Tonight, I am afraid of myself. I am afraid I’m not strong enough to fight what’s coming. What has come for the past six years on All Hallows’ Eve.
Dusk falls. My skin has gone slick and pale; nausea stalks me. At twenty-five I’ve learned no one wants to see me like this, so I am alone. The metamorphosis has become a private ritual. Pain should be private, shouldn’t it?
I push the tip of a Virginia Slim into the candle flame. The smoke slides down my throat. The room spins. I don’t smoke. Except for this night when I begin to be less of myself and more of someone else.
Dip, wipe, stroke. Painting my toe nails with a thick layer of Eggplant Frost has become part of the ritual, the unbecoming of me. Also the dark rum. Any other time of the year, I wouldn’t touch the stuff.
Time strikes. It is nine p.m. My tiny, cold apartment smells like a brothel. I light another candle.
Walking on my heels so I don’t disturb my toes, I carry my digital camera into the bathroom. One last drag on the Virginia Slim and I toss it into the toilet bowl to sizzle out.
I’d like to hear some jazz.
“I don’t like jazz.” I watch my hips sway in the mirror to some big band swing humming in my head.
I know it’s best to just keep going, so I twist the stick of mulberry lipstick from its gold case, lean into the mirror awkwardly and apply. Smooth as velvet, bitter taste. I let my eyes meet their reflection in the mirror. This is always the startling part. I do not recognize the flecks of gold, the swimming sadness. “Gotcha,” I say. These parts recede quickly and I am there once again; grey orbs, ringed in dark blue with a strange mulberry mouth.
I lift the camera as the music becomes more insistent. Thinking becomes movement in mud. I have lost time. There’s the cigarette floating in the toilet bowl. Click. My eggplant toes against cracked floor tile. Click.
Why must you do that?
“It’s what I do.” My voice is raw, husky from the late hour, the rum, the smoke. But I still recognize it as my own. Not the one I am answering, though. This one is foreign to me. A long line of mental health professionals have assured me I’m not schizophrenic. I’m just stressed, anxious. Apparently only on Halloween.
“Oh no.” It’s coming. The part I hate. I feel T.S. Eliot’s hollow rumble of wings. Darkness descending, a crushing weight. It is swelling, seething hopelessness. I fall back against the towel rack and slide down the wall. Lift the camera. Point it down. Click.
I’ve blown out my face with the flash, erased all the freckles, the etchings. I feel invisible and it is soothing.
Set me free.
“I don’t know how!”
Sobbing echoes off the thin plaster walls, reverberates in the shower. My vocal chords. Her pain. I scratch and claw at my neck, my chest. Long, streaks of blood pool at the surface. I have hidden the sharp objects but now I realize I could tear myself apart with my bare hands. Just to escape. “Please,” I whimper, out of breath. “Leave me alone.”
A sudden stillness within my head startles me. And then, she whispers:
Okay. I will show you. Watch.
A movie begins to play. She is dragging out my memories, sliding them into the cue.
I am in graduate school. Photojournalist is what I want to call myself. Dreams, goals, hope. These things fill my thoughts like cotton candy. I am practicing with my new camera, dressed as a Hippie, snapping shots of trick-or-treaters in New York. I have wandered off from my group of friends, toward the park. There is an angel there on the bench, moonlight shining through transparent wings, sparkly silver halo glowing over a bowed head. The breeze is lifting the edges of her blond hair. I snap some shots from behind. The bench, the wings, the full moon. Click. Click. Gorgeous shots. I still remember being pleased with them.
And then I sit up. “Oh,” I pull myself up to the mirror. “Was that you?” My eyes are full on brown and gold now. Her eyes. My head nods in answer. I rush from the bathroom, tripping over things in the darkness. I pull out box after box from the bedroom closet to find the ones from college. Tear the right one open. Black film canisters spill out, falling around me. I find the one labeled 10/31. The familiar smell of film fills my nose as I pull out the amber negatives and hold them uncoiling like a flattened snake. I hold them up to the bare closet light bulb and see her. Six shots. Slightly different angles.
Set me free.
I carry the film back to the bathroom, put it in the sink and throw a lit match on it. The fire eats a hole in the emulsion and the hole spreads slowly. I lift my head back to the mirror. She is watching me. Crying with my eyes.
“How? Please tell me, before you go…how did I do this to you?”
I can feel her slipping from me. The darkness lifting.
“Suicide?” And then I get it.
(photo credit: Nevit Dilmen)