It happened a long, long time ago. But it is also happening this very minute, like time travel. And I cannot make it stop.
I am 8 years old.
I smell the bacon as I pull on my dress.
I hate this dress. It’s ugly and it leaves scratches on my side. But she likes it.
I go into the kitchen. She is angry. I must have done something wrong. But I’m afraid to say anything.
She makes us eat breakfast every morning. I am queasy in the mornings and I hate breakfast. But she is a good mother and we are lucky. She wasn’t so lucky. She won’t talk about her childhood. She says it makes her sad.
She turns the eggs in the skillet. One of the yolks breaks. She sets down three perfect eggs, one for her, one for my brother and one for my father. She gives me the broken one. Now I know I have done something wrong.
My father comes to the table. He is angry, too. He and my mother don’t look at each other.
My brother doesn’t notice that anything is wrong. She speaks tenderly to him. He is the best thing in her life. I am just there to help with the housework. I wish I knew what made the difference.
So I ask her. She stammers and I never really get an answer. It’s a question I will ask her again when I am older.
“I was always afraid that you would be smarter than me,” she will say. “But I realized that since I am older than you, I will always know more than you.”
She doesn’t love me because I am smart? What do I do about that? I thought I was supposed to be smart. They fuss at me when I don’t make all A’s, even though they are happy with my brother’s B’s and C’s.
I already know I am not pretty. She is always telling me how pretty my friends are. She tells them how nice they look and she laughs with them. I wish she would laugh with me like that. But I am a disappointment.
I think if I were not around my parents would be happy. My brother is their true child. I wonder if I was adopted. That would explain why they don’t like me.
Maybe I can smother myself. I crawl into bed and put a pillow over my face. But I can’t do it. The air feels so good when I breathe it in. I would hate to die by drowning.
My mother comes into the room. “What are you doing in bed? Get up. You’re burning up.” My hair is wet from sweat. She thinks I went to bed because I am lazy.
She tells me to fold the laundry. I don’t know why she gives me this chore. I never do it right and she always complains. I’d rather be outdoors with the other children. But after this she is going shopping and I have to go with her. Dad is watching the game on TV and I will bother him. My brother gets to stay home and play outside. I do not understand this.
I hate shopping. It is boring. The store smells bad. But she loves it. I walk between the racks of clothing. I like the way the fabric feels. If I squeeze myself into the middle of a bunch of dresses it feels like a hug. Someone tells me to stop and behave myself.
My head hurts and I am tired. I just want to go home. But I don’t even know where home is anymore.