What I Promised

In the bathroom mirror, I am blue eyes and dry skin, blonde hair and long face. When I pull my hair back, I tug until my head tilts right and then I am thinking, But I have good lips.

It’s times like these when alone in my bathroom and beneath the white-bright wattage, the white tiles on all four walls, speading lotion over my palms, when I hear Amber’s voice loud and lovely in my head. As I rub my hands over my face, over the creases beside my nose and nostrils, the tip of my chin, rubbing the white away down over my neck, I hear her as though she is behind me. She does not speak words, but it’s as though she hums, pitch and tone perfect. She’s louder when I close my eyes, when I rest my hands away from my face, on my hips. She gets louder until I open them, move away from my reflection, and switch off the light. It’s then that she disappears.

In the mirror I am nothing what people see. Blonde hair and small nose, full lips and big blue eyes, “Like Olympic pools,” Joe told me once when I was young, young enough for him to hold me up in the air by my underarms, my short legs kicking out. “If I look too long,” he said, “I want to dive right in, splash around.”

Oona told me one night, early in our relationship—this timing matters—“You’re out of a magazine, except for these clothes.” She pressed her forehead into my cheek, running her fingers on my stomach, over the thin cotton of my shirt. We were lying on her bed in her dorm room, her roommate’s laugh heard through the thin walls there, the one that had deserted us for the party next door. “Prettier than most women in those spreads, but you don’t know it, don’t even see it. I don’t know if that’s what attracts people to you or keeps them at a distance.”

I said, “Oh, come on.”

“Some mistake—I mistook—your ignorance on this for over-confidence.”

“You thought I was over confident?” This bothered me, sicced some nagging on the back of my brain.

She brought her leg up over mine, rested it over my knees, my lower thighs. “I thought you thought you were hot shit, but then I talked to you, found out what little I knew. It’s why you have so few friends, why you spend most of your time alone drawing. Why do you think only boys talk to you in class?”

“Not that many,” I say.

“But only boys. Girls don’t like competition and most are intimidated by beauty.”

I said, “This is fucked up.”

“You want more people in your life? Break your nose or get in a knife fight.”

“I don’t want more people in my life.”

Oona’s fingers up and brushing over my nipple, her lips wet on my neck, words muffled, “You just need a little damage.”

The accident with Amber left scars at high points on either side of my jawbone where pins had been placed to hold my broken jaw together, reinforcements to the wire around my teeth. In the hospital room, my mother held my chin on her fingertips, moved her head from side to side to keep mine still and perched in her hand. She said, “Jesus, baby, what did they do to your face?”

Oona sat that day in the far corner, next to the window with the heavy drapes drawn, next to the air conditioning unit beneath it that blew waves into the fabric, allowing sunshine to creep in and out to highlight only half of Oona’s face. She bounced my niece on her knee while my sister spoke to my brother in law and Joe in the hallway, Joe who went for a cup of water and told my mom he needed a breather after hearing what had happened, two separate fates for Amber and me. Oona sat and bounced, and when my eyes moved to Oona’s, she moved them from mine to stare down into the chestnut curls atop little Nina’s head, who sucked savagely at her hands.

In my bathroom mirror, with the white cream leaving behind a healthy shine, with new wrinkles at my eyes, and with the scars on either side of my face fading to only tight dark spots, I am nothing what others see. In my bathroom mirror, I see half of myself, a shell of a person. I am a damaged exterior, the sounds of Amber’s voice haunting my insides.

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