Behind the Mirror





And that was just the left hand.

          I don't understand.  I never understood.  I probably never will.  She had everything.  I had nothing.  And yet it was her and not me in the end.  It's my fault.  That's obvious, though I can't see how.  It's just my fault.  My fault for knowing too much, for thinking too much.  For being too afraid to speak up.  My fault for having so little to live for that I couldn't be bothered to end it.  She would have seen.  She would have understood.  But it's too late now.

          I'm nobody.  I've always known that.  I keep my head down and my nose to the grindstone, and that works for me.  Not so everyone else.  Bright colours, loud voices, no work is their style.  They're speakers.  I'm a thinker.  When I do speak, my voice is hushed to a whisper.  I don't like the sound of my voice.  But because of that, no one bothers to listen.  They leave me shut inside my head with my thoughts.  I think deeply.  Every thought is like a wound.  If you don't leave a cut open to the air, it scars and doesn't heal.  I keep my thoughts closed inside my head, and they have scarred.  Perhaps that's why I started trying to hurt myself.

          I was in a difficult situation.  I don't really remember what, except that it was something to do with my schoolwork, and I couldn't tell whether the teachers liked me or hated me, whether they were pleased with me or disappointed with me.  I was so confused.  I can't cope with confusion.  I couldn't cope then, so I turned that confusion into hate.  But I can't seem to hate anyone else, no matter what they do to me, so I turned my feelings inwards, and concentrated on hating myself.  It worked, I suppose.  I wasn't confused anymore, but I hated myself so much I wanted to die.  I wanted to be in so much pain that I could forget about being me.  Not having anything else to work with at the time, I used my own nails to scratch at the back of my left hand.  I kept on tearing at the skin all afternoon, until my hand was swollen and red and it hurt even to look at it.  I didn't manage to draw blood, but my nails aren't all that impressive.  All things considering, I did a pretty good job.

          I'd already known her for a couple of years before that.  She was another musician, which explains everything.  And she was good.  Two instruments, both to a phenomenal standard.  She made me feel even more insignificant.  But I'm not one to bear a grudge against someone just because they're better at something than me.  Instead I liked and respected her.  She was worth respecting.  Clever, a good musician, beautiful, and she had a lovely personality and an excellent sense of humour as well.  Yes, she did have everything.  I won't say we were friends, because we moved in different circles.  But to me, she was one of those few people worth the respect that should go with friendship.

          I saw her at orchestra, twice a week.  In fact, I sat directly behind her.  It made me feel very important at the time.  I'd watch her instead of watching the music, trying to copy her fingerings and bowings exactly, and invariably we'd end up out of time, or bowing in opposite directions, or something like that, and then the entire violin section would crack up laughing, while we got the pencils out and marked up the music.  I let her make all the decisions.  She knew what she was doing better than I did.  She was the leader.  But it was a partnership that worked.  I tried to model my playing on hers; the way she sat, the way she held the bow, the way she held her hand and arm.  I watched her arm in particular.  It was so slender, so beautiful, and she held it with such poise and control.  And it was watching her play that I first saw what I had previously ignored.

          It was the orchestra's last rehearsal before last year's concert, on a very hot summer day.  We had opened all the windows, and it still hadn't made much difference, so about midway through the rehearsal everyone started stripping off layers.  Stuck in my uniform, I had to swelter in my long-sleeved blouse, but the older girls were all wearing t-shirts or sleeveless tops, generally exposing as much of themselves as was decently possible.  I was sitting in my usual place, outside second desk, behind her, and she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt for the first time since I had known her.  And so I could see, for the first time in a year, the bare skin of her arm.  And I could see, for the first time at all, that it had long, thin scars running across it horizontally, from the wrist right down to the elbow.

          I was a year younger then, and I didn't know what to make of it.  I assumed that she had a vicious cat or something, and left it at that.  I didn't even try to guess at the truth.  I would never have got it right anyway.

          A year later, and I had my own scars to deal with.  They were not pretty.  It was a cold winter, and whenever the temperature dropped the marks on the back of my hand went purple.  And I forgot about the scars I had seen on her arm, as though I had never seen them.  Orchestra met twice a week, and I resumed my normal seat behind her.  And then the concert started to loom up ahead.  The choir rehearsed, the orchestra rehearsed, we put together a new orchestra to accompany the choir, and the pace generally cranked itself up a few notches.  My schoolwork went out the window, but I didn't care.  The weeks before the winter concert were one massive adrenaline rush, and nothing else mattered.  A few days before the performance there was a bit of a showdown in class about my homework, but I distracted myself by scratching at my hand again, and it didn't seem to matter so much.

          The night of the concert finally came.  It was hot inside the hall, so we rolled up our sleeves and loosened our collars.  The atmosphere was alive with warmth, happiness and excitement.  I was part of a group; no one need ever notice me, yet I had my part to play.  I liked it that way.  From where I was sitting, I saw her scars again, but I ignored them.  She was playing.  I was playing.  Nothing else was important.

          We played and played right up until the interval.  Then, talking and laughing, we went to lay our instruments down for a while.  Most people went down to the lower hall for a drink, but I stayed to talk to a friend.  Predictably, she asked what I had done to my hand.  Hesitating, slightly ashamed, I told her.  She did nothing but smile.  That smile was so strange.  It was humourless, yet it was as though I had told her a joke.  Then she pulled up her sleeve.

          I stared in horror at the scarred, torn, mutilated hand she showed me.  Damaged beyond repair.  Damage she had inflicted with her own nails.  And she kept smiling.  And when she mentioned the scars I had noticed on the arm I admired so much, I realised.  Realised for the first time what they were.  Those long, thin scars, running right over the vein.

          I was afraid.  I had no choice but to believe what I had been told.  And helplessness made me stupid.  I knew her well enough.  I could say something.  I could use my own hand as an opening.  I could tell her there were people who cared, people who would help her.  But I had gone too long without talking, without being able to say what I really felt.  I couldn't find the words, and I couldn't find the courage to use the words I had.  And somehow, I knew it was over for both of us.

          I don't know how I managed to keep myself from going mad.  I told myself I would say something.  I rehearsed my speech carefully.  I kept telling myself I would use it tomorrow.  But tomorrow never really comes.  I hated myself for being a coward.  But I didn't know how to be brave.

          I said nothing.  I helped no one, and hurt more than just myself.  Because, three weeks after the concert, it was all over.  One day she was there, the next she was gone.  It was too quick.  The speech I had been preparing went to waste.  And I knew as I cried that night, that it was all my fault.  My fault for knowing everything and doing nothing.  They said it was suicide.  But I killed her.  There is no other way to explain it.  Scarred for a year.  As soon as I know the truth, she's gone.

          I never asked her why.