On Being Haunted by the Ghost of My 15-Year-Old Self
First, she is a trick of the light, eliminated with a simple double-take.
A white lie slips from my lips in a conversation without much thought-
“I don’t mind”
Just to keep the air clear, to smooth over anything that has the slightest chance of becoming hostile.
And I notice her—a human shape looming just within my peripheral vision, barely a person at all. I turn my head an inch further and she disappears. I make an easy excuse for her—stress, lack of sleep. I think nothing of her.
It’s a party where I’m laughing and drinking with people who make me feel like I can belong at a place like this. One of the boys starts to talk about women like new cars. They rate them—virtual test drives of people I’ve met, of friends of mine, of me.
And all the while I stay silent. It’s by chance that I see her, my eyes darting around the room for a new focus, but once I spot her she’s impossible to reason away. Eyes bright, hair mussed, opinion and outrage radiating from her, she stands fixed by the exit. I watch as she struggles to lift to her feet and run with no luck. She tries screaming, clutches desperately at her throat when no sound comes out.
Her eyes bulge at me, knuckles white on her neck. I recognize a plea when I see one. I greet the boys again with a nervous laugh.
Midnight has long since passed and I’m sharing breath with someone who has told me that they cannot love me. I feign understanding as they ask me to let the feeling go so that we can keep kissing in the cramped quarters of my bedroom. I think this is enough as they lean in, hoping that I am as convincing as I need to be.
But when I open my eyes to check, just in case, she is there, perched upon my desk. Her eyes are clouded, distant. And yet her lip quivers for me. I whisper, “I’m sorry,” to all of us.
I do not know where I am, only that it is dark and packed and loud and I think at some point I had not wanted to be there but now I am too dizzy, too wobbly, too sick to remember that.
Too sick. I am running to what I hope is a bathroom and heaving until I can’t breathe. I keep my head down for longer than I need to because I am afraid of what her face will look like when she sees me like this. Her back is to me; she is down on all fours cleaning up the mess.
I am examining a body in a full length mirror. I poke at the pockets of cellulite nestled in the middle, pinch the minimal curve of an ass, as if the swelling will help it grow.
I wonder if this is a new set of imperfect cells, or if I have lived blind in this skin for decades, because I never noticed the obviousness of the not enough. As I plan on how to become better quickly, the reflection changes.
She is grabbing at her stomach with aggressive disapproval, running red lines up the back of her legs with her nails as some form of punishment. And she is so, so young. We make direct eye contact in the mirror. We do not recognize each other.
It was morning when I woke up, but I greet the impending afternoon while still lying in bed—covers pulled up to my nose, eyes glued to the ceiling. There is a nervous knot keeping my spine in place, keeping me attached to the bedframe. I do not know who tied it, only that I cannot move.
But she moves restlessly around the room, ransacking my cupboards, pulling out every drawer. I am trying to muster up the strength to ask her what she is looking for when she finally stops. She has found a notebook, forgotten in the frenzy of other belongings, responsibilities. She leafs through the pages gently, so as not to damage what’s inside, before slowly sliding it to me across the floor.
I glance at it for a while, familiarizing myself with it. I recall the incomplete ideas inside, the work I deemed unfit to finish. I am filled with doubt, but something small and fierce within me wonders about the contents, if they are exactly as I remember them. Her eyes are big and begging. I recognize a plea when I see one.
I am just curious, I think, throwing the blankets aside to check. And from somewhere far away, she smiles.