms with what happened,” the therapist said. Ella can’t look away.
Her skin is no longer pulled tight over bone. There’s substance there. It sits atop the elastic of underwear, rolls under her bra line. The voices say its too much, but the doctors tell her it’s healthy, and she knows she needs to believe them.
For too long, her therapist said, she’s been fighting against the very thing that keeps her alive. Spewing vitriol. Countering its functions. She can’t live her whole life this way. She needs to rest with it, assist it, appreciate it. She needs to lay down her arms.
Her fingers trace her body and she stares at her reflection. Look at yourself, Ella. You’re worth it. You’re enough. You deserve this.