I often find myself staring in the mirror. I am not sure why. I don’t believe it to be an act of vanity. I don’t stare because I consider myself a great beauty. I actually find myself to be a little plain. I stare, I guess, because I wish to trade places with the girl that stares back at me.
Perhaps she might look like me, but she isn’t really. And I envy her that. She lacks my childhood, my memories, my fears. She might mimic what she sees but she doesn’t feel.
I have been wishing since I was a little girl that I could jump into the looking glass like Alice and live, even for a moment, in another world. I have been praying for it ever since my mother brought that man home.
My mother was only sixteen when she had me. Being a wild, careless meth addict, she was rarely affectionate. I can barely remember a time she actually held me in her arms. I was in the care of my grandmother until I was eight. I was at school when she had her heart attack. My mother was passed out in her room leaving me to find my grandmother when I got home. By then she was already turning cold. I have never forgiven my mother for that. She let the only person who truly loved me die.
Life after that wasn’t simple but it was better than it turned out to be. I learned how to take care of myself. My mother was so high most of the day that she barely made it to the bathroom sometimes. I taught myself how to cook and clean and dress myself. It’s a very lonely life taking care of yourself and your parent when they’re as incoherent as my mother was.
My grandmother took pride in her small three bedroom house. It was not a mansion but it was a sufficient place to live. A one floor, one and a half bathroom establishment that my mother was lucky to inherit. It was just big enough for her meth parties. And it didn’t take long after my grandmother died for her to invite all of her addict friends to the house to get high. There were nights I would lock myself in one of the bathrooms because I was scared of the rampages they had.
And then my mother brought him home. He wasn’t like the other people my mother brought home. He noticed me the few times that I snuck out of the bathroom for food. He would bring me candy, a couple of times he brought me a happy meal.
Whenever he came over my mother would pound on the bathroom door for me to come out so that he could give me whatever he had for me that day. And after I thanked him he would pat me on the head and then rub my cheek with his thumb. He seemed nice but I didn’t trust him because I didn’t trust my mother. I would still lock myself in that bathroom and read or do my homework.
And then one night I made a terrible mistake. It was a couple of months after my ninth birthday and the house was cold. My mother, who would rather spend money on getting her next fix, had forgotten to pay the gas bill. February was a brutal month where I am from and I usually brought a large blanket into the bathroom with me. But that night I left it in the dryer.
I tried to hold out as long as I could but the cold from the tile floor was starting to seep into my bones. So I gently unlocked the door and poked my head through. I ran to the laundry room down the hall and pulled out my blanket. But when I turned into the hall to go back to the bathroom he was standing there blocking my way.
It scared me, like something you see in a movie. He was so silent I didn’t hear him. Not wanting to seem afraid, I walked back towards the bathroom and stopped in front of him. I remember asking him to “Please let me through”. But instead of moving aside, he pushed me into the bathroom and locked the door behind him.
“You can’t be in here,” I told him. “Please leave,” I said. But all for naught. What happened next was the worst experience of my life. An image forever burned into my memory. He ordered me to get undressed, but I refused, so he slapped me and then immediately apologized when I started to cry. He caressed my face and tenderly kissed my forehead and then without warning I was on my back and he was on top of me.
I thrashed and kicked and screamed but he held me there and continued to violate me. The pain was excruciating and everywhere. I couldn’t figure out what was hurting and how anything could hurt as terrible as that. I remember thinking that it was a nightmare that it wasn’t real but I could feel his weight and breath on me. I could smell the beer and smoke on him. And I could hear his disgustingly soothing voice in my ear. But still, I prayed that I would wake up.
When it was over, he simply stood and buckled his pants back up walking out the bathroom door. I continued to lie there silently staring at the ceiling, for how long I’m not sure. Time didn’t seem to matter at that point; eternity had already come and gone. When I finally, slowly pulled myself back up, the cold getting to me, I looked down and saw the blood and another white substance I wasn’t sure about then. Ashamed of my nakedness I reached for the blanket. Sometime during that nightmare I must have gotten sick because it was covered in vomit. Seeing my fresh, clean blanket soiled as it was made something inside of me snap and I stood there crying, staring into the mirror, hoping. I had to clean myself up that night.
The next afternoon our gas was turned back on and with it the heat. And every few days the man returned. He brought me a new blanket the first night he came back and I remember my mother slapping me on the back of the head when I didn’t thank him right away.
But why should I thank him for giving me one thing when he took so much more from me? He took my sense of security, my safe haven, my dignity and that small piece of me that I will never get back. For the first time in my life I began to act out. I was wetting the bed at night, not turning in homework, stealing from the other children and falling asleep in class. A behavior change that should have been a noticeable red flag. My grades began to fall and I was ignoring my friends keeping more to myself and, yet, no one asked me why. I even cried and begged my teacher not to send me home sometimes. What child doesn’t want to leave school?
The attacks happened at least once a week and after every one I would get a present, a reminder of what happened. I couldn’t understand why my mother would keep him around especially after she walked in on us. I cried and reached out for her, my mother. But she just bowed her head, went back out of the room and closed the door behind her. She had finally, utterly and totally abandoned me.
You would think that motherly instincts would kick in seeing your child like that, in such a vulnerable position. You would think that she would do something about it. I thought she would at least take some sort of pity on me, but no. She seemed to resent me because of it. She grew nastier towards me, started to call me names. He stood up for me which made it worse, but she listened to him.
And then one day when I came home from school my mother came to me gloating as she showed off her new engagement ring. I was furious! How could she!? He, of course, immediately moved in buying new things for the house and for me. I became more distant, which I called self-preservation. My mother called it being ungrateful.
The attacks increased as I got older. By the time I was twelve they were nearly every night. By then I would just lie there staring up at the ceiling and thinking of something else. My obsession with mirrors intensified during those times. I would stare into them for hours, sometimes reaching out my hand to place it on the cool glass in hopes that that was the time it would finally open itself to me and let me walk in.
When I was thirteen I hit puberty and began to develop, looking more like a young woman. Ironically, he became less attracted to me and like my mother began to ignore me. Until those drunken nights. When he was drunk it was like he was angry at me for getting older. He began to get rougher, more intense. When I turned fifteen, he finally stopped all together.
Now I was worthless to both of them. At least during those years of hell I meant something to someone. So I was left to dwell in the turmoil of my mind, standing in front of the mirror, my only friend. I never had to talk or perform for the mirror. It was always just there for me, waiting. My reflection was stronger than I was. I could always put on a face for the mirror. Sometimes I swore my reflection would smile at me, unprovoked. Her lips would curl and her eyes slightly narrow but my face would remain blank.
It was a weird feeling, your reflection moving without you but I continued to stare back at her wishing to trade places. And maybe that’s what happened. Maybe that’s why I can’t remember because that’s where they found me.
I didn’t hear them when they burst through the front door. Everything faded into the background when I stared at her, nothing else mattered. But when they opened the door to the bathroom, I finally came to and slowly turned my head to see the first of the officers with a gun in his hand and a terrified look on his face. Confused, I looked down and saw that my hands and clothes were covered in blood. I looked back into the mirror and saw her sneer and give me a reassuring nod.
The officer slowly led me out of the room and through the front of the house where the mutilated bodies of my mother and step-father were. Confusion and terror swept over me. I had no recollection of what had happened and yet it is undeniable what had occurred there.
As the officer gently put me in the backseat of his cruiser I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the rearview mirror. And I watched as we both sneered at each other.
The mirror where I have been living for almost three years isn’t as clear as the one at the house. They don’t allow glass here. But I still spend what time I have looking into it. It’s scratched and foggy and I made a fuss the first few months I was here. But it doesn’t matter now. I’ll be eighteen in a few days and the state is going to release me.
I’ll buy a real mirror then.