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Shhh, shhh. I’m going to tell you my story, but not too loud, not too loud. Can’t let them hear; they won’t like that.
I’m a secret.
Don’t look like it right now; I got my fake face on. It molds to my skin and smiles at you with lips that speak of sweet, sweet escape; promises you your wildest dreams from eyes that dance with mischief. I’m a whispered conversation at the corner, an elusive glimpse in the shadows, and you stop, for just a moment, and stare; wonder how I can be so perfect. Your pulse quickens and your eyes widen and your lips part in question
—who is she?—
and it’s okay because it means you can’t tell. That it’s all fake; that I’m hiding underneath.
Hiding and safe.
I’m at the pier now, walking hand-in-hand with my love, the moonlit water at our right and the laughter of lovers in our ears. To him, I am a vision. I am his mystery, his fantasy, whispering the words he wants to hear and smiling the way he wants me to smile. I gaze up at him, and he is beautiful. Angel with a halo beautiful; breath caught, mind blank, heart fluttering in my chest kind of beautiful. He smiles at me, and it’s like his light
is streaming from him and into me – soothing me, basking me with its warmth – and everything is wonderful because I am his and he is mine.
Later, we go back to his place. We stand there, he and I, like two lovers in a movie scene, the moonlight filtering through the shades to paint white art on his skin. I slowly walk towards him, unable to tear my eyes away. He is the breath filling my lungs and the heart pounding in my chest.
I am nothing without him.
I worship him then, like a priestess before her god. I do anything and everything, desperately trying to show him that I am his
—please be mine—
that I need him
—need me. please, need me—
that I love him.
—love me. love me—
We’re lying in bed, after, when he turns to me. “So … I’m Jack, by the way.”
I light a cig, blow smoke at the ceiling. “Thought we weren’t doing names.”
“Yeah, well…” he shrugs. “Come on. I don’t know anything about you. Share something. I’m Jack, and you are…”
I spin on top of him, trying to force my mask into a seductive smolder, but it’s not responding right. It’s weak, trembling at the edges, and I let my hair fall around my face so he can’t see. “Here, honey. I’m here.”
He holds up a hand. “Your name. That’s all I’m asking.”
And just like that, it’s over. I spin off him, dress, grab my purse and head out the door, and he calls after me but I ignore him. It’s not like it matters; it’s not like he matters. There are plenty more where he came from, plenty more who will hold me close and smile at me for a little while and when that while’s over, there’ll be another and another and another. But even as I leave, close the door behind me, step into the moonlit street, my mind is still back there, and in my mind I’m standing over him and grabbing him by his face, my nails sinking into his skin and dripping blood – real blood because his face is real – and I’m shaking him while I cry and scream, Why? Why did you have to look underneath? Don’t you understand that there’s nothing there? Don’t you get that it’s all a mask, and underneath is just empty?!
But I don’t tell him any of that, because I can’t.
Because I’m a secret.
And secrets aren’t meant be told.
I head back then, to the cold place where the sun isn’t as bright and the shadows are darker; to the place that presses on me and weighs on me and crushes me.
To the place of the people who know my secret.
To the place I go when I have nowhere else to go.
I open the door, ease inside. I make it only a few steps before she hears me. “Hey!” She comes running out, smile beaming on her face – love streaming from that smile, basking me, warming me – and I know it’s fake, I know it’s all a trick, but oh man it looks so real and I want to believe that it’s real. “You’re back! How was your day?”
Glinda, I call her. The good witch. The one who always has the hugs and the warmth; the one who always knows what to say.
I look at her and tell myself to be strong, that this is just one of her tricks, but it’s so difficult. A thousand conversations flash in my mind, words she’s spoken to me over and over – “I love you, Jessica, no matter what” – and suddenly, in that moment, I want to believe.
I step forward. “Hey, Gli— Abbie,” I say, using her other name, the name she likes. Her mask name. “Sorry I’m late.”
“That’s okay.” She waves a dismissive hand and beckons. “Come. I made you dinner.”
I allow her to lead me to the kitchen. Close my eyes, breathe in deep. Smell the delicious scents. It smells like…
Warmth and light and love. Childhood. Happiness.
I begin to smile.
Then he steps into the room.
Oh, I have names for him. The dark one. The killer of light. Lucifer. Voldermort. Mostly, though, I call him Evil.
He smiles at me, too, but I can see the shadows at his lips; hear the venom dripping off his words. “Nice to see you, Jessica. Did you have a good day?”
It’s like a cold hand is clutching my heart, and I find myself stumbling back, grasping the cool tile of the wall. I can’t do this, I can’t, I can’t. But I glance at Glinda – Abbie, Jessica, her name is Abbie – and she’s still smiling at me, warm, inviting, and maybe, this once, I can.
I nod back at him, not trusting myself to speak, and walk to the table. Pick up a loaf of bread, lift it to my mouth. Turn around, a joke planted on my lips—
Glinda isn’t looking at me. She’s facing him, and she’s … she’s smiling – love streaming from that smile – but not at me.
All of a sudden, it’s too much. It’s all just too much.I scream – wordlessly, an anguished cry from deep inside – and throw the loaf at them. Reach behind me, throw and throw until the dinner’s on the floor and on the walls and on the ceiling. “I knew it!” I shriek. “I knew it was all a lie. You don’t love me, you never did. You’re embarrassed of me. You’re ashamed of me!” I see my next words coming and know they’re going to hurt but I say them anyway, because that’s what I want. I want them to hurt, just like they hurt me. “I’m glad you can’t have kids. People like you don’t deserve to have kids.”
I run past them, so fast they don’t have time to respond – but not so fast that I can’t hear her sobs – and thunder up the stairs. The mask is broken, it’s shattered into pieces all around me, and underneath it the emptiness reaches out and grabs the self-loathing and the self-disgust and sucks it in and grows and grows, and all I can think is that I knew it was all fake. How could it not be?
They’ve seen under the mask. They’ve seen the secret.
No one could love that.
“Jessica?” The call is quiet, the knock on my door tentative, but still it catches my attention. “Jessica? Are you there?”
It can’t be. I hurt her, hurt her terribly. I’d thrown off my mask and shown her the horrible, secret emptiness underneath. Why would she come back?
I wait, heart in my throat, barely daring to breathe. The shadows press close around me and the morning light through the windows seems to wither and die, and oh what have I done, I need her, I am nothing without her, she’s all that I have, and I’ve lost her…
The call, again. The shadows are flung back; the light streams into the room full-blast. I let out a laugh, a sob, run to the door, fumble with the handle – quickly, quickly – and pull it open. I catch a glimpse of her face – pale and streaked with tears – and then I’m in her arms and I’m holding her tight, never letting her go, never, ever letting her go.
“You do love me,” I whisper in her ear, inhaling the beautiful scent of her kindness; of her spirit; of her love.
She pushes me back a little, looks into my eyes. “Of course I love you. You’re my sister.”
“Ha!” I hug her again, briefly, tightly, and twirl back into my room. I raise my arms, close my eyes, let the sun caress my face. The day is beautiful and the birds are sweet, and everything is right with the world. I plop down onto my bed and grin at her. “We should do something. Like, maybe go shopping.”
She blinks. “Sh-shopping?”
“Yes!” I jump off, grab her hand, spin her around. “Like when we were teenagers! We’ll go to the mall and buy clothes we don’t need and eat food we shouldn’t eat, and then we’ll come home and do each other’s nails.” I run to my closet, grab my purse.
“O … Okay.” Her voice is hesitant from behind me. “Jessica, don’t you think we should talk?”
My smile turns brittle, for just a moment. Why is she doing this? Can’t she see my mask is off, that this is me? That for once, I’m letting the secret me out and it’s okay? For a moment the light retreats, and the shadows return. For a moment, I am cold.
Then I shake it off. “Later, Abbie,” I say, the lie rolling easy off my tongue. I turn back around, mask firmly in place, and pull my fake lips back into a smile. “First shopping.”
We come back later that afternoon, and maybe she has a mask of her own because we both talk like nothing happened. We talk of this, we talk of that, empty chitchat that doesn’t mean anything, and she’s in the kitchen doing the dishes and I’m in the study, looking for a pen, when my eyes catch on a small book I don’t recognize. Curious, I step closer, look down at the title…
The words slam into my eyes
—no no no no no no no no no—
angry, accusing, demanding
—don’t make me look, don’t make me look—
and even after I wrench my gaze away I can still see them
—please, don’t make me look underneath—
burned into my irises, painting the house in horrible, big-print letters.
…Borderline Personality Disorder…
“What. Is. THIS?!”
Glinda comes into the study. “Jess, what are you…?” She sees what’s in my hands and trails off. “Jessica…”
I throw the book at her; she ducks, narrowly avoiding it. “There is nothing wrong with me! It’s you. You, and that monster you married, and this dark house that you live in. You’re the messed up ones, so you try to pin it on me. How could you?” I’m sobbing, I’m screaming, and it’s not enough. There is no release, no words, no action that can express the pain deep inside. “Have I not suffered enough!”
I run past her, not caring what I knock over, and almost barrel into him. He’s standing in the doorway, his work bag still on his shoulder, a question in his eyes. “What is going—”
“This is your fault! You took her from me! You took her and made her into a monster!”
I run out.
I go everywhere after. I’m shaking, I’m crying, and I grab anything and anyone I can find, pulling them to me with both hands – one after the other after the other – desperately trying to bring the love back. Can you make me happy? Can you? Can you take the emptiness away?
None of them can.
Eventually – I don’t know when – I go back. I have to; it’s the place where I go. I ease the door open, slip inside. Pause in the hallway. Listen.
After a few moments, I hear them.
“…don’t know what to do anymore.” I’ve never heard such pain in my sister’s voice before, and it breaks my heart to hear it – and, even worse, to know it’s from me. “I can’t go on like this. She can’t go on like this. I don’t know how to fix this.”
And then his voice, and even I have to admit that it’s soft; comforting. “I don’t know if this can be fixed, love. Not by us, anyway. Only she can do that.”
“And until then … what? I’m just supposed to be OK with this … this thing that’s taken over my sister?”
I slump against the wall, hang my head. Squeeze my eyes shut. Quietly, alone in the dark, I take my mask off. There’s no one around, so there’s no one to see my secret.
It’s a while before he answers. “This thing, babe … she is your sister. Maybe not the one you remember. Maybe … maybe she’s someone new. But she’s still your flesh and blood, and you love her, and she loves you.” He sighs, and I hear the rustling of clothes – he’s holding her. “We can’t fix this, my love. All we can do is be there for her. And hope that it’s enough.”
It’s day now, and I’m walking through a park. Not really going anywhere, but I think that’s okay; it’s okay if, today, I don’t have a plan. And maybe you see me now; maybe you even wave, share a laugh. Wonder who I am. It doesn’t matter if you do. It isn’t real. That’s my mask, my fake body.
I’m a secret.
And sometimes, when I’m really brave, I share it.