When she cries, you try to ignore her.
It’s hard. Granted, most people don’t like hearing young girls cry but you have no other choice: Nothing you can do will ever make her stop. She has been crying for as long as you can remember, determined to remind you of the things you did. Of course, you’re the cause for her crying, aren’t you? Who else would listen to a young girl cry until she was nothing more than the melody that allows you to sleep every night?
When her mother begs to see her, you have to tell her that she’s been gone a long time. Of course, you know that’s not true. She sits at the bottom of your bed each night, hands pressed against her eyes and a part of you is grateful. You know if you saw her bright hazel eyes, filled with confusion and hurt that only an innocent child’s eyes can hold, you’d break.
But when it comes to your mother, you have to lie. If you told her that truth about how the young girl hasn’t left your side, you know that her eyes would never leave your side. She would stare into your hazel eyes and pick you apart until you were nothing but fractured bones and the ashes of the love she once had for you. She’d bury her newfound hatred for you in the midst of your ribs and she’d cry about how you killed her baby. How could you do it? She was just a little girl.
Sometimes when you look in the mirror, it’s her staring back. Her eyes are empty, hollowed out by the theft of time, and you’re scared that yours look just the same. Has it all been for nothing? Are you just empty?
You lift your hand up to graze over the mirror and it isn’t until her hand, her small child hand, presses against yours that you break. Amongst all of the ashes of your mother’s love is guilt. All you wanted was your mother to hold you the same way she held her daughter once. But somewhere as you grew up, you blurred the line between being happy and loved until you found out that there was no combination of the two. And suddenly, you’re stuck in the same place you started: silently praying that you could will away the parts of you that were unlovable.
The mirror becomes a graveyard that holds everything you can’t bring yourself to say.
After a night of running away from your own fears with nothing more than alcohol and marijuana, you stumble back to the very mirror that you stood in front of all those years ago. As she stares back, you can’t quite separate yourself from her. Is that how it’s always been? Is that why your mother spits at you with disgust? Is it because every time she looks at you, she sees the skeleton of the child she’s convinced you murdered?
The scissors in your hands feel heavy, the same way they did all those years ago. It’s not just about your hair being too long —it’s about looking too much like her and not enough like you. Even a decade later, you’re still trying to escape her.
(You can’t outrun the past. It will always come back for you).
“God, I’m sorry.” Chunks of your hair lie in the sink and it’s shorter this time around but the same freeing feeling settles in your chest. It feels like cutting off the rope around your throat and taking control once again.
“She never loved me. I was never here.” Her voice is deeper than you remember. It’s strange to hear her once again; her voice was once the lullaby that would pull you down to your knees, praying to God neither of you believed in.
“She misses you.”
“She’s just scared of the truth.”
“It’s been—” Your fist collides with the mirror and it fractures beneath the pressure and her gaze is splintered between the pieces. She looks older now. Closer to your age but not quite there. But she doesn’t look like how you did back then. Was this who you were supposed to be? “Ten years. Ten fucking years and she still wants you.”
“Her love isn’t worth our happiness.”
“Our?” You try to fight the disbelief in your voice but it was never our. It was always her versus you. Never ‘our’.
“Do you really think I would still be alive if you didn’t show up?” As you lift your gaze up, she looks less like herself and more like you. The emptiness slowly drips out from between her eyes but it’s still there. You know it all too well: you wore that same confusion for years. It took so long for you to get to where you are now but she was where you started.
“Then why are you so determined to torture me?”
She shrugs and you know it’s not a question she can answer. You try not to hold it against her: you were the only person she had for years and you were the only one who was able to find her solace. She’s not intentionally trying to haunt you: she’s scared to let go. Letting go means letting go of everything she was meant to be. It meant letting go of everything she thought was her future.
“We eat cheese?” The ghost of her demons linger at the pit of your stomach and you feel the hollowness that was once your only friend. Her hands tremble as her fingers press against her lips, imagining the taste. A flash of regret crosses your face but you try to hide it. You don’t need to scare her with the consequences.
“Almost every day. Our fiancé mac n’ cheese and it’d be a crime not to eat it.” You try not to smile but even in the deepest, darkest moments like these, his love seeps through. On the nights you miss your mother, he tells you about his. His family has shifted just enough to make space for you, arms wide enough to welcome you when you need it. It’s not the same but it’s the thought—he tries to make you feel loved. He knows that your heart aches for one thing only and he tries so hard to fill it.
“He loves us?”
“So much. He talks about getting married every single day and he gets this stupid smile on his face whenever I call him my husband.” You wrap your arms around your body and it’s the closest thing you can get to hugging her.
“We have a future.” It’s matter-of-fact but both of them know it’s a surprise. Before you made space for yourself in her body, it was nothing more than a ticking time bomb. When you began to make yourself at home, you turned off the bomb. With the first confession of who you were, a future began to pave itself in front of you.
“Yeah.” Your voice cracks with the weight of the past’s suicide letter and you aren’t sure if the tears belong to you or to her. Your body feels cold and you shiver, despite the warmth of the summer’s air.
For the first time in a decade, it’s silent.
You’re not sure how long you sit there, curled into yourself. The world around you seems to slowly creep by, clocks carrying the world forward. Despite spending a decade trying to escape your past, you sit in it. You drag your nails along your arm the same way your mother did once and you press your hand against your cheek, stroking your cheek gently. It’s not the same as being held but it’s the closest you can get.
Your phone vibrates beside you and you ignore the part of it that hopes it’s an apology from your mother because it’ll never come. The smallest (child-like) part of you hopes but you know that it won’t. As you lift it up, the black screen shows you your face and for once, you’re no longer staring at the skeleton of a child you had believed you killed. You stare back at you: you, with a fiancé. You, with dreams of being a father and loving the child more than anything. You, with the future.
It never really was her versus you. It was being loved versus being happy.
(And despite it all, you still found both.)