Slinking low in my seat, flaking like an overdone turkey, I scanned the car park for a friendly face. I’d watched all the other guests arrive, meet up and go in until only one remained. I had never really clicked with the woman, but as dejection forced its way through her normally impenetrable mask, I was undone. Inevitability settled upon me like morning sickness, and I slid from the car, sweat greasing my body like nappy-rash ointment.
“Jen?” Sal rose to her pedicured toes and waved a manicured hand, “Over here.”
With my remaining confidence oozing like dregs from a soaked paper towel, I was air-kissed, and—when Sal saw my state—air-hugged. “So glad you could make it. Everyone else pulled out.”
“Every… one?” My cough did little to cover the squeak.
“Yes, apparently not everyone’s cup of tea. But come along, it’ll be fun.”
I trailed in her wake through the doors into the elite spa where Sal had signed us all up for a day of pampering at her expense. Apparently, her annual membership renewal was reduced by five percent for every “guest” procured. Whilst I gaped in awe at the luxury, Sal led me to the sign-in table where I had to initial a… non-disclosure statement? “Um, Sal? Should I be worried?”
“Oh, Jen. A little life is not going to kill you.” Her laughter preceded us down a plush-carpeted hallway to a room of heavily curtained cubicles. “Come on, we’re late. Everyone else is out there.”
I shadowed her lead and made my way into a compartment and followed the displayed instructions.
- Disrobe fully
- Leave clothes in basket provided
- Deposit valuables in safe under seat
- Join us in the garden for “meet and greet”
“Sal, where are the robes?” The repeat of her laughter had me worried. Very worried. “Sal?”
Her voice moved from the cubicle beside me to outside the curtain in front of me. “Come on Jen, the new you needs freedom and honesty in order to break free.”
I peeked around the curtain and was confronted by a stark-naked woman. “Eyes up here Jen.”
But I couldn’t pull my focus away from her stomach–the mess below her perfectly crafted breasts where an extensive web of thick puckered scars hinted at a hideous savagery. “W-what happened?”
“Life, Jen.” Her shoulders inched back, and her hefted breast defied me to challenger her. I didn’t, but I did try to shut my mouth. “It was something that happened to me, it does not define me. Each year I use this opportunity to celebrate the woman I am, the woman I have survived to become, the woman I choose to be. It is my opportunity to say, ‘fuck it’ to a world who wants to break me and confine me to a box.” Her fiery eyes birthed steel down my spine. “I will not conform.”
Suddenly, I wanted to burn my bra and take up a sword to stand shoulder to shoulder with my sister on a battlefield… naked.
Sal reached out her hand. “Shall we Jen?”
I looked past her scars and other—minor—imperfections as my own miraculously morphed into trophies of survival. I grabbed her hand and together we marched to meet and mingle with other survivors of life; soul sisters.
“Um, Sal? Why’s everyone else in robes.”