This story is by Marie Ryan and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Close the windows. Shut the doors…I hope nobody can hear me.
I know…You’re wondering where I am.
I’m alone, sitting at my dressing table.
This lovely dressing table had always been a part of my life; it was my mother’s dressing table. As a child myself I would sit for hours, and play at being a grown up, in front of the three mirrors. I could do anything with those little pots of cream and tiny bottles of eau de cologne my mother had collected. I was too young to know how, but old enough to know they were dear to her and I wanted them to be dear to me too. They became little people in my childish fantasies, characters in little stories that I would invent, to escape the world around me.
Always beautifully polished, always neat and tidy.
I had spent many happy times inventing stories and imaginary friends through those wonderful mirrors.
There’s nothing left in my body to scream out and be heard. I intake as much breath as I can, knowing that life itself may depend on it, or at least HER life… but there is nothing left there, as I force the breath out…A mere whimper…a pathetic apology for a call for help…
But nobody can hear me. Not anymore. There is no one around. Except her.
She began her studies and struggled. Never the brightest but always the most hard-working. She would stay up way past her bed-time, as a teenager, to revise one more time for that test in the morning. Ask me this vocabulary for my French test, Mam.
She would get up two hours before the required time, just to be able to give one more revision to the Biology homework for Tuesday.
Often after school she would walk forty five minutes to the local library to look up references to historical characters she had failed to understand about during school lessons.
She was determined. She was driven. She was…ashamed.
Her whole being was given over to overcoming the shame | had smothered her with. Like a green shoot sprouting for survival, she fought with all her strength: strength which was hiding but ready to pounce out at the adversary. The adversary was me.
How she fought against me and how she battled. The arguments were colossal. The breakages were innumerable. The slamming of the doors was a normal occurrence in the household.
Then, when I was diagnosed, something bigger than me took hold of me and would not let me go. She saw me day after day in the abyss I had scratched my way into. As she grew, she saw the pain and loneliness. Something she should have never had to witness.
I remember the time she got back home once and found me in my bedroom. I hadn’t heard her come into the room because I was making some sounds myself, as I often did in those days, when I sat in front of the grand dressing- table mirror when I was alone.
There were pretty little bottles of eau de colognes and perfumes carefully arranged between little pots of creams and cotton balls and the three mirrors which at one time had reflected an attractive woman, now reflected the horror of surgery and the loss of all woman-hood.
I was whimpering quietly, feeling sorry for myself, lost in my self-pity and I looked up and saw her in the reflection behind me. In that same mirror which was holding my mess.
She had never seen my scars before. No one had.
Since then I knew she knew who I really was. She knew how I felt, ripped apart and sewn together horribly, badly.
We had no words that night. She just held me, embracing my embarrassment and holding the unspeakable to her own breast.
From that moment now I see she turned into the woman I had felt I had stopped being.
She picked me up and mopped up my urine. She found towels and sheets to clear up my vomit. Looking back now I understand that she saw in those moments a projection of what she may become. And that made her rise.
She rose from the black pit she saw I was in, that we were both in. But she rose, in spite of me. She rose, against me. She rose out of the grim mire FOR me.
As a life-guard saving a drowning woman, she grew up, despite of me, saw me and came down to me and buckled me up. She brought me back to the surface and showed me what I could become.
She talked to me smoothly and calmly. She rocked me to sleep when I became agitated and desperate. She talked to me and shared her dreams. She drew pictures of normalcy that we had never seen. She willed me, she begged me to respond: to react. She held my hand through that pain.
And I came through. I held onto her and I came through.
For a brief time, a day, a week, a year, what does that matter now?, there was daylight coming through, blinding me through the crack in the earth, air shooting through onto my face, tickling my nose. There was life-
Then ‘fate’, ‘destiny’, or some might say ‘the Good Lord’ saw me whole again but also saw my weakness, my crutch…her.
And she was taken from me. I had to watch her go. Slowly, painfully, conscious of every last minute of her beautiful life being dragged from her reluctant breath.
I will rise now and continue to honour her. She will continue to live through me as she once lived through me in my womb.
We are together and we are one. She is with me here, she is with me now. Even though I have been ripped apart, I am whole again through her.