Upon arrival, sign your name on the sign-in sheet and grab your nametag. Place it on your forehead. While you are waiting for the rest of the ladies to arrive and sign in, please enjoy a complimentary cup of coffee. That is, please enjoy a single complimentary cup of coffee. Subsequent cups of coffee will not be complimentary.
Things to remember:
Do not try to sneak extra cups of coffee.
After sign-in, you may not eat for the next thirteen hours.
You are allowed only one bag, and that one bag will be checked for food and other contraband.
Cell phones and other electronics will be held for the first twenty-four hours after sign-in.
Silence is demanded during the exercise unless otherwise prompted by the instructor.
II. Being Women Always™
Before we begin, ask yourself:
What does it mean to be a woman?
While you are pondering this, remember: You are here because of you and the things that belong to you. You are here because of your job, your marriage, your in-grown hairs, your budding alcoholism, and, Samantha, your cellulite. Some people will tell you that these things are beyond your control. Ha! You know better. Throughout these exercises, do not forget that you are here because of these and—above all else— because that seed of suspicion in your head has grown and flowered into what you now know to be true: you would be happier if you were someone else.
III. You and Your Partner
To begin this first exercise, turn to the woman next to you. This is your partner. Does it matter if your partner is someone you know? No. In fact, consider the possibility that you don't really know anyone until you have completed this exercise as their partner. On that note, it's time for you to remove your clothes. Yes, even you! You too! That's right! Let's get those jeans off! Oh, don't look so shocked. How can you ever claim to truly know another woman when you've only seen her through a sweater? After this exercise, this notion will seem ridiculous to you. Stick with me ladies, follow directions, and I promise that you will leave this place as an entirely different person than you were when you arrived.
Now that everything is out in the open, say hello to your new partner. Hello! If you are shy, simply point to your nametag to introduce yourself. Take a good look at your partner. She is so special and so beautiful, yes? Please remember not to let your eyes wander! Today, you only have eyes for your partner.
Look at her and ask yourself the big question: who is this woman? Start with something little. Ask yourself what she prefers on her bagels. Does this look like the sort of woman who eats cream cheese? Does this woman even eat bagels at all? If not, why not? Does she appear to be conscious about her physical appearance? Does she present as gluten intolerant? When did she first notice a particular sensitivity in regards to wheat products? Has a doctor diagnosed her as intolerant to gluten? Does she believe in modern medicine? Does she believe in tolerance? These are things you must discover if you want to become her.
Now, study her face. You will become the world's leading expert on your partner's face. Stare at it until it is reduced to its most basic shapes. Ask yourself, what shape is this woman? Some women are full of triangles. Is she? Count the triangles of her face. Ask yourself, is this woman—my partner—triangular? If so, then you too must become triangular. Angle yourself. If she is obtuse, you too must become obtuse. If she is acute, you will be as well. Tell yourself, I am a shape, and you are a shape, and we are shapes. Hear that? We are all shapes. Now, repeat. Remember, we are nothing more than our widest angles and our narrowest. Only by realizing this can we, as women, become equilateral.
IV. Assessing Origins™
For this next step, you will need to grab one blue marker and one red marker from the bin that's coming around. Make sure that you have one of each color.
While you are studying your partner, try and pick out which of her features belong to her mother and which belong to her father. We call this "assessing origins". Jessica, are Diana's ears maternal or paternal? If I were Diana's partner, I would say that her ears are paternal due to the fashion they hang in, but I am not Diana's partner, and Jessica ought to stop letting me do her work for her.
Ladies, It's time to use your markers! With your red marker, circle the features on your partner that you believe to be maternal. With your blue marker, circle the paternal features. By assessing your partner's origins, you are better understanding how she was formed. You cannot truly become another person if you do not understand how they were formed. If you cannot fathom the formation of another human being, you will only ever be yourself.
V. Recognizing You
Another bin is coming around with handheld mirrors. Everyone grab one. Take a look into it. What do you see? A father's cheekbones? A mother's freckles? Are all of these things beginning to look like they belong to someone else? You're seeing yourself in a way that you haven't before, yes? Study your features under the highlight of the marker. Pay attention to where you see blue and where you see red. While you're looking, treat your face like a stranger's. Remember the questions that you asked yourself earlier about your partner? Ask them about this woman in the mirror. Who is she? An acquaintance. A friend's cousin. Just someone else on the bus. You hardly know her at all.
Judging by that face, you're probably thinking that you might not like this character. Now that you're taking a good look at her, you're thinking that you might not even want to like her. Don't the pimples on her chin just make you ill? Don't you feel like you could just about fall into those craterous pores? The more you look at it, this face doesn't even look like it's made of skin at all, does it? At least it isn't made of the skin you've seen before. Touch it. Lightly place a hand to one blue cheek or on your red forehead. How does is feel? Squishy? Almost synthetic? What is this thing underneath your fingers? Surely it's not you.
Worse than all that—worse than all that's leaking from that skin and running down the forehead— is that this mirror person looks weak. She looks nervous and confused. Is this how she always looks? Is this how she's always looked? You know about her blues and her reds; you know how to examine her shapes; you understand her origins fully. What you don't know is why she is the way that she is.
You'll never have to wonder again.
VI. Rethinking Possibility
Here, we don't offer you the possibility that you could become a better version of yourself. We make it a reality.
VII. Yours and Hers
Turn once more to your partner. If Samantha and Mel would be so kind as to step towards me, they will demonstrate. When you're looking at your partner, don't get distracted by her reds and blues. Try to remember your own. Think of that face in the mirror. Now, uncap your blue marker. Were your cheekbones blue when you last saw them? Was your nose? Consult your mirror if necessary. Now, focus on your partner once again. What color are her cheekbones? Are they a different color than yours? If your cheekbones are blue and hers are red, take your blue marker and color over the red circle. Fill it in. Do it thoroughly. Cross hatching is allowed. Try to cover the other color up as much as you possibly can. Do this for her nose, her forehead, her ears, her neck, her collarbone, her breasts, and anything else that doesn't match yours.
Once again, if your memory becomes blurry, consult your handheld mirror. If the reds and blues have begun to overlap and you're sweating streaks of swampy purple down the side of your neck in such a way that makes it impossible to see what your original color was, don't worry. Improvise. Make an educated guess. Color this other woman how you believe that she should be colored. Once you are finished with the blue, do the same with the red. Give your partner your reds.
By this point in the process, hardly an inch of your partner should be the color that it was when she walked in today. Take a moment to step back and admire your handiwork. How does she look? A bit silly? Does she look transformed? Well, she will soon.
VII. The Cleanse
On your skin, you and your partner have drawn the blueprints for a happier you than you ever imagined could be possible. In the next step, you will flesh this blueprint out—so to speak— and give yourself the raw materials that you need to change who you are.
If only you could leave here today and walk through the streets proudly flashing the reds and blues all over your body! Sadly, you can't.
Please come towards the buckets lining this wall. Inside each bucket is soap and two loofahs. Don't worry about the soap: it's hypoallergenic. It's for sensitive skin. What does that mean? That means it's not going to work very well against that ink! Everyone, take a loofah now. Make sure to wring out the excess. No one wants to spend their night cleaning up what you drip on the floor.
You will scrub your partner clean until there is no trace of the marker on her. Understand? If there is any blue or red left— if even the faintest shadow of the ink is left— you cannot move forward to the next step. Then she will do the same to you. If the skin begins to peel, you're on the right track. If anything cracks and starts to bleed, just remember that it's all part of the process. If the new you is two layers of skin deep, then that's just how far you're going to have to go to find it. If what's underneath begins to look unrefined and tender—if even a feather-light touch is painful — then you've succeeded. Whatever is left of you after you're partner has finished scrubbing you down is the raw material that you will use to complete your transformation. Put your back into it, Samantha. Mel deserves all of the strength you have.
Of course it will be painful.
VII. Becoming the Change
What a fantastic, thorough job you've all done washing yourselves away.
Here you are. The skin that you came in here with is not the skin you have now. You've made yourself moldable. What you believed to be true when you entered this room earlier today is no longer what you believe to be true.
Everyone look at Samantha's chest. Thank Mel, Samantha. She's put her blood and sweat into this, or is that yours? If everyone will turn to Samantha and Mel for a moment, I'm sure they'd be happy to demonstrate the final step in the process. Concentrate, ladies.
Look at Samantha. The clothes that she covers herself in have been thrown away. Her maternal and paternal features have been scrubbed away. She is this frightening, pink mass without origins, without the illusion of clothing, and without the old skin that has held her back from being the happiest Samantha she's ever been.
Samantha, look at Mel. Mel, look at Samantha. How Mel stands, Samantha will stand. If Mel is tall, Samantha must be as tall as she is. There are no excuses. Learning how to carefully mimic posture is essential in your transformation.
How can you imitate someone while they are imitating you?
Yes, that's right, ladies, as you are mimicking your partner, she will be mimicking you. As you are growing taller to meet her, she will be shrinking to become level with you. Then you will shrink in response, and she will rise. Your shoulders become her shoulders becoming your shoulders. How quickly you forget what was yours to begin with.
Mel here has lovely, full lips, doesn't she? Samantha, wouldn't you like those? Wouldn't those be nice lips to have? Mel, haven't you always thought of yourself as sort of fish-faced? Concentrate on each other. Focus on what could be yours.
Once when I was young, I threw a tantrum and tore open the seam of a quilted comforter my mother had given me. Had I intended to? No! Never before had I— a child— imagined that I had the power to destroy something so absolutely. I ripped it open and then I taught myself how to sew it back up.
Answer me this: once it was sewn back up and laid over the bed again, was it any less of a comforter than it had been before?
Be the comforter, ladies!
Look at Samantha's lips, ripping at their seam when she pulls at them. Watch them becoming Mel's lips. Mel, focus on Samantha's eyes; they're overall better suited for a face than yours, wouldn't you say? Mel, wouldn't every single thing just be that much easier if you could at least have pretty eyes like that?
If there is a little blood, then there's blood. If you lose some stuffing in the process, you'll still be a comforter again in the end.
Tug at where your old skin used to sit. It hurts to touch it but it's soft now. It's like silly putty. It's so much easier than you imagined it could be.
I was just like you once.
VIII. Your Best Self
Now, everyone grab your mirror and take a look at the best version of yourself you've ever seen. Drink it in. You ask yourself, who is this woman? When did this heavenly creature get here? When did this foxy, young thing join the party?
It's you. It's all of you.
You may wonder, whose nose is this? Have I seen this chin before? Who did this freckle belong to? Was it ever mine at all? Am I who I was before? Who was I? Who am I? What have I done?
Congratulations. I hardly even recognize you.
Cara Dempsey is a student at Skidmore College. Her fiction has previously been featured in Cease, Cows, Literary Orphans, Monkey Bicycle and DOGZPLOT.