Chapter 5 – Mirror
I am prey.
There is nothing I can do, no one I can talk to. Weak. Everyone around me seems to be special. So what if I’m smart. No amount of brainpower can take me away from my past. So what if I go to the most prestigious school in North America. That means nothing as I walk down the halls, as I walk down the flower-lined paths. Everyone here is special. Everyone here is accepted. Except me.
My head hurts.
I am hated by the most popular and feared by the rest. I am a pariah.
They all know what I did.
I killed my Mom.
My head hurts.
I didn’t help her. I could have done something. I was too scared.
I see those people around me. I feel their stares. They all expect something from me.
They look at me, hungry. Waiting.
I don’t know. I keep to myself now. I don’t talk with anyone. I am friendless.
My head really really hurts.
On school days I wake up from my nightmares into my nightmare of a life.
My head hurts so I take my medicine.
Make my bed.
Stare out of my window.
Wait fruitlessly, hoping for a golden mane of hair to tumble through.
Brush things that need to be brushed.
Wash things that need to be washed.
Put on a wrinkled uniform.
Throw my hair up into a ponytail to keep it out of my face.
Avoid the mirror at all costs.
Grab a cereal bar from the kitchen.
Money for lunch.
Leave before Melanie gets up.
Walk fast, head down, past the deli … I do not want to talk to deli-man … Last time he asked about my friend. I told him that I didn’t have any friends. He’s been looking at me weird ever since.
Get on subway. Stare off into space.
Get off subway.
Get to school before the hallways get crowded. Rush to my locker.
Rush to the library. I avoid most of the crowd.
Look over homework and projects I know I’ve completed competently.
First bell. I wait. Let the cattle shuffle into class first. I rush into my Study Hall/Science Class. During the Study Hall hour, I drown myself in my latest music download, a hard driving rampage of sound, and Bram Strokers Dracula. My Lit teacher has a fascination with all things morbid and Jane Austen. She is in a morbid month. Perfect. Right now, Lucy is being attacked. I cringe. No one notices. If they do … they have no reason to care. I continue reading for the next twenty minutes. I am pleased with myself. My mind wanders. My former best friend is at the absolute other side of the universe that is study hall. He’s reading Dracula too. Black fingernails stroke his gold hair.
I realize that I am staring again. I blast the music louder into my brain and resume my flight into the realm of the undead.
Science starts. Science ends.
The bell rings. Metal scrapes against wood. I hear a slithering laugh in my direction. The hissing voice says something. I pretend not to hear. But I do anyway. The snake has made some comment about my hair. My hair. It’s tangled and hitched up in a messy bun.
I look down into my bag and pretend that there is something interesting in there. The snake passes but not before the rancid smell of lavender and pine assaults my nose. I sneeze. I’ve convinced myself that I am allergic.
The class is empty. I make a break for Lit. class. At least here I can relax a little. Some of the other students even talk to me. Some. Not really. At least they don’t visibly detest me. The English Professor lectures on Dracula. I don’t pay attention. She calls on me. I mumble an answer. I guess I said the right thing because she doesn’t pick on me again.
I don’t want this class to end. I don’t want to go to my next class. But … I want this class to end because I will at least get a fleeting glance of … him. I don’t allow myself to think his name.
The bell rings.
As I throw my bag over my shoulder my English Professor summons me. She looks worried. I wonder if she knows about my past too. I walk up to her desk. She says things about being concerned and that perhaps she might suggest a trip to a counselor. I ask her if I’ve turned in all my homework. She says yes. I ask her if I’ve ever missed an answer. She says no. I ask her if I’ve ever missed a class. She says no. I tell her that I am fine.
Gym and lunch are a blur.
The bell rings. Now I’m late for my History of New York class.
The professor drones on about the Third World War. Even though it happened the year I was born, Manhattan and the entire world still suffers from the aftermath. It had ended with the devastation of Manhattan. The massive explosion that ended the New York Attack had leveled the Northern part of the park as well as the surrounding blocks. It was assumed that the planes were targeting the financial district and were brought down sooner. No one really knows. Many lives were lost. It was an act of terror. Similar attacks had broken out all over the United States focused mainly in New York, Washington DC, The entire West Coast and Hawaii. Although it had only lasted a few months, the entire country had changed.
He rambles on. There is nothing that he is saying that any New York born kid couldn’t tell you. Normally I would have been an eager participant… but I just don’t have it in me. I shut him out and began the work at the back of the chapter.
It’s Friday and I really need this day to be over.
I wake up. The remainder of a nightmare grips me. I hold my breath as the tightness falls away. I really need to stop dreaming of flying.
Mochi-kitty head butts me in effort to get me out of bed. She tries to help. She is constantly by my side now. She knows I need a friend. She’s brought me another dead mouse. I pick the dead thing up by the tail and throw it through the open window onto the fire escape. Mochi gives me a look of disgust as if to chastise me for wasting yet another good mouse. I almost laugh.
Melanie is tinkering in the kitchen downstairs. I wait. It’s Saturday. She always goes to the clinic on Saturdays. Mochi curls up in my tangled mess of hair as I roll over and let a few tears spill onto my pillow. I don’t even really feel them anymore. The throbbing pain that courses through my heart and flows into my entire body is constant … almost normal now. It has been three weeks now since I last talked with … Nicolas. Even thinking his name makes the tears come faster, burning my raw cheeks.
Last Saturday was the hardest. Today will be no different. After Melanie goes to work, I’ll crawl over to my sound system and blast the loudest most obnoxious band I own then crawl back into bed and probably stay there for another hour, rehashing the past week of nothingness. If I’m lucky, my brain will slowly shut off so I can just lie in bed and stare up at the ceiling. I try that. All I see are eyes. Some are a midnight black, trying to suck what’s left of my tattered soul. Others I imagine to be a soft blue, like the sky, just brighter. Those eyes are closed off to me.
I roll to my side to get away. I am now staring directly into my reflection. The mirror was a gift from Nicky long ago. The girl there looks despondent, haggard and lonely. Alone. The image in the mirror shakes and becomes distorted. I blink my eyes. It’s happening again. The feeling of disappearing creeps up on me. I roll again and stuff my head into a pillow. Fresh tears spring up and are swallowed immediately by my understanding pillow.
After my failed attempt at shutting my brain off, I go downstairs. Between my schoolwork, which was thankfully never ending, and chores, the day passes in a pleasant storm of activity and very loud music.
On good days, the clocks in my house speed up as the sun overhead plunges the earth back into the darkness that signals the return of my Aunt.
On bad days, I run out of things to do. If the house is spotless, I retreat to my study and reread books that I already know by heart. I go over my Hawaiian Studies and language. My Tūtū would be pleased at that at least. I almost have the first vocabulary book memorized. On these bad days nothing can hold my attention. I throw on a movie, listen to music, read a book – sometimes all three at the same time but it is no use. My mind wanders to any moment that week in which I saw Nicky. My mind flies backwards into a happier past and reflects on times when smiling was an easy thing to do … with Nicky. Those memories aren’t all that bad: it is coming back into the reality that’s the hardest part.
At exactly six in the evening I make a lame and probably tasteless dinner. I swallow some of it. I’m not very hungry lately and most days I have to remind myself to eat. I throw the leftovers into the microwave, grab my school things from the study and run back into the safety of my room. All this done by seven-thirty. Melanie is usually home by eight.
I don’t want to think about my evenings. Alone. Just alone.
And then there are the headaches. They’re becoming almost as bad as when I was a kid. My Aunt and Dr. Hart kept me in the hospital for months after the incident to make sure I was okay.
Just thinking about it makes my head burn. I grab my pills and toss two back.
Something crashes downstairs.
Mel? I look at my clock. It is already eight AM and she hasn’t left yet. My stomach sinks as my nose picks up the various smells that are wafting into my room. Now that I was paying attention to the present I can smell it. Eggs. Microwaveable sausage. Burnt toast. Mel was cooking. She wasn’t going to work this morning.
She wants to talk.
Well … at least my headache is gone.
I can just sequester myself in my room. I can tell her I’m sick. But then she’ll just burn down the house in her effort to make me breakfast. Plus, she’ll never buy it. Besides the headaches, I never get sick. Groaning, I tip toe to my bathroom. I’ll have to make myself somewhat presentable before going downstairs. Maybe I could alleviate Mel’s worry enough to make her go to away.
I make it to the bathroom without alerting her. I jump into the shower, willing the searing hot water to wash away the grief. At least for Mel. I don’t want her to worry. She has enough going on without me and my stupid little problems. She doesn’t need me rehashing the past. It wasn’t her fault she has been saddled with me since my Mom died. I feel the tears threaten again. I swallow them. The hot water is just too comfortable. It’s too easy to let my tears flow here.
I blast the cold water. My body cringes at the sudden change in temperature. I force myself stand there for a good minute. The water numbs my up-turned face, hopefully soothing the swelling there under my puffy eyes and raw tear stained cheeks. I turn the water off and wrap me and my broken heart into my tattered purple bathrobe.
Glancing up at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, the girl behind the mist blurs. I put my glasses on. It doesn’t help. I shiver a little. I can’t even look at myself anymore.
The shower didn’t help. At least I tried. I go back to my room, not bothering to creep this time because now Mel knows I’m up.
I can’t smell burnt toast on the air anymore. Avoiding the long mirror in the corner, I throw on a pair of old sweat pants and a clean shirt and ready myself for my aunt’s barrage of questions. I think about moving that mirror into my closet as I walk down the stairs. It scares me.
I see a flash of worry crease Mel’s face as I enter the kitchen and sit at the counter. She arranges her features into a warm smile. “Morning Kitten!” She comes over and gives me a peck on my forehead.
I try to smile. I think my grin may have come off as more of a grimace from the look on Mel’s face.
I stand there. This was not part of my routine and my body did not know how to react.
“So,” Mel was throwing something frozen into the toaster. “I decided to stay home today! I figured we could do something. After breakfast maybe we could go shopping. I know you said something about redecorating your room and I saw the perfect frame for your bed while I was walking to the hospital … or we could clear out the garden. I noticed this morning that everything is drying out back there. I know it’s a bit colder now but most of the plants out there should have lasted longer and the roses need to be trimmed back before it gets too cold…” she rambles.
I get plates out of the cabinet and set them on the kitchen table. I silently nod in an absent response to her rambles as I take utensils out and place them on the sides of the plates. Mel started talking about work. Something about a little boy who had an orange jelly bean stuck in his ear. I sit down. Nod. Nod.
I look up. Had she asked me something? I rake my brain for an answer but I hadn’t paid attention. “Hmm?” was all that came out of my mouth.
“Julia, I just asked you if you’d like some orange juice?”
“No. I’ll just get myself some water.”
“There’s some in front of you.” A look of concern sweeps over her face again. I hadn’t noticed that Mel put a couple of toasted waffles covered with butter and my Tūtū’s homemade guava jam, just the way I liked it, on the plate in front of me along with a tall glass of water.
This was not going well. Mel watches me carefully. “It’s been a few weeks since you called your grandparents.” My charade was not fooling her if she was actually suggesting I call them. I couldn’t even think about my Tūtū and Papa. I put some food into my mouth. I chew and swallow without really tasting anything. Try harder! “I’ll call today.” I probably won’t call today. My voice is small. “This is good, Mel.” It was her turn to nod silently.
I take another bite, and another. Mel looks away and at her own food. She doesn’t eat. My waffles are becoming hard to chew. My mouth is dry. I take a large gulp of water to make them go down. It is like swallowing styrofoam. I grab my napkin to wipe the tears that are flowing down my face again. I look down hoping that Mel hadn’t seen that.
“Kitten, sweetheart…” She began but I didn’t let her finish.
“I’m sorry Mel… I can’t…” The tears blur my vision as I stumble out of my chair and run upstairs to my room.
Thinking I could face my aunt had been a huge mistake. I shut my door and tumble back onto my bed and sob uncontrollably into my pillow. I try to quiet myself but I can’t. There was no one I could turn to. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t have my Mom. She died saving me because I was stupid for being is that dumb alley. I didn’t have Nicky. Nicky would understand. He would understand because he was the one who was doing this to me.
I feel a hand on my head. Mel. She strokes the tangles there. It makes me cry harder. I want to confide in her but, how to begin? I look up and into that cursed mirror.
My vision blurs.
“I don’t know who I am anymore. I’ve lost me. I don’t recognize that girl.” I couldn’t recognize the fear in my voice. Shaking, I point at the long mirror in the corner of my room. It was the absolute bane of my existence. I miss the girl that all my doctors said I could be if I tried. The girl that used to smile into that mirror. Now that mirror, a window into my tattered soul, terrified me. I didn’t know the person who looked out at me from that glass. She wasn’t me. I didn’t look like that.
I was going crazy.
Every time I look in a mirror now, my face would distort. My image there would fade. It was like I was disappearing. The blur and the ensuing blackness that sometimes follows scares me. It reminds me of the alley. Of my Mom screaming my name. I couldn’t go there.
“I know it’s hard, Kitten, you’re going to be all right, I promise. This is all part of growing up. You’re changing. Do you think … do you want me to ask Dr. Hart if you should go see someone again? Do you want to see Dr. Hart?”
“No.” I say as she reaches for me and brings my head down to rest against her shoulder. Fingers stroke my hair. My mind flashes back to the day before school when Nic was stroking my hair. I push my aunts hand away. It reminds me of him. “I don’t need the shrinks psychoanalyzing me again and drilling me about what happened. I saw things that weren’t there. I don’t remember it correctly. When I woke up, Mom was gone and I was covered with blood.”
Mel gets in my face. “Number one, you know that wasn’t your fault.”
“No, I don’t. I don’t know that it wasn’t my fault. I was covered in Mom’s blood, Mel! How does that even happen?”
“Stop it, Julia.” Mel shakes her head sadly. “It wasn’t your fault. And number two: I wasn’t talking about that anyway. You should go and see him to discuss what’s happening now. Maybe something is wrong with Nic”
“No, Mel. Dr. Hart is the the last person I want to talk about my feelings with. And Nic?…” I want to disappear. Stellar School and all the people that went there made me feel like I didn’t exist. I shut my eyes against the pain, against the nightmares and most of all against Nic. All I see is red. I started to shake.
“It’s all right, love.” She pats my head again.
I brake. “NO! no NO! I’m not going to be all right!!!” I scream at my Aunt. It feels good to yell. I let the pain flow out of me. I hit her hand away. I couldn’t tell her what was going on. I couldn’t tell her that my classmates knew about my past. I push off the bed and I rip that stupid, ugly mirror off the wall. It crashes onto the hardwood floor.
The sound of shattering glass reverberates through my body and I crumble.
I fall to the ground in front of the shattered pieces of my mirror. I look down. I finally recognize that girl. My eyes burn with the tears that have finally stopped.
Mel says something. I ignore her. She puts her hand on my shoulder. “I’m calling your grandparents, Kitten. You have to stop this.”
I shrug it off. “Just get out, Mel.”
As the door shuts, my mind becomes blank with grief except for the image I was now staring at. I recognize the girl in the broken fragments of reflective glass because for the first time in weeks it truly reflects me.