Melissa, sitting on the windowsill of her bedroom, stared apathetically out at the scene unfolding in front of her house. Her shoulders hunched, she hugged her knees to her chest, resting her chin on her knee caps. Her long, thick black hair hung in lank, greasy strands, covering her sunken, shadowed blue eyes. She didn't bother to brush it away. Melissa felt too sluggish, too slow, to move. Her thin body hunched in a protective manner, she merely gazed out the window.

She watched silently as Caitlin, her five year old daughter, climbed into the car of her ex husband Ryan, soon to go and live with him. Billy had not yet told her that Caitlin was going to go and live with Ryan, but Melissa knew without being told. If Caitlin was lucky, it would be permanently. For Caitlin was indeed lucky to get away from her, Melisa knew. She only wished she had gotten away from her own mother at such a young age. If she had, maybe she wouldn't have turned out just like her...

***************

Five year old Melissa stood timidly in the doorway of the living room of the seedy apartment she and her mother shared. Her mother had company over again, another man who her mommy would drink with, then go into Mommy's room and close the door- if Melissa was lucky. Tonight, they weren't in Mommy's room, they were on the couch. Mommy had her shirt off and was arching against the man, making awful groaning sounds that scared Melissa no matter how many times she heard them. The man stuck his tongue in her mouth as Melissa watched, disgusted and frightened.

Melissa had come to ask her mommy something, but she was afraid to now. Her mommy had been drinking, and she had a man over. Melissa knew better than to bother her. If she did, she would be deeply sorry later.

Melissa stared for a few minutes , floundering. She just wanted to tell her mommy there was no toilet paper and ask her where it was. But she knew even a simple question like that would send her mother into a rage- not only for interrupting her, but for watching what she did with the man. Thinking about it made Melissa's decision for her.

I'll just wait until the morning, she decided. I Can hold it until then.

Makng her way as quietly as she could down the hall back to her room, she climbed into bed and went back to sleep.

She was awakened rudely the next mornng by brutal shaking.

" Get up! Get your a## out of bed!" shouted her mother, shaking the sleeping child viciously. Melissa's eyes flew open, and she cried out in fear. Her mother looked wild, frenzied, and the stink of alcohol on her breath made her cringe.

" Look at this! Look what you've done!" she bellowed, slapping her across the face. Melissa cried out, shocked, afraid of the look on her mother's face. Her mother stripped the blankets off of her. Yanking Melissa up by the collar of her nightgown, she pointed harshly at the yellow stain on the sheets. Melissa almsot choked, dismayed. Oh no! She had wet the bed! She was in for it now.

Her mother grabbed her by the hair. As Melissa yelped n pain, she shoved her face into the wet sheets, rubbing her against it.

" Lick it!" she screamed. " Lick it up! All of it! All of it!"

Melissa cried and screamed, unable to control herself. THis only enfuriated her mother. Seizing the hairbrush on the night table, she began to whack her on her head, face, arms, and back, getting a sadistic pleasure out of hearing her screams. Finally she wore herself out of her frenzy and dropped hte brush, breathing hard.

" Shut up," she ordered. " Stop whining."

Sobbing, her small shoulders heaving, Melissa painfully gulped back her cries, swallowing them. It had been hard for her to do when she was younger, but through repeated episodes like this, she had trained herself to do so.

Without a backward glance, her mother released her and stumbled to the door, almost falling in her drunken stupor. Melissa was left lying in a puddle of her own pee, trying desperately to keep her tears inside. But she couldn't bottle up her pain...

Scenes like this repeated throughout Melissa's childhood, until one day when she was 17 years old. On that day, Melissa had left her mother, never to return. She had moved in with Ryan, who was then 19 and her boyfriend of the time. Two years later they were married. Melissa's mother was not invited. Four years later, their daughter Caitlin was born. Caitlin was beautiful, with Ryan's brown hair and Melissa's blue eyes. Caitlin's birth was most inconvenient, for around teh time of Melissa's pregnancy, Melissa and Ryan had been fighting with each other almost constantly. they had always fought more than the average couple, but now their arguing so increased that they both thought of divorce almost daily.1

Ryan and Melissa had stayed together until Melissa was 13 months old, but they knew it wasn't working. There were no harsh feelings about their divorce: It was a mutual split. Their relationship could best be described as cool.2

Melissa and Caitlin got the house after the divorce. Melissa soon found out that being a single mother was hard, very hard indeed. She struggled to support herself and Caitlin, even with Ryan's monthly child support check. Soon she had to find a job, one that would give her somewhere to put Caitlin during the day, for Melissa had no one to leave her with.3

Melissa's dilemma was solved when she found a job as an aid at a day care. 4

It was at teh daycare where Melissa met Mike. Mike, a friendly, older man a year or so older than Melissa, was also an aid there, though he had no children. Such a man seemed an odd choice for Melissa to be friends with for reserved, touchy-feely Melissa, but they clicked almost instantly. Through her friendship with Mike, Melissa met Billy, his brother, and they too clicked. Melissa was drawn to him in a different way than with Mike, though. She and Billy began to date a few months later. Now they had been together for 3 adn a half years, and Billy had mentioned marriage a few times. He loved Caitlin as if she were his own daughter. Melissa knew he would be a good husband and father. She had every reason to be happy with her life.5

But she wasn't. In fact, Melissa had never been less happy, even during her abusive childhood. 6

Melissa's unhappiness had always been with her, but she had always managed to supress it, to mask it, to bottle it up inside her as she had done as a child. But around 5 or 6 months ago, Melissa was no longer able to hide her pain. Her sadness quickly escalated into depression, one she could not shake.7

Maybe the depression was triggered by Melissa's realization that every day she was looking more and more like her mother. If this was not the cause, it at least was a large factor. Whatever teh reason, it was around this time Melissa saw just how much she looked like her mother that she became depressed.8

It hadn't been something she had conciously noticed. Rather it had been a gradual process, one Melissa was unaware of until the day she went to the bathroom and saw her mother's face staring back at her in the mirror.9

Melissa had screamed, shocked. There were her mother's pale blue eyes, her thick black hair, her high cheekbones. There were her mother's small lips. Why, they even had the same figure!10

For a horrifying moment Melissa had thought her mother was standing behind her in the bathroom and had whirled around quickly. Nothing was there, of course. Melissa was alone. She had turned to look at her image agian. Now she could see that it was not her mother's face; it was her own. But boy did she look like her! How could she not have noticed before? They could practically be twins!11

Melissa touched her face desperately, trying to find one feature that was not also her mother's. She could find nothing. The only thing about her that did not resemble her mother was the absense of mean, drunken eyes her mother had always had.12

Well thank heavens for small favors, Melissa thought wildly, still reeling from her shock. Why? And how? Why, after striving all her life to not end up like her mother, did she have to look like her twin? The irony- and genetics- was cruel. How could two things who looked so alike be so different?13

Because you ARE alike, Melissa, a little voice in her head replied. You and your mother are no different. You are just as awful as she was.14

Melissa had tried to shove the thought out of her head.15

Stop it, she ordered herself. You are not like mom. You are not!16

But the horrible thoughts persisted.17

Why keep denying it, Melissa? Why pretend? Face it, you look just like her, and you are just like her. You're a loser, you're a slut. Just like her.18

" I am not," Melissa whispered, tears stinging her eyes. " I am not!"19

The voice in her head disagreed, however.20

You're a slut, it said. You live with a man you're not married to. You're not different than your mother no matter what excuses you make. Your own daughter hates you. She despises you, just like you despised your mother.21

" Caitie doesn't hate me," Melissa whispered, her voice husky with tears.22

Her own thoughts were making her cry. What did that say about her?23

She had so little control over herself that she could unintentionally make herself cry?24

It says you're weak. It says you've no self control. Just... like... your... mother.25

With a sharp cry, Melissa had turned away, looking away from her reflection. She fled the room, hoping if she couldn't see herself, the thougths would leave. And they did... but not for long.26

Melissa was attacked by the same vicious thoughts again the next time she looked in the mirror. Again, she barely managed to fight them off. It happened again and again, so that Melissa dreaded looking in mirrors. She hated her looks, though she was a pretty woman. Eventually there came a point when Melissa didn't only hear the voice when looking into a mirror but all the time, at any given moment. She could no longer ignore it or turn it off. The more she heard it, the more she began to accept what it said as true, until not just part, but all of Melissa, believed she was worthless, a loser, just like her mother.1

Melissa began to withdraw from everyone adn everything, even Billy and Caitlin. They couldn't love such an awful person, adn through her depression, it was hard to show that she loved them. She could not respond to Caitlin's pitiful attempts to attract her attention, to Billy's pleading for her to tell him what was wrong. She had no answer to that question except that she did not deserve to be happy.2

Melissa cried often now, though only when alone. She began to cut herself, using a sharp razor to dull her inner pain. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. She showed no one her scars, covering her arms always. She wasn't lying when she said she was cold, for she had also lost weight. 3

Billy and Mike were concerned, but neither knew about her cutting. Not until this afternoon, that is...4

*************************************************************5

Melissa hunched over, perched on the bathtub. Wrapping her arms around herself,she wept silently, her face a mask of pain. She rocked with the force of her cries.6

She had kept herself tightly shut down until now, not daring to let out her emotions. Here,though, locked securely into their small bathroom, she let go, and cried, shaking from head to toe.7

She felt so weak,so helpless, so wicked... she wanted to curl up so tightly that she eventually folded up inside herself, so small she no longer existed. 8

Throught the blur of tears, Melissa's eyes fell on the razor lying on the bathtub's ledge. Her hand trembling like an alcoholic reaching for their belloved bottle, she grasped it in her hand. She had to dissociate herself from the pain, had to numb herself, this was the only way she knew how to.9

Melissa rolled up the sleeve of her left arm, searching for a place not already scarred, red and puiffy from abuse. There hardly any. in particular one stood out, the words NOT HER written carved into her thin arm. Melissa remembered the relief she had felt while making those words- she had felt for a while that she was not like her, not like her mother at all. These words proved it, they announced it to anyone who saw them. Melissa had been satisfied for a while. But it had not lasted long.10

Finding an unmarked area on her other arm, Melissa steadied her grip, then brought the razor to her skin, dragging it ruthlessly. She didn't cry out or wince; she only felt a rush of calm.11

Suddenly a knock on the door shattered her fragile sense of control. A deep, concerned voice called, " Melissa? Are you in there?"12

Oh no! I was Billy! Melissa's pulse quickened. She slashed at her arm again, desperately trying to regain her sense of calm.13

" Melissa?" Billy called. He sounded concerned, but determined. Melissa knew if she didn't answer he'd break the door down. But she couldn't answer him. Her voice had withered away. She could only sob,the razor clutched tightly.14

" Melissa, are you okay? What are you doing?"15

Melissa couldn't move. She felt frozen from her pain and panic. She had never been caught before, never!16

" I know you're in there. If you don't answer me I'm going to force the door open," Billy warned.17

Melissa still could not answer, could not call that she was fine, she was using the bathroom, or plucking her eyebrows, or whatever, anything to make him go away. She wanted to call that she was okay... btu she could not. She remained silent.18

A few minutes later, she heard the sound of the butter knife prying the door open, Billy was coming in, he was going to find her, was going to see her scars. Melissa wanted to pull down her sleeve, to hide the razor, but the best she could do was open her hand and let the razor drop at her feet.19

The door flung open, and Billy walked quickly inside, his worried eyes fixed on Melissa's. He made his way to her side, his arm outstretched.20

" Melissa, what's wr- Oh no, oh no! Oh my god Melissa, what have you done!"21

He stared in horror at the scars covering her skinny arms. The newest one stood out starkly, still leaking blood.22

" Oh no, oh sweetie! Your arm! What did you do to your arm?" he almost moaned, sounding close to 's tears intensified. Now Billy knew. He knew what a loser she was, what a freak. He was disgusted with her now, he wouldn't want to touch her.23

Seeming to break out of his daze, Billy sprang to action, grabbing a towel and pressing it to the wound. The whole time he kept babbling, almost as upset as she was.24

" Oh Melissa, I'm so sorry. Don't cry. You'll be okay. Why do you have to do this? Why do you have to hurt yourself like this? You scared me baby, you scared me so bad. Don't ever do this! don't, please don't hurt yourself like that."25

" Mommy?"26

A small, horrified voice came from the doorway. Billy whirled around, startled. His heart sank. Five year old Caitlin was standing in teh doorway, her blue eyes huge. As he watched helplessly, she burst into tears.27

"Mommy!" Caitlin howled. " Mommy, you're hurt! Mommy, you're bleeding! What's wrong with you?"1

Leaving Melissa's side, Billy quickly went to Caitlin and picked her up, hugging her close. The little girl sobbed, making his heart wrench.2

" Shh, Caitie, it's okay," he told her. " Mommy will be fine. She accidentally cut herself."3

Caitllin was not to be consoled. Giving a quick glance at Melissa and seeing she had not moved, Billy said to her, " I'll be back in just a minute. Don't move." He almost ran down the hall to Caitlin's room with her in his arms. Depositing the still crying child on the bed, he gave her a hug.4

" Caitie, honey, I have to go help your mommy, okay? You stay right here until I come to get you. Watch TV. I think Blue's Clue is on."5

Feeling terrible to leave her alone when she was so upset but knowing he had to get back to Melissa quickly, he ran back to the bathroom. To his relief, she still hadn't moved.6

Billy bandaged her newest wounds and put salve on them, then guided her to her room, instructing her to rest. The whole time he had kept up a soothing litany while talking to Melissa, but neither he nor she had been comforted by it. Though she lay on her bed, she didn't sleep.7

After putting Melissa to bed, Billy had paced the house, agitated. He was still shaken from what he had seen. Sure, he had known Melissa was depressed, that she had lost weight. He had not been unaware that she was withdrawing from him and Caitlin. He had even suspected she was cutting herself. But to actually catch her doing it, to have his suspicions confirmed... Billy couldn't shake the terrible image of Melissa's poor arm from his mind.1

And then for Caitlin to see! Billy's heart ached for her as well. Poor Caitlin, she didn't understand. It wasn't good for her to be around Melissa when she wasn't her usual self.2

It was this thought that made up Billy's mind for him. Caitlin shouldn't be around to see things like that. It would be better if she went to stay with her father until Melissa was better.3

Billy called Ryan and explained the situation to him. Ryan, concerned, had been happy to take Caitlin. He had been unaware of Melissa's depression. After talking to Ryan and arranging for him to pick her up, Billy had called his brother Mike, asking him to come over so he could talk with her. Mike had agreed. Then Billy had gone to Caitlin to explain how she would be living with her dad for a while.4

Mike had showed up ten minutes later, saddened but surprised by the situation. Ryan had shown up not long afterwards. He had helped Caitlin pack and Billy had gone outside with her to talk, not wanting Melissa to awaken and hear them. But Melissa had never been asleep, and she heard and knew what was happening. Climbing out of bed, she sat, hunched, on the windowsill, staring into the front yard as she watched her only child prepare to leav her. And all she felt was relief.5

*************************************************************6

" Melissa? Are you awake?"7

Melissa lifted her head slowly, seemingly dragged from her movements. She did not reply.8

" Melissa? it's Mike."9

Mike. What was Mike doing here? Had he arrived with Ryan?10

" I'm coming in."11

Without waiting for an answer, Mike pushed the door open and strode into Melissa's room. He saw Melissa's position on the windowsill and sat down beside her, his warm brown eyes sympathetic. 12

" Billy asked me to come, Melissa. He's worried about you."13

" He sent you to check on me," Melissa muttered. " He thinks I'm crazy."14

Her voice held no emotion at all.15

Mike tried to look Melissa in the eye, but she refused to meet his gaze.16

" Melissa... Caitlin is going to stay with Ryan for a while. Just until things get sorted out. It's for the best."17

" I know," Melissa whispered brittlely.18

" Don't be mad at Billy. For not telling you. He's worried. He's thinking about you as well as Caitie."19

"I'm not mad," Melissa said softly, her voice a monotone.20

Mike looked skeptical. He scooted closer to Melissa, putting his hand on her knee. He tried again to meet her eyes.21

" Lissa," he said, "what is bothering you? What's wrong?"22

" Nothing," Melissa said flatly, staring straight ahead.23

Mike didn't buy that for an instant. He tried again.24

" Please be honest. I'm worried too. I just want to help you. I want you to be happy."25

" I'm okay," Melissa repeated. There was some tension in her voice this time. It was her first hint of emotion she had shown.26

Mike was too persistent to allow Melissa to slide. He grabbed Melissa's cheek, forcing her to look him in the eye.27

" You're not ok. You're not. You don't have to pretend you are anymore. We know. Billy caught you cutting yourself. You have obviously been doing it for some time. You're depressed, lethargic, you've lost weight, you look like you never sleep. Don't lie to me and say you're okay. I'm not blind. We're worried, Melissa. We love you. Tell me what's wrong so I can help."28

Melissa pulled away and stared at the floor. She remained silent. Mike waited for her to speak, to move, to do something, anything. When she didn't, Mike lost his patience. He grabbed her arm and began to pull up her sleeve, meaning to expose her arm. Melissa came to life and struggled, jerking away and beating at Mike.29

" Stop it!" she shrieked, but Mike, fighting off her blows, managed to pull back the sleeve and get a grip on her arm. Seeing the scars for the first time, he gasped in horror, shocked at the quantity. He had just happened to grab the arm where Melissa had sliced NOT HER into her flesh. Mike stared, horrified.30

" What's that?" he choked out. " What's that on your arm? What do those words mean? You're telling me nothing's wrong when you're cutting words into your arm? Melissa, you need help. Admit it."31

Melissa, mostly silent until this point, let out a scream at those words. SHE knew she was awful, a horrible person, but she WANTED to punish herself. She wanted to be able to cut herself and relieve her pain! If Mike got help like he wanted to, Melissa's only way of hanging on would be taken from her!32

She screamed again, not words, only shrill cries. She jerked her arm from Mike's grasp. Jumping to her feet, she ran across the room, as far from him as she could get. Startled, he followed her. Melissa screamed again.33

" Get out! Go away, Mike! I want Billy! I want to talk to Billy!"34

Concerned, Mike reached out to her. Wildly, Melissa struck out, trying to hit him, to make him stop. 35

" Melissa!" Mike cried, trying to fend off her blows.36

" Go!" she shouted, grabbing Mike and propelling him toward the door. Caught by surprise, Mike didn't fight back. Melissa gave him a shove, sending him sprawling out the door and into the hall. Closing the door, she locked it. Furious, Mike leapt up and pounded on the door.37

" Melissa! Open up!"38

Breathing raggedly, Melissa sank to her knees, ignoring him.39

" Melissa!"40

Mike pounded for a few minutes, then suddenly stopped. Melissa heard his rapid footsteps and knew he was running to get Billy. 41

Melissa soon heard the sound of heavy, hurrying footsteps down the hall and knew it was Billy. Well, good. That was what she had wanted. She didn't hear Mike following him. Turning her head, she saw that Ryan's car was gone. He and Caitlin had left, without even saying goodbye. Melissa was sad that Caitlin was leaving her, but only vaguely. More prevalent was the relief. She no longer would have to worry about her. She was better off without Melissa.42

Billy knocked on the door.43

" Melissa? It's me."44

Lifting her head, Melissa spoke from her kneeling position in a husky voice.45

" Is Ryan with you?"46

" No. "47

Getting slowly to her feet, Melissa trudged to the door and opened it. Billy, a stressed expression on his face, walked in. He stood in front of Melissa and reached out to her. Melissa, cringing, stepped back. He frowned, a hurt look on his face that he concealed quickly.48

" Melissa... Mike said you were angry. Honey, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Caitlin. I didn't want to upset you. It's the best thing for her right now. I know you want her to be happy."49

He searched Melissa's eyes, looking for a hint of what she was feeling, but her empty expression showed nothing.50

" I know Mike said something to upset you. What I say will upset you too. But Melissa, you need to hear it. We can't pretend everything's ok, that you're ok."51

Oh no, thought Melissa. Here it comes. I don't want to hear it. I just want to go away. i want to be alone... Just go away. 52

She said nothing though, and her eyes showed nothing. Billy continued on.53

" You need help. you can't keep hurting yourself, feeling so bad, so depressed. We'll have to arrange for you to see a doctor. They'll help you. They'll make you better."54

Melissa blinked. She had seen his little speech coming, but it still shook her. He wanted her to stop cutting, to talk to some stranger about her secrets, her inadequacy. He wanted her to talk about what she couldn't even think about without disintegrating, or cutting herself. She couldn't. She wouldn't! He couldn't make her!55

" No," she whispered, her eyes fearful. " NO!"56

Billy couldn't hear her mouthed words.57

" What?" he asked gently, stepping towards her. He touched her shoulder.58

That gentle touch increased her panic. Melissa's heart raced. Letting out a cry, she shoved his hand off of her violently.59

" No!" she screamed. " No! I won't, you can't make me! I WIlLL NOT GO THERE!"60

Billy stared, dismayed.61

" Melissa-"62

" NO! Leave me alone, Billy! You can't fix me, don't even try to! You and Mike, all you do is tell me what to do, how to fix it, but you can't fix it! No one can fix it! No one can fix me! I'm broken so badly nothing can ever put me back together! I'm shattered! I'm a loser, a nobody, a worthless piece of shit! No one can make me worth anything! No one has that power, Billy! You want me to talk, but you don't care that it kills me, that I hurt so bad I'm going to break apart into smaller pieces then I already am!" Melissa shrieked. Her chest heaved with the force of her emotions. Her cheeks were scarlet. She trembled fiercely, her hands clinched.63

Billy's eyes were bewildered, but compassionate. He shook his head. " Melissa-"64

" NOOOOO!" howled Melissa, stamping her feet. And then she was crying, loud, stormy tears that shook her violently. She sobbed painfully, her head bowed, her face in her hands. Seeing her in such pain broke Billy. 65

" Melissa, oh Melissa," he said. For the third time, he reached for her and drew her into his arms. She resisted, wiggling and straining. This time Billy refused to let her go, tightening his arms around her. Finally Melissa gave up, relaxing against him. Billy held her tight against his chest as she cried.66

" Why are you doing this?" she sobbed. "How can you stand to touch me?"67

" Because I love you," Billy replied tenderly, stroking her disheveled, unwashed hair. " Because I don't like to see you hurt."68

" But how can you love me when I'm so awful? All my life, all I ever wanted was not to be like my mother, and now I'm even worse!" Melissa wept.69

He swayed back and forth, caressing her. His throat was tight when he replied. 70

" The only thing awful is that you don't see what a terrific person you are. It's awful that you don't love yourself as much as I do."71

His loving words made Melissa cry even harder. Holding her tightly, Billy soothed her the best he could. When her tears slowed, he led her over to their bed and pulled back the sheets.72

" come on," he said softly. " You need to rest."73

Melissa, unprotesting, climbed into bed. Billy drew the sheets around her chin. Leaning over her, he kissed her softly.74

" I love you, Melissa. Just rest now. Rest."75

A feeling of calm swept over her. Melissa closed her eyes. She felt relaxed, temporarily at ease. Somebody understood. Billy had discovered her secret, seen her at her worst, and still he understood. He had seen what a terrible person she was, and he still loved her. After all these years, somebody finally loved her... it was a wonderful feeling.76

A warm glow filled her chest. Melissa felt Billy take her hand. A slight smile appeared on her face, and she sighed deeply. Soon she was drifting off to sleep. And for once, her dreams were pleasant.77