by Rebecca Van Horn
I don’t know if anyone will ever read what I’m writing, since it’s tucked away on this random blog I made, way far away in the outer reaches of the Internet. It’s like I’ve sent a message to deep space, hoping someone will see it (but making sure no one does).
I have a Picture of Dorian Gray situation going on here (which I read in my Lit class—the one I got a middling C in, because my lame ass teacher is a repressed biddy). Oh god, even having that uncharitable thought about Miss Clemens has opened up that old sore on the inner wrist of my left arm—which makes typing this confessional a real bitch. I think that’s what it’s called. I need to get these thoughts out of my head and away from me. But I have no one who would believe me, because I don’t know anyone who believes in the occult or in curses—let alone heavenly retribution. I don’t even believe in that shit.
I don’t know why I got this particular affliction. Or how. Maybe it’s hereditary? My dad is a total douche bag, an unethical asshole who screws people out of their business contracts for a living. Maybe the consequences for his bad behavior have skipped him and shown up on me? The “sins of our fathers,” and all that. Maybe I can hold this over his head in some way? Like, I could confront him in his home office and angrily roll up the sleeve of my shirt to show him the ropes of flesh that have knotted themselves up the length of my forearm. That should fill him with unspeakable, soul-twisting guilt. He should slump in agony into his glorified, custom-made La-Z-Boy (that probably cost the gross national profit of Nicaragua) and gulp twelve-year-old scotch as he stares into the darkness. He should be afraid that the rot that started within him so long ago has manifested in the physical badges that his son carries around. Fat chance! We’re talking about a man who unsuccessfully lobbied to have the local soup kitchen closed down, demolished, and turned into a parking garage, because there wasn’t enough parking downtown.
It all started with nothing special, an everyday occurrence that usually wouldn’t have bothered me at all: I lied to a clueless substitute teacher so I could get out of class. That night, I noticed a thin white length of scar tissue on my neck, and wondered if I had gotten it from that cheap necklace I had stolen from the mall. I stopped noticing the slight pain it caused after about a week, and it faded away.
After that, the scars got larger and stayed longer. One afternoon, I told that anorexic cooze Jasmine that she needed to stop spreading her distinct brand of herpes rot to all of the jocks. I said this in front of her cheerleading team for maximum strategic impact, completely aware that her close friend and secret rival, Kerri, was listening. Kerri adeptly arranged a concerned and outraged expression on her face for everyone else to see, but I suspect she was about to burst with the gleeful malice I knew she really felt. I knew about the complicated rivalry between the two, and how affection and malice can become inexorably intertwined—especially with girls. I twisted the knife that much further in order to elicit a guffaw out of Kerri, one that echoed around the bleachers. Everyone heard.
Jasmine turned around quickly, looking for the source of impudence. When I saw that Kerri wasn’t able to reconfigure her expression in time, and that Jasmine’s gaze had fallen upon her smirk, I knew my coup d’état had landed perfectly; I had gotten them both. The simmering, seeping resentment that existed between the two girls was brought to the surface, and they would never be able to go back to what they had before—no matter how impure and juvenile it had been. At least their relationship had been safe and predictable. I killed two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. The impact of the betrayal on Jasmine was sudden, but the repercussions would probably last well into adulthood, and would bankroll the addition to some high-end therapist’s summer home.
After the waves of sadistic pleasure wore off from that little miniature melodrama, I knew I was in for it. Indeed, I was out sick for a week because my hand was twisted with dead tissue. I couldn’t have taken class notes, even if I had an inclination to (which I usually don’t). It doesn’t make sense that I was “punished” so brutally for that one, because that’s not even the meanest thing that I’ve done—not by a long shot. But I guess this curse (or whatever it is) hadn’t been fully activated before that day. Maybe it was still festering somewhere deep inside me, gathering strength and resources. It was getting to know me from the inside out.
I continued to be me: lying when it suited me, spreading rumors when it amused me, or insulting and belittling people when I felt bored or frustrated. The scars would manifest, stay awhile, and then fade away. I learned to bargain with them, in a manner of speaking. I figured I would say or do something just mean enough to keep me satisfied for a bit while the scars healed up—which they always did.
However, I suspected the day was coming when the scars wouldn’t heal quickly—or ever. Then, I would go through life with thick, matted cords of flesh covering my entire body, and everyone would either turn away from me, or look at me with pity. Those that pitied me would take it upon themselves, through their own sense of righteousness disguised as empathy and compassion, to help a poor bastard like me see the wonderful inner beauty that was disguised by the unsightly mask that I would no longer be able to doff. But they would realize, as I hurt them, that my outsides matched my insides, and no amount of therapy or medication will be able to help. I would finally, at long last, be myself.
This is the point in my account when I insert some hard-won nugget of wisdom. But sorry, folks, I don’t have one. In order to evade the scenario I just illustrated, I bottle up my meanness and do small good deeds—not because I love humanity or any of that drum circle stinky hippie bullshit, but out of self-preservation. I am a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I suppose.
But then, the other day, something really weird happened. One of the foreign exchange students (a gangly girl—from some obscure European country, I think) told me that I was, “so nice,” as I helped her to find a copy of The Odyssey in the school library. I looked at her for a long moment, at her gawky frame, her ruddy complexion, her mouth hanging open slightly as she breathed damply in and out. I looked at all of her unfashionable and unbeautiful characteristics. I mused on all of the things that, once upon a time, I would have said brazenly, cruelly and directly into her gormless, bespectacled face. I would have given her something to be ashamed of, some mean, nasty secret she’d be too afraid to tell her parents when she got back home. I thought of all the things I could do.
In the end, I looked at her with soft eyes, smiled slightly and said, “Thank you.” She giggled with shy awkwardness and turned to leave the room. Her ruffled skirt was tucked up into her plain, cotton underwear, but I didn’t even reach for my phone to quickly snap a picture.
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