6 minute read

Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, follow the links at the bottom of this page.

When we look in the mirror, do we see what we expect to see, what we want to see, or do we see something else? 

I recognized the girl reflected in the mirror like I had seen myself for the first time, catalyzing an epiphany altogether affirming and threatening, placing me upon the precipice of decision. A step forward would plunge me into the unknown, into an abyss of torment and isolation. A step back would return me to a status quo laden with strife and loneliness. Not much of a choice. 

All too often, we retreat from calls to adventure because we are accustomed to the turmoil of our lives, complacent if not content, adjusted if not fulfilled, sated if not nourished. We cling to the familiar even as we resent it, constructing a prison to protect ourselves from discomfort, and we grow to resent, even hate, what we could be – if only we had the courage to be authentic. 

The voice in my mind, “What are you going to do, now?” was not making an inquiry, rather, a threat, telling me I was unprepared for the next step, unable to grasp the consequences of becoming my true self: rejection, ridicule, damnation. No hope for joy. No chance for happiness. No path to forgiveness. Trapped in a vortex of shame, I spun with dread, churned with disgust, ready to vomit my dismay. I could not stay this way. I could not stay with Ginger; she was seductive and tempting… like a succubus luring me into the shadows of my psyche, to my own demolition. 

At first, I collapsed into myself, folding into a fetal position on Ginger’s murphy bed, an ache in my chest, tears streaming down my cheeks, and humiliation troubling my thoughts. Overwhelmed with self-loathing, I shook with revulsion. When I sat up, I grabbed the collar of the tank top, meaning to rip it from my body, but Ginger had anticipated my reaction, placing her hand over mine, whispering soft affirmations telling me I was beautiful, that I could be whoever I wanted, that I was loved. 

Paula Sophia
Paula Sophia (provided)

“Do you really love me?’ My voice trembled with desperation, wanting her to lie. And she did.

“Well, yes, I love… you?”

I lifted the frilly tank top over my head and threw it on the floor like a dirty rag soiled with sewage, and I ripped the bra from my chest, pads of toilet paper spilling to the floor. Ginger had reached out to hug me, but when she saw I had broken the hooks on her bra, her lips tightened, flat across her face, eyes launching darts.

I did not wait for her to say something. I stood up and braced my shoulders backward to flatten my budding breasts as much as possible, wiped the lipstick from my mouth, a smear of red on my right forearm. Ginger looked at me, obviously perplexed, shaking her head. I ran to the door, placed my hand on the doorknob, and hesitated.

“What are you going to do, now?” Ginger asked, echoing the voice in my mind.

I wanted to stay. I wanted to leave. I wanted… 

When tears began brimming my eyes, again, I subsumed them with anger this time, a taste of bile boiling from my gut, into my throat, and I spat at her. 

“You’re just a lowlife piece of trash,” I said, though feeling the truth of it in myself, externalizing self-hatred. Then, I left, barreling down the stairs, self-conscious about the makeup that remained on my face, around my eyes, looking down when I reached the ground. I grabbed the handlebar of my brother’s bicycle and dragged it toward the street. I mounted the bicycle and rode it home on a flat tire, fighting to keep balance, struggling to maintain direction, and the hot sun beat down upon my bare back. 

When I got back to the house on 8th Street, it was still there, and I felt like that was a miracle, but it no longer felt like home, just another house in the neighborhood. As I walked my brother’s bicycle to the garage, the gravel pinging beneath the wheels sounded like explosions. Too much noise! I felt like an intruder, and I did not want to attract attention. As I used my house key to open the back door, I felt like I was breaking into my own home, stepping inside, and closing the door with furtive silence. 

The kitchen still had spattered blood on the walls, bandage wrappings littering the floor, and there was a black skid mark from the ambulance gurney on the battered linoleum. Dad’s bent knife was beneath the bottom of the cupboards jutting a few inches above the floor. This told me nobody had been home while I was gone and that nobody had missed me, a lonely awareness. 

I ran upstairs to the bathroom and looked at my face in the mirror. Sweat had destroyed the eye makeup, and black streaks streamed down my cheeks. I looked like a sad clown, crying as I grabbed a washcloth, soaked it under water running from the faucet, and smeared it with soap. I scrubbed the makeup from my face, rubbing with intentional vigor, until my skin felt raw. Though I had succeeded in removing the makeup, my cheeks were still red, an angry blush that perpetuated a feminine blush. The light green washcloth had streaks of black on the fabric, too dark to easily explain when Mom did laundry, that is, if Mom was still alive. Instead of placing the washcloth in the laundry hamper, I threw it into the trash. 

When I got back to the kitchen, I rummaged through the refrigerator, found a cold bottle of Pepsi and two slices of baloney. I grabbed a bag of potato chips off the counter and wandered into the living, sitting down to eat my modest meal. 

“What are you going to do, now?” I said to myself, words echoing off the walls, mocking me. “What are you going to do?” This time, the voice of the succubus was gone, replaced by the voice of a child, but instead of bringing comfort, it made me more afraid. 

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Last Updated May 20, 2022, 5:42 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor