“Will you tell me a story, now? I’m interested in you.” I saw that he was joking to cover a serious request, so I treated it seriously.
“What do you want to know?”
“There’s a million things I want to know. But if I have to pick, because we’re twins…”
“Mirrors. Oh, Jamie, don’t ask me how I got my scar.”
He looked downcast. And out of nowhere I thought, why not? I checked in with myself again. Something in me wanted to tell him this story.
I took a deep breath.
I could tell he was surprised, but he settled in like a kid for story time.
“I was nine. Actually, it was a week before my tenth birthday. I was sleeping on the floor in the kitchen at a bar where my dad was playing. I did that all the time. I’ve always been a really heavy sleeper.
I opened my eyes and this guy’s face was right in my face, and his hand…was somewhere it shouldn’t have been. I started to scream but he clamped his other hand over my mouth and tried to keep me quiet. I writhed and kicked like a fury, and he couldn’t hold me – he lost his grip and I spun away from him. I saw a kitchen knife on the counter and before he’d even stood up straight, I had it. I ran at him like a banshee, holding it over my head, screaming.”
“Oh my god, I wish I could have seen that!”
I gave him a dark look
“Sorry, but wow! What did he do?”
“He ran away, backwards, probably scared out of his wits. He stumbled, his arm hit the deep fryer and the hot grease flew. Or maybe he threw it at me – I’ve wondered about that. It was all so fast.
Anyway, that hurt like nothing I’ve ever felt, and then, everything went red and black and I didn’t remember anything else until I woke up in the hospital. No one wanted to tell me what happened after I got hurt. We were all content to let me stay ignorant. The doctor said it wasn’t uncommon, after a trauma, and that I might never remember. But now comes the secret part, Jamie, so pay attention.”
He sat enthralled. I looked away. Could I say this out loud? What words could do it justice? I turned back to him, and his chocolate eyes held mine like they were ready to hold me up. I sensed no morbid curiosity – I felt he really wanted to know me through this story.
“I actually started remembering even before I left the hospital. I didn’t tell anyone. No one knows I know. And I don’t even know who knows what happened and who doesn’t, or how much they know. No one ever talks to me about it. Like, ever. But I know what I did.”
“What did you do?”
“I’ve never told anyone this.”
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m telling you this story. I want to tell you. I’m just afraid.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Um…that you’ll get all weird, scared of me? That you’ll tell people, like I’m a freak show, and I won’t be able to play with this band?”
“You think I’ll tell people?”
“No. I’m just afraid you will. It’s not the same. It’s an irrational fear. Wait. No. It’s not. People suck, Jamie. People suck, and they let you down, and not one of us can be trusted in the end. Not one! So how can I trust you? I should be afraid.”
“Don’t be afraid, Christine.”
“Okay.” Like it was that simple. We laughed together and I knew, then, that if I could share this with anyone, it was him. We sat looking at each other. I didn’t speak. He seemed to sense that I needed a specific kind of invitation.
“I’ll keep your secret safe, Christine. Will you tell me what you did?”
This was not a boy asking. This was a fully-emerged young man who had learned compassion the hard way and was ready to hold space with me. I sucked in my breath, closed my eyes, and launched into a memory that I never willingly recall. I tried to keep my voice even, my tone matter-of-fact.
“I didn’t stop at all when I got burned. The adrenaline rush…I was stronger than any other human. I was an avenging angel. I felt like power. The pain became like a gift, a reserve for me draw on to make him hurt. It fuelled me. Do you know what I’m saying to you, Jamie?”
He didn’t hesitate in his response.
“You wanted to hurt him and you felt like you could.”
I nodded. We were clear.
“He had stumbled backwards – he was trying to get up. I landed on his chest with my full weight, so he was on the ground and I went at him – I sliced and stabbed at him with that big knife wherever I could hit. It must have only been a few seconds before people pulled me off, but there was blood everywhere. When he tried to protect his face, I slammed the knife right through that goddamn fucking hand.”
“Oh my god.” Jamie looked stricken. I wondered how frightening my face was. I felt my cheeks get hot. I had only said this aloud once before, and I didn’t mean to get so caught up. It was like I was the avenging angel all over again. I looked down at my hands.
“He was very alive when they carried me out, in case you’re wondering. He was…screaming, but strong. I didn’t kill him, you know.” I sounded defensive.
“Oh, Christine, no wonder you blanked it out. But if you didn’t tell anyone you remembered, you had to deal with that all alone? ” He sounded more sympathetic than afraid. I wanted to trust it.
“I didn’t really think about it that way. I didn’t want to tell anyone the whole story. I thought I’d exacted my punishment. I thought, maybe he won’t think little girls are ripe for the picking now. But I wonder sometimes, lately. Maybe he just figured I’m an exception and took it out on the next one. How can I know?”
“You could have him followed.”
“I don’t even know who he is. Just some guy in the kitchen at a bar. Was he the cook? A customer? A drifter? Maybe my mom knows, but I’m not asking her.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes.
“When I remembered, I didn’t feel ashamed, you know. Or scared, or traumatized. I felt strong, maybe a little proud. I thought about it, and I felt…satisfied. With the outcome. A satisfactory outcome for everyone.”
“Really? That’s all you feel about it?”
“No. Not now. But for a long time. Now…I don’t even know what I feel about it. It’s like it happened to someone else I saw in a film. But I have to watch out or she might get me, too. Oh, I don’t know why I said that.”
“Christine, if anyone understands what it’s like to be afraid of what’s inside you, it’s me.”
We sat quietly. I leaned back, then turned so that my head rested on his chest. He tucked me comfortably into the crook of his arm. I closed my eyes.
“You know, I hate that man. Not because of what he did, exactly, but because he took my life away. My mom wouldn’t let me go on the road after that. I only got to go to a few gigs here and there, when there would be a hotel and someone could watch me. But I ended up at my grandma’s most of the time. I had to go to school. I never got to see my dad, or my mom, really – she didn’t trust him on the road alone. That random freak took my family away from me, even before my dad got sick. I was already alone by the time they came home, and then…I didn’t feel like I knew him anymore.”
“You and me, we both got exiled.”
“Yeah.” I felt exhausted. My mind settled on a random revelation.
“We’re on the island of misfit toys, aren’t we, Jamie?”
“Maybe Santa will come this year.”