Too much fat on my wrists.
Too big of a stomach.
Be seen, not heard.
My face is too long, my hair too thin.
My eyes too squinty, my mouth too wide.
The words I tell myself, looking in the mirror mix with the ones I’ve heard for as long I can remember. I can see the memory as clear as the swollen crystals that always hang on my mother's neck at parties, usually accompanied by a glass of blood red wine.
I remember that I was wearing a white dress on the day that I first heard those words. It was the prettiest dress that I had seen, with a white satin sash. My little nails were painted light pink, not the neon green and orange that I had wanted. My hair was in little braids that itched and pulled at my scalp. I remember stealing “display grapes” from a cheese platter as the grown ups talked about mind nubbing topics like politics, the mayor and of course, what their significant other was doing wrong at any given moment.
As I reached for the last grape, my fingers fell short. I pushed up on my tippy toes, my little Mary Janes squelching against the floor. My chubby fingers mindlessly reached for that last morsel of food. As I swept my arm over the surface of the table, I made contact with a glass. It toppled over spilling rich, dark wine everywhere.
When it splashed across my face and my chest, I stood still, frozen, but as the wine glass tumbled down, I cringed and pulled back, waiting for the crash.
It’s beautiful. The delicate clear crystal falling beside the dark wine. As it made contact with the wood floor, it made a chiming noise, breaking into hundreds of fragments.
The grown ups had turned, finally interrupted from their deep conversing and the look on my mother's face was nothing short of murderous.
She had avoided the mess, choosing to walk around it to get to me. When she got there, she grabbed my arm, her eggplant colored nails digging into my skin.
“Elodie, what the hell were you thinking?” she hissed, once her friends out of earshot, so that they couldn’t hear her breaking her character of composure, posture and perfection into one of petty annoyance and terrifying and red hot burning anger.
She led up a staircase, pulling me along after her, her anger so clear and strong, I could almost feel the heat radiating from her skin.
She pulled me forward, thrusting me into the overwhelming pink of my room. Shutting the door quietly, behind her, her silence filled up the room, louder and more terrifying than any amount of yelling. She twisted around, walking up to me. She reached out her arm, and for a fleeting second I thought that she would hug me. Pull me close to her and stroke my hair, like she used to. But instead she quickly struck me across the face.
My eyes watered and my mouth dropped open, my hand retreating to my face to comfort it.
“You are an embarrassment to this family. At my parties you are meant to sit still, be seen not heard, and most of all, be perfect,” she said curtly.
She smoothes her already smooth hair and walks out, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Over the next few years, her expectations changed and grew, swallowing me whole, like a hungry beast.
First it was to be seen not heard, a small accessory to cart along to parties. A little doll for all the aunties and friends to pinch, pet and coo over.
Then I needed friends, preferably an adoring and equally perfect gaggle of teenage girls.
But that gaggle never came and I stayed alone at lunch, preferring to scarf down my food quickly and sneaking out to the skatepark near school instead of talking about topics that bored me with other people.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an introvert, nor do I dislike talking with people, I just don’t enjoy talking with fifteen copies of the exact same person or discussing what teenage girls are supposed to talk about. I’d rather skate until my knees were rubbed raw and my elbows couldn’t take any more hits.
At the skatepark, I could escape from my head, focusing instead up the fluid motion of the skateboard underneath me. When I was there, no one expected me to be anyone or do anything. I was just merely Elodie.
The constant flow of people moving in and out of our town brought the opportunity to make new friends, but they didn’t seem interested in me and I chose not to put in the effort of talking to them. Usually they were just the same as all the other girls, giggling and gossiping their way through their life. There were the occasional interesting characters, like Khloe Armstrong, the half emo, half punk rock girl who never was without her headphones, Will Grace, the clarinet playing class clown, Amanda Maple, who had rainbow dyed hair and a strut to rival a peacock, and Adriana “Dri” Elbasy
I knew that Dri was different with just one look. Her bright purple dreadlocks stood out and her giant Doc Martens caused lots of whispering. By lunchtime, half the school had made up their minds about her, and the other half was too braindead to form a cohesive thought about someone.
When I did my daily ritual of scarfing down my school lunch (which mainly consisted of cardboard tasting pizza) and sneaking out to the skatepark. When I did, Dri was there, her long legs dangling off the top of the half pipe. She had a lunch tray that housed a pizza and chocolate milk that matched her creamy chocolate complexion sitting beside her and was too engrossed in the bright green apple that she was eating to notice me.
She looked up and nodded at me. I raised my hand to wave, but she was already back to eating her apple. When she finished, she studied me.
“I’m Elodie,” I offered, feeling self conscious.
“Dri,” her voice was lower than I expected, but had a melodic ring to it, like wind chimes.
“Do you skateboard?” I asked.
“Nah,” she deadpanned, “I just like sitting alone on half pipes.”
My head bobbed up and down and I cleared my throat awkwardly.
She burst out laughing, “You should’ve seen your face.”
“I was kidding,” she grinned, “But yeah, I skate. I rollerblade sometimes too.”
“Cool,” I say, my voice squeaking.
“What about you?” she asks, her head tilting slightly.
“Show me what you got,” she says, gesturing toward the half pipe that she’s sprawled across.
And so I did.
As I snap back to the present, Dri’s words drown out mine and my mother’s.
You got this.
Nothings wrong with you.
Your family’s toxic, not you.
I grip the sink, my knuckles white with fear. I take a deep shuddering breath and close my eyes, counting to three.
As I straighten up, I unlock the bathroom door, stepping outside.
My mom’s fixing tea at her kitchen island and tightly smiles when she sees me exit the bathroom.
I sit down and take another deep breath.
“I need to talk to you,” I say, as calmly as possible.
“About what?” she says, sitting down.
“I’ll never live up to your expectations and it’s causing me too much stress to try. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had to follow your rules, play your game and do what you want. I’ve always felt powerless.”
“I… Elodie...I…” she stammers.
“You don’t have to say anything, I just needed to get that all off my chest before I leave for college.”
Her hands twist in her lap, sweat dripping onto her skirt, “Elodie, I... I just…”
She takes a deep, shuddering breath, “When I was younger, my family were the outcasts. My mom, pregnant at seventeen with twins was mocked, called a whore. Aunt Lydia and I were constantly ridiculed for our family, for our cheap clothes, which were usually fished out of a half off bin at TJ Maxx, for our looks and our lack of friends.”
She gulps, “I guess that I just wanted the life that I never had.”
She looks up at me, “I’m sorry Elodie.”
“I’ll never forget what you’ve done, and I no longer want you to be a part of my life,” I say, watching her face fall.
‘But, I do forgive you. Not for you, though I do pity you. But for me. After we part ways, I don’t want to have anything pressing on my conscience, I don’t want anything left unsaid. That’s why I forgive you.“
I turn, and walk across the kitchen to the foyer. I open the door, blinking back tears.
Dri stands on the doorstep, waiting for me with her arms outstretched and a suitcase right behind her. I collapse into her hug, crying softly.
She pulls back and extends her hand.
I take it.