River House Home - Refrigerator
"A Better Daughter" by Amy Frost
A Better Daughter
He told me I would never be beautiful. I remember looking up at the tall stature of my father and feeling helpless. Here he was, the only man who ever had to love me and he was verbalizing my greatest fear. I would never be beautiful. I would never rouse attention or affection from men; I would never be unique or special.
I had looked down at my barely visible chest and thought how he didn’t know, couldn’t know, if I’d ever be anything. I had years of growing left in me. My face — not large or daunting, not possessing any irregular quality or marks of deformity — couldn’t be sentenced to a life deprived of sensual glances. I was normal. I still needed time. How could he determine in one shallow glance what I was to become?
And worse, I believed him. I mean I never stopped believing him. When I was little I remember him telling my mother the bob she kept her hair in made her look like a boy and she was lucky to have a man like him because he wasn’t shallow and could see past her looks. I cut my hair for the same reason. If he thought I was so hideous, I might as well live up to it.
She twirls the edges of her hair between her fingertips, feeling the straw-like quality the strands had taken on after the years of abuse to her head. There were the hasty kitchen sink haircuts with a pair of desk scissors. There were the few summers of peroxide and sunshine dye jobs on the beach. One time she had simply poured bleach directly onto her scalp, felt it singeing her chestnut hair to a translucent white, watched it fall in clumps onto the floor like she was a third round chemo patient. However she would always stare back in the mirror and run her fingers through whatever remained and think this could all be so much better.
The buzzer began to ring on Dr. Connor’s desk, waking me from my thoughts to inform me the session was over. Dr. Connor jotted a few notes down on the legal pad that sat in his lap. I’d have to wait another week to hear him pretend that I was, in fact, a very pretty girl, or that I didn’t deserve my father’s discretions, that what he’d said were the ravings of an alcoholic, abusive man. Dr. Connor had expressed all this before. He was paid to, so I couldn’t hold it against him when he lied to me twice a week in the confines of the small, perfectly square office he kept off of Bay Street. His job was to save me, or at least try to, but I didn’t have to agree.
She loved the feeling that she wasn’t beautiful. She reveled in it. When her hair wasn’t enough, when it stopped garnering the lack of attention that she felt she so deserved, she moved on to destroying her body. She discovered the world of bingeing, purging, and restricting her food through her friend Jenna. She told Talia how it was so easy, how it gave her so much control, and how ever since she’d started doing it, people always commented on how thin she was. It became a game to them, to see how much or how little they could eat in one day.
She kept a diary in which she recorded every morsel of food that passed her lips. There would be little notes in the margin, little expressions like “Nothing but two sticks of gum all day. Good Job!” or “polished off an entire gallon of ice cream and it took 17 minutes to expel it. Try harder next time.”
Three months ago my mother had noticed over a lunch of crudite and lemon water that my clavicle had become more prominent since our last meeting. I had sunk back into the warmth of the extra large zip-up sweatshirt that I had been wearing the past two weeks. It smelled faintly of cigarettes and Chanel No. 5, and its color had faded from black to the color of granite. I thought it would protect me from my mother’s disapproving glances, but there, on that particularly wet Tuesday afternoon, she looked above the rims of her tortoiseshell glasses, raised one painted-on eyebrow and pursed her lips, and proceeded to let out a low hum of disapproval.
You look thin she said.
I told her nothing was wrong; all the girls at my college had dropped a few extra pounds because they were studying too much. I was only doing like everybody else, being more concerned with the concepts of Anatomy and Physiology than with what I was eating. I didn’t know if she bought it. She just turned her look from my face to her raw vegetables, and started telling me some story of her friend Martha’s daughter who was getting married in a few weeks.
She felt alone but she liked it. Having a mother who disregarded her made her feel better that her father hated her. As long as she had her mother, she didn’t have to worry about whatever anyone else thought. One person denying your existence is enough to make the rest of the world unimportant. If that one person is the same one who gave you life, then that world becomes irrelevant.
She decided I had a real problem once I fainted at school. One minute I was walking to class, and the next I was in the Emergency Room with my mother’s grey eyes glaring at me. She wasn’t sad that I’d fallen or because I’d hit my head on the concrete. She didn’t even care when I told the doctor I’d been living off a singular bag of popcorn for the past week. She just rubbed the temples of her forehead and told me this was all so disappointing.
My mother had always been thin and beautiful, a woman to be admired by legions of men. But she had turned them all down for my father, the only man who never cared about her. I think she enjoyed being told she was unimportant, insignificant, a worthless piece of shit. She stood for my father’s abuse because it gave her a purpose, a cause for people to rally behind. She loved other’s pity, the way they would nod their heads softly, saying “How awful” or “How did you escape such torment”. In her world there was no room for my problems.
Nights became a time of bathroom socializing, of wiping each other’s noses so that no one on the outside knew what they were doing. She stood in handicapped stalls with two or three other self-deprecating girls, opting for small compact mirrors since the backs of the toilets were ripped off or never a part of the design. They stood talking in hushed tones, allowing their syllables to blur into one another until no one sound was distinct enough to be understood. If one giggled, they all giggled, hoping that the vibrations that lingered in their mouths wouldn’t come across as peculiar.
They passed around the tiny mirror and a rolled up dollar bill, each one replicating the other’s motion — leaning their heads down so their hair formed soft curtains around the mirror, disguising its contents until their heads would tilt back and they’d run a slender finger under their nose. All night, in and out of the bathroom they’d go, leaving behind fake friends and glaring eyes to seek the comfort that only each other’s presence could provide.
Sometimes she went alone and sat on the sink so that she could stare at herself in the mirror. Her eyes would trace her face for the appearance of lines. She’d rub the excess makeup from beneath her eyes, and check her nose one more time to be safe. She’d smoke a cigarette while sitting there, staring, hoping that she wouldn’t be discovered but waiting for it to happen anyway.
Soon her nightly dalliances with the porcelain sanctuary weren’t enough. She had to find something new to feel. While she loved the way her body had become little more than yellow flesh and protruding bones, she hated the lack of sleep, the knot living inside her stomach, the paranoia she felt every second she was conscious.
Jenna had called me while I was at therapy. I had known Jenna since I was 14, and she stole my boyfriend. I remember crying every night over my diary, writing the words I’d never be able to say to her, feeling the hatred well up inside me when I thought about them holding hands in the cafeteria. Now, 8 years later and after an accidental encounter freshmen year, we would laugh about it together, remembering the smelly breath of little Edwin, or how at only 14 he wore a business suit and tie to school every day.
Jenna reminded me that I was normal, especially on the days when I was forced to see my mother to collect my weekly expenses. I would come home to our tiny apartment, and she’d be sitting there on the bed we shared, the only piece of furniture we owned, with a cup of tea waiting for me. We had the resources to move into a much bigger place, but we found comfort in knowing it was just us, a bed, a kitchen, and a bathroom. We didn’t need things, we had each other.
Most of the time when I came home Jenna would sit behind me playing with my hair while I laid my head in her lap. Sometimes we’d talk about what my mother or Dr. Connor had said and other times we’d just sit there in the silence.
But today Jenna was especially excited. She had good news and was waiting impatiently to tell me she’d met someone. “A beautiful boy” she called him. Someone she thought she could love. I pretended excitement at her news. She deserved a good guy, I told her, I’m sure he’s amazing.
She didn’t notice I was distraught, didn’t say anything about the weary look that my face had assumed. She just smiled at me and held my hand, told me that she wasn’t leaving me and that she loved me and our apartment and all the times we spent with each other. “No guy will ever replace you. Know that Talia. You mean something to me that nobody else can share.” I told her I knew, that I understood. Then I changed the subject altogether and asked if she wanted to do something that night. Apparently those were the perfect words because she got all giddy and hugged me, telling me we would plan our outfits after calling our friends to inform them of our plan for a night of debauchery.
She started falling apart.
…the sound of glass shattering as it hit the wall and Jenna screaming over everybody else, telling me she loved me and she was sorry…the feeling of running away, the coldness of the tile beneath my feet, then my shins, the backs of my thighs…my fingers grasping the sides of the toilet…my body heaving up the blood from my deadened insides…hearing the shuffle of feet outside the stall…bright lights overcoming me when someone opened the door…trying to push and kick it off…more screaming…the realization that it was my own…the feel of the needle as it forced its way into my skin…the liquid warm as it made contact with my muscles…
I’m a child again playing outside with the babysitter. She offers me a cookie and I feel ashamed to take it. She tells me she won’t tell anyone, but when my mother comes home, she knows. She tells me I can’t have dinner because I’ve spoiled my appetite. Later I will sneak against my closet’s wall, the one that connects to my parents’ room, and I will listen to my father and mother having an argument over what happened. She will tell him she doesn’t want to play the devil’s advocate anymore, and if he wants to punish me, he has to do it himself. He will reply something about them both agreeing that I need to lose weight and he will not be the only one enforcing it.
Then I’m older. Jenna is there talking to some guy, telling him to be patient with me. She doesn’t notice me, or at least I don’t think she does, because she is telling him my family and friends are tired of dealing with my destructive behavior too. I see myself become angry and hurl the glass in my hand in Jenna’s direction; when it hits the wall she will turn around and see I’m there.
I open my eyes to whiteness. I hear someone whispering beside me and it sounds like a prayer. I just can’t seem to hear the words. It becomes clear that an older lady is standing over me. I don’t know her, but she seems to be saying her soft words to me. She is just too far away for me to hear her. When I try to get closer to understand her, I realize I’m held down by leather restraints. The lady in the room looks at me like she has just realized I’m there. She seems scared, and then she is running out of my eyesight.
I must have closed my eyes again because the next thing I know a man in a white coat comes rushing in with the lady. He has a needle in his hand and before I can think to scream out in protest, he sticks me with it. As I feel my body giving itself to the contents of the syringe, I hear the lady say her soft words to me again. Then it all makes sense. This is all just a dream. A condolence. Shhh. Back to sleep. Everything’s going to be just fine. It’s all just a dream. And I’m hoping she’ll wake me when it’s over.