The Beliefs That Lie In Her Reflection by CATHERINE TSUI

1st Place

“Are you ready? We’re leaving in ten minutes!”

I start panicking more than I already am, after my mom gives me the ten-minute warning. My family and I are leaving in a few minutes to go to a party hosted by my aunt. We have to dress up fancy, and a lot of people are going to be there, including some I don’t even know. I’ve known about this party for a month already, but the idea of it is still nerve-wracking and makes me have goosebumps.

I found out I had social anxiety last year, after I finally had the courage to tell my parents that my socially anxious feelings may be more than just shyness. In a way, it felt relieving to finally have confirmation of what I suspected all along. But the more I became aware of it, the more self-conscious it made me feel. Like now.

I’m standing in front of the mirror, giving myself another look-over to make sure I look fine. I’m wearing a navy-blue halter dress that reaches down to my mid-thighs. My mom told me that I look beautiful in it, and I somewhat agree, but when I think about walking in it in front of so many people, I start to question my judgment.

'You look ridiculous', my reflection in the mirror sneers at me, even though I never opened my mouth. 'You can’t pull that off. And even if you could, it wouldn’t hide your awkward personality.'
I straighten out my dress for the millionth time. I look at myself over and over again in the mirror, trying out different angles, and I think I look fine again.

'Insecure is written all over your face,' my reflection taunts. 'No one likes being around an insecure person. Maybe you should change your dress.'

I find it weird how I’m hearing this other voice. I know it’s mine, but my lips never move to form words, and no sound even leaves my throat. Maybe I’m finally going crazy. Maybe some part of me is finally giving in.

“Hey, are you ready?” I turn around to see my older sister, Lexi, standing there. We used to be close, but for some reason, she started growing distant, shutting me out to the point we rarely talked. She would’ve been the first person I told about my social anxiety, but I felt that any interaction with her would’ve been bothering her, so I kept my mouth shut.

“Yeah, I’ll be out in a minute,” I reply. I look at myself in the mirror again, and so far, my reflection is silent.

“You look great in that dress,” Lexi says. “Thanks,” I smile. I turn back to the mirror, fixing my hair by just pushing it behind my ear and then undoing that. My mom and sister both told me that I look good, but I’m still worried.

“Is your reflection bothering you?” Lexi asks, walking towards me, eyeing the mirror. “Mine used to bother me all the time.”

Lexi looks at herself in the mirror, staring at her reflection. I want to guess that her reflection is talking to her, the way mine did to me earlier. I almost scoff at myself; the whole idea seems stupid.

“Screw you,” Lexi says to her own reflection. Her face looks determined, and for the first time in a while, she looks fearless.

I turn to her, shocked. Maybe I wasn’t crazy after all. I’d never seen Lexi’s reflection move in any way, but somehow it had communicated to her.

“How…” I trail off. So many questions flood my mind, but I can’t form any of them into words.
“If you are insecure,” Lexi explains. “Fear visits you through your reflection. Don’t listen to it; it’s pure evil trying to take over your mind, preventing you from reaching your full potential. It knows who to hit, and when.”

“Why can’t we hear each other’s reflections?” I ask.

“Because our fears are our own, and every one differs. I’ve been dealing with my fears for several years already, and I’ve had to fight my reflection every time I look in the mirror.”

“Is that why you…you started growing distant. I never knew why.”

“I was fighting a battle that you were too young to understand. You were so innocent and carefree; if I dragged you into my mess, made you aware, I would’ve taken away your youth, your innocence. I didn’t want that happening to you.”

“You could’ve talked to me,” I say. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize anything sooner.”

“You were a little kid. How could you have known? Besides, if anything, I should be the one to apologize. Fear attacked you, and I had no idea. I wasn’t even there for you.”

“You’re here now,” I smile. I turn back to face my reflection in the mirror. I feel a bit more confident in myself, until my reflection taunts me again.

'One conversation doesn’t mean you’re fixed,' my reflection says. 'Nothing can help you become more likable. Personalities are hard to change. And yours unfortunately can’t.' My sister notices me frowning, and she holds me by the shoulders.

“Ignore what your reflection is telling you,” Lexi says. “Everyone is beautiful in their own ways, inside and out. Show your reflection that you’re not scared of it, and it will go away.”
I look at myself in the mirror. How can I show my reflection I’m not scared of it, when I still feel insecure? It is pure fear; can it tell if I’m lying?

But I feel more confident, now knowing my sister’s story. She was able to beat her inner fear, and she has still stayed strong throughout. If she can do it, then so can I.

“You’re wrong about me,” I say to my reflection. “I’m better than you think I am.”

My reflection looks tempted to say something, but she doesn't. I know she can see through me, that I don’t completely believe the words I’m saying, but she knows that I’m still going to try to fight my own reflection. I still feel insecure, but for the first time in a while, I feel sure that I can win this fight.

The Game of Life by ALEXA LEE

2nd Place

Trigger Warning: Mentions Self-Harm

From the way I see it, life isn’t too different from a game of poker. We all sit inside of a circle and are dealt cards by the dealer. And to my most unpleasant surprise, the dealer decided that the cards I was dealt were most definitely, undeniably dreadful.

My first card decided that at the age of 7, I would witness racism to the point it was a normal part of my life. Freehold, New Jersey was where my first home was located. Here, I attended a school where I was not accepted for the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes. Being a mixed Korean and Sicilian girl, I felt like an outcast and I was constantly bullied and excluded. As a child, this made me very confused and I never knew who I was supposed to be.

The next card I was dealt decided that at 8 years old I would watch my mother become gravely ill from the infamous Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease. I watched my mother transform from the person who made everyone smile to the person who made everyone cry. After her diagnoses, things started to rapidly worsen. My mother went from a cane to a casket and everything in between. I changed the diapers of the woman who used to change mine. I fed the woman who used to feed me. I watched my mother forget who I was. I watched my mother die right in front of me.

Without any insurance, my family went into bankruptcy and we lost our home. Thankfully, the dealer showed us mercy and instead of becoming homeless, my Korean grandmother took what was left of my family into her Staten Island home.

At 13 years old, things took an unexpected turn. In my vulnerability, I was brainwashed into joining a religious cult. I was shamed for looking in the mirror, eating sugar, braiding my hair, wearing pants, etc. I was shamed for being a normal 13 year old girl. I was convinced I was unloved because I couldn’t follow their rules. So everytime I did something wrong, I stabbed myself in the stomach with a pencil and I took a Bible and slammed it on my head. I wanted to feel pain every time I did the wrong thing so I would no longer do it. At 14, I left the religious group and became a happier person, but my self esteem reached an all time low. My self harm advanced and I started taking baths, attempting to drown myself because of all the pain bottled up inside of me.

At 16 years old, the dealer gave me cards with a case of chronic depression after my good friend died from Pancreatic Cancer. My dad realized that my depression ran deeper than teenage angst, so he took me to a psychiatrist who put me on an extremely high dosage of medicine, inducing a psychotic episode. Watching myself spiral was very difficult. I could not think. At one point I could not read. I lost 15 pounds, making me severely underweight. I developed tics that disrupted my everyday life. I experienced extreme emotional blunting and I felt the most inhuman I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Truly, I was undeniably ashamed and scared of my medicine.

Today, I write this from a different place. I thank God for every single day I am alive. I didn’t wake up one day and choose life. No, I stopped looking at all the love I lost and all the things I didn’t have and I started looking at all the love in front of me. And let me just say, it’s there. You just need to search for it and give yourself time.

Life is beautifully broken. I didn’t choose my cards, but I chose how to play them. I chose how they shaped me. I chose who I am and I choose who I am becoming. I am broken, I am whole; I am hurting, I am human; I am a victim, I am a victor. I am still here.

Oh her, oh I by REGINA JIANG

3rd Place

The time froze, and so did I
I saw the silhouette of a stolen figure
Oh, she had wide enough eyes
Filled with hazel green skies
Oh, her stomach was flat
Her filthy fat sat in the past
Oh, her legs were skinny and long
There was no way they could go wrong
Before I could take a step closer, it sprinted I was beyond addicted
So I chased it into the sunrise hoping it could be reprinted
Because I was never as perfect as she was I feared the mornings

The sun always shines with cold air It wasn't fair
Oh, I wish my eyes were prettier
Instead of being filled with disappointment and despair
Oh, I sucked in my stomach for it to be flat
Though it would never last
Oh, I preached my legs were too wide I felt it die a little inside
The awful feeling lived inside me without movement
It was dragged across the concrete pavements
The bitter truth hurt more than the statements
​Because time never stops, and I was never destined to satisfy.