The Cruelty of a Woman

Lady, you are the cruel’st she alive
If you will lead these graces to the grave
And leave the world no copy.
– (Viola to Olivia, Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Act 1 Scene 5 lines 236-238)

I used to believe that the cruelest she alive was Jessica Diaz. She wasn’t the meanest, prettiest, smartest, or most popular girl in school. In fact, she was quite ordinary in nature. What made her standout was the fact that she was arguably one of the wealthiest girls and definitely one of the most outspoken girls at school. Granted her wealth was relative because we lived in a neighborhood where most parents worked two jobs to make ends meet and the picket fences were often missing spikes. But that didn’t stop Jessica. Her braces-laced smile always charmed and stung as she saw fit. Because of that, boys saw her as a trophy to be won.

For reasons unknown no one warned Mauro that Jessica was not the type of conquest you set out to make for a serious matter of the heart. It wasn’t that Jessica wasn’t worthy of such devotion; rather, it was the fact that her ego had been conditioned to accept nothing but the most insincere flattery and gaudy demonstrations of servitude.

Mauro was a very quiet, almost invisible, boy of ordinary features that ranked low on the social hierarchy of middle school. He may have been sweet but no one other than Jessica was privy to that sweetness. Why Jessica had become the saint of his devotion was another unsolved mystery. Some speculated that he had misinterpreted a wayward smile from her as a sign of interest; the more naive of the bunch believed that he had seen and understood the core of her erring soul. Whatever the reason, the fact remained that Mauro liked Jessica and he was determined to win her over.

I didn’t witness the legendary encounter, but rumor has it that on Wednesday morning Mauro came to school with a secret hidden inside his backpack: a rose with a small, white bear holding a red heart. That day he didn’t eat lunch because his nerves wouldn’t allow it. He also didn’t hang out with his friends. Instead he walked directly to Jessica’s domain and did the bravest thing a man of any age can do: profess his love for her.

As life would have it, Jessica was surrounded by her fawning posse when Mauro approached her. In unison they turned to him and with the most indiscreet discretion, stared at him in varying stages of surprise, disgust, and wonder. A bold peasant approaching the untouchable queen was a rare sight to be seen. Mauro, in his infinite ingenuity walked up to Jessica and asked if he could speak with her alone. No. Seeing as it was, he took a deep breath, opened his backpack, and pulled out the bear. He lifted his eyes to her although she stood much shorter than him, and offered her the bear as though he were offering a precious gem to the gods. Jessica stared at it and then at Mauro. Very slowly she extended her arm, and without thought she took the bear from his outstretched hands and tossed it on the table as she turned her back to Mauro. He didn’t utter a word and she didn’t look at him again.

In slow motion Mauro walked to the restroom and didn’t leave its confines until minutes before the last bell of the day rang when the janitor heard him crying in one of the stalls. Jessica forgot about the bear and Mauro only seconds after the momentous encounter took place. Unfortunately, neither he nor she saw what the rest of the school witnessed in hushed silence: the forgotten bear was proof that hearts can be hardened and shattered by a careless toss of the very hand that holds your life in its fingers.

Years later, in the limited wisdom of my short years, I remembered the memory and realized that the cruelest she alive is not Jessica; the cruelest she alive is the romanticized version of the woman you love.

———
“The Cruelty of a Woman” by Azul Serena

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