I’m Still Here

    I stood in the second stall of the high school girls’ bathroom struggling to breathe. No-one knew I was hidden there; it was class time. Besides, here I was anonymous, surrounded by hundreds of other students who would go through life never having to direct a word to me. I was just another random village child in the endless crowd that filled the campus day in day out, five days a week.

    Although just in my second year, I had already been through four ‘best friends’. Writing poetry for them, combing their hair, helping them research and do homework. Nothing worked; everything put them off me eventually. I came across as a needy, dependent, desperate girl who was grateful for any attention I got. Homeroom was sectioned off into the students who scored top honors at their schools. Then there were the loudmouths who kept class interesting – but had an established rapport that didn’t need ruffling. There were the pretty girls, who didn’t lack for sycophants.

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    When I was in primary school, I was always with friends. I even had a teacher who always used to call me “Pretty, pretty Mary” in a sing-songy voice. He got married to my favorite teacher and went away. Everyone was always leaving, teachers only ever lasted a year it seemed. I learned to enjoy my teachers knowing they would eventually leave. My love for them was fierce, possessive – but I tried so hard to hide all that behind my smile.

    That day, as I squatted/half sat on the toilet, when I should have been in Chemistry class, I felt like the only girl in the world. Nothing specific triggered my sudden feeling of panic, but somehow, I knew enough to run out of the classroom. I felt my cheeks getting wet, and almost instantly, I had to sniffle as my nostrils clogged. I thought of all I wanted to have, of that feeling of emptiness that followed me everywhere.

    I couldn’t pin-point the time when I noticed the darkness that threatened to suffocate me every once in a while. At least twice a year, I would be engulfed in what felt like grief. I felt like any reading material that contained dark dreams or wicked thoughts – it was as though they spoke to me.

    There was a boy in class who would tell me how many hairs had sprouted overnight. Somehow, I never thought of his description of his genitalia - or his armpits, or his chest – as rude and inappropriate. Somehow, whatever he described, I kept comparing to theirs (‘theirs’ – I’m confused by this). This boy, he was beautiful, with a chipped tooth and lopsided grin. He made sure to sit right in front of me every class, the better to describe his maturity in detail. When his back was turned to me, I stared at the back of his head, seeing the crooked lines of his homemade haircut, the thinness of the fabric of his shirt, shiny with years of ironing. The grey of his pants were almost silvery – again, from the ironing. Unlike me, who got all new uniforms at the start of each school year, he obviously wore clothes as long as possible. I loved him with all my 12-year-old heart.

    Now, as I cried in the stall of the girls’ bathroom at Sacred Heart College, I thought of my ‘boy’ friend. I thought of the look of surprise in his face when I told him I got my period at 10. I thought of his slow easy smile when I said I knew what “it” looked like. He touched my hand. He hadn’t meant it like wanting to hold my hand. He simply brushed it, pulling away almost immediately, like I had burned him. I know he didn’t want to touch me. Like my mother had been drilling in my head, girls who “did it” before getting married would never find a good man to marry them.

    Fear constricted in my chest – I could hear my mother admonishing me. Rules, rules, rules - from every direction. I wanted to be gone. I wished I was small enough to flush myself down the drain. I knew my friend would not want anything to do with me. I was just one of those girls he would experiment on, then move on to someone better, someone “PURE”. I hated that word – church, teachers, aunts, mothers – everyone used that word. Well…I wasn’t pure. I was filthy, disgusting, worthless; I didn’t deserve a “good man” to marry and care for me.

    I finally gave up squatting and sat on the closed toilet lid.

    I was working up to anger – it seemed that each time the darkness came over me, I got a little angrier. I also wanted to be finished with it. I thought about the poison I’d heard someone from the village had drank. Pesticide – really nasty stuff that only made a hole in his stomach. I pulled the razor blade from my backpack and held it in my palm. Funnily enough, I wasn’t even trembling or nervous. I was calm, angry – but calm. I thought of the book where I had read about using the sharp razor to bring an end to it all. The woman had a tub full of bubbles. I had a shower that was open to anyone coming and going. I would get a toilet stall.

    The blade was sharp enough. I drew it over my left wrist, and the stinging pain shocked me so much I dropped it. I looked at my arm, and felt so stupid. It should be their wrists that were sliced. They knew better, so why did they do it to me? I used a bit of toilet paper to staunch the blood. The nick was an embarrassingly tiny slice – but I was grateful for its tininess. I had nothing to explain but an extra long bathroom break. Better yet, I decided to skip the rest of class.

    I headed home, grateful that nothing happened – and even though I had no girlfriend to confide in, I felt better than I had in a long time. My anger had subsided, but it was just below the surface, waiting to spring at an opportune time. I held it in check. I sat alone in the back of the vehicle that transported us daily to and from high school. Everyone around me was talking and laughing; I simply sat, watching the familiar landmarks come into view. Even the trees hardly changed. Inside, as I sat on the long wooden plank held in place by the many bodies that sat on it, I felt different.

    That weekend, he came to the house when Mom and Dad were at the milpa. The door was open, as it always is – even in some books. He went inside my room, lifted the covers and got into bed with me. I knew he was coming, and I was waiting. When he reached for me, I turned to face him, awake, angry, and alive. He was naked and erect, ready to violate me, his own niece. I yelled loudly, just below a scream, and thrashed and kicked and fussed – something I had never done in the 7 years it had been happening (first with his father, my very own grandfather, and then him, my uncle).

    He got out of the room quickly, grabbing his clothes and hurrying to put them on. I followed him shortly after, and in a low voice, I told him “never again.” He listened. And I carried on living.

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