When she was two she could recite poetry. They loved hearing her talk, proving her cleverness and making the other parents jealous. She didn’t remember any of the poems now, and she didn’t want to read them. As she got older they constantly reminded her of her wasted potential, and she knew she stopped being precious when they couldn’t use her to impress their friends.
When she was three they picked her up from her uncle’s village, and that was the last time she ever saw her father’s side of the family. She was covered in mud, her face dirty, and when she looked up and recognised them she started crying. No explanation for the abandonment, they thought she was too young to need any. She grabbed her father’s thumb with her tiny hand and walked away from those memories.
When she was four they moved to the city. Her parents wanted to be alone in their new home and enjoy their marriage, so they gave her to her grandparents. Passed along like a used toy, she made the most of it with the optimism only a child can possess. She grew close to the only man who ever loved her unconditionally. Her grandfather read her too many books of fallen heroes, and till this day she still believes there is good to be found in every soul if you search in the right places.
When she was five they uprooted her to a new country. No friends, a new language, and no smiling old man to teach her anything. Her parents worked too hard and her mother was always angry. They told her they were working hard because of her, and made her believe she had caused all this damage by existing. So she grew up with no hugs and no comfort, only books and television.
When she was six a teacher found her crying outside her classroom. It was two hours past home time and her parents had forgotten her. How do you forget a child? She had waited outside patiently, watching the other kids leave one by one, till she looked at her watch and finally realised they weren’t coming. She was always second best, never a priority.
When she was seven they decided she was old enough to walk to school without their company. It meant a little extra time for them to get ready for work and it was a safe neighbourhood. They told her more about the sacrifices they were making, and assured her with no conviction that she wasn’t being blamed for their choices.
When she was eight she noticed the other kids had lunch boxes and all she had was coins. There simply wasn’t enough time in the morning for them to prepare her anything, so they gave her money to buy her own at school. Sometimes she’d go hungry and save it for a rainy day, but she never ever complained. Two dollars was all it took to feed her.
When she was nine she stopped showing them the permission slips. She was used to filling in all the gaps herself and she was waiting for the day she’d be capable of forging their signature too. She still spoke with a lisp and the other kids made fun of her so she spent all her time in the library when the teachers weren’t looking.
When she was ten they flew her back to see her favourite person dying. She didn’t know he was dying, only that he was sick and everyone was crying. She stood there at the hospital and cried too because she didn’t understand what was happening. She was so afraid but no one was paying her any attention, and she was taught to be seen, not heard. She was just a child seeking comfort, but no one looked at her.
When she was eleven her grandmother moved in with them. She should have known then but she was young and hopelessly optimistic. During a family dinner she asked when granddad would be joining them, and all the adults looked away from the uncomfortable silence. Her cousin explained they didn’t want to upset her, but she knew the truth was they’d simply forgotten. She was so good at being invisible, agreeable, and unimportant.
When she was twelve she stuck a poster on her bedroom wall, because she’d seen on television that’s how other kids would decorate their own. She got the poster for free from school, and thought about how she could save up to get more. Her mother returned home livid, pulled off the tape and removed an inch of paint as she looked on in horror. That was the difference between a house and a home.
When she was thirteen she kissed her first boy. It was a school trip and the kids were playing truth and dare. No one would admit it, but every one was waiting to be dared to kiss the one they liked. She had no idea what it meant, only that everyone else seemed to enjoy it. One of the older girls told her to stick her tongue in his mouth and move it around, she stared at her like an idiot. When his lips touched hers she felt like a piece of her childhood had chipped away.
When she was fourteen a boy asked if he could touch her. She didn’t know what he meant but he was so polite she didn’t think to resist. He pushed her against a wall and his hands went up her shirt, his breathing grew short and heavy and she wondered why he was shaking. Her friends told her it meant he liked her, and she believed them.
When she was fifteen she had her first boyfriend. He held her hand and walked her home, telling her all sorts of stories. They broke up quickly and he wondered what he had done to make her run away every time she saw him at school, but she was just embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. A week later he asked out her friend, and she pretended not to be bothered when they held hands around her.
When she was sixteen she fell in love with a boy who loved her more. One day his mother came home early and they didn’t hear the garage door. His father called and told them she was crying downstairs because she hadn’t expected her son to grow up so soon. They stared at each other in panic and he told her to climb out the bathroom window and go home so he could deal with the problem on his own.
When she was seventeen they were still together and he told her he wanted to marry her one day. Live in a quaint suburban home and have three kids and a white picket fence. He didn’t know his mother had already spoken to her. He didn’t know she told her to leave him alone. He couldn’t have known how much it hurt her to hear those words. She left by kissing another boy and never told him the truth.
When she was eighteen she started cutting. She remembers the trigger but it wasn’t important. The lies had finally caught up with her, and when she’d filled in her arms she wanted more. She thought if she killed herself everything would be better, and even if they were worse, she wouldn’t be around to suffer anymore.
When she was nineteen she accepted an engagement ring from a man she barely knew. She took it off after he hit her but he wouldn’t leave her alone. She spent more time hiding from him than she spent together with him, and sometimes he shows up in her nightmares to remind her that love is just another excuse to hurt.
When she was twenty she celebrated her birthday alone. She didn’t think her friends really liked her and was too afraid of the excuses they’d invent so they wouldn’t have to come. She went to the Gateau house and purchased a cake and coffee, laughed at the shopkeeper who thought she must be bulimic, and savoured the bittersweet taste of remorse.
Last year she thought life would get better. She met a boy with golden hair who had a smile that made her feel safe. He kissed her too much and she loved him too deeply. His voice was magic and his hands had memorised every groove of her body. When he left her she promised the next time he saw her she wouldn’t be breathing. He cried liked she was already dead to him, and when his tears dried, she was.