The Way I Used to Be

By: Amber Smith

To You.

To every you who has ever known the feeling of needing new ways to be.





Freshman Year





I DON’T KNOW A LOT of things. I don’t know why I didn’t hear the door click shut. Why I didn’t lock the damn door to begin with. Or why it didn’t register that something was wrong—so mercilessly wrong—when I felt the mattress shift under his weight. Why I didn’t scream when I opened my eyes and saw him crawling between my sheets. Or why I didn’t try to fight him when I still stood a chance.

I don’t know how long I lay there afterward, telling myself: Squeeze your eyelids shut, try, just try to forget. Try to ignore all the things that didn’t feel right, all the things that felt like they would never feel right again. Ignore the taste in your mouth, the sticky dampness of the sheets, the fire radiating through your thighs, the nauseating pain—this bulletlike thing that ripped through you and got lodged in your gut somehow. No, can’t cry. Because there’s nothing to cry about. Because it was just a dream, a bad dream—a nightmare. Not real. Not real. Not real. That’s what I keep thinking: NotRealNotRealNotReal. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Like a mantra. Like a prayer.

I don’t know that these images flashing through my mind—a movie of someone else, somewhere else—will never really go away, will never ever stop playing, will never stop haunting me. I close my eyes again, but it’s all I can see, all I can feel, all I can hear: his skin, his arms, his legs, his hands too strong, his breath on me, muscles stretching, bones cracking, body breaking, me getting weaker, fading. These things—it’s all there is.

I don’t know how many hours pass before I awake to the usual Sunday morning clamor—pots and pans clanging against the stove. Food smells seeping under my door—bacon, pancakes, Mom’s coffee. TV sounds—cold fronts and storm systems moving through the area by midday—Dad’s weather channel. Dishwasher-running sounds. Yippy yappy dog across the street yips and yaps at probably nothing, as always. And then there’s the almost imperceptible rhythm of a basketball bouncing against the dewy blacktop and the squeaky-sneaker shuffling of feet in the driveway. Our stupid, sleepy suburbia, like every other stupid, sleepy suburbia, awakens groggy, indifferent to its own inconsequence, collectively wishing for one more Saturday and dreading chores and church and to-do lists and Monday morning. Life just goes, just happens, continuing as always. Normal. And I can’t shake the knowledge that life will just keep on happening, regardless if I wake up or not. Obscenely normal.

I don’t know, as I force my eyes open, that the lies are already in motion. I try to swallow. But my throat’s raw. Feels like strep, I tell myself. I must be sick, that’s all. Must have a fever. I’m delirious. Not thinking clearly. I touch my lips. They sting. And my tongue tastes blood. But no, it couldn’t have been. Not real. So as I stare at the ceiling, I’m thinking: I must have serious issues if I’m dreaming stuff like that. Horrible stuff like that. About Kevin. Kevin. Because Kevin is my brother’s best friend, practically my brother. My parents love him like everyone does, even me, and Kevin would never—could never. Not possible. But then I try to move my legs to stand. They’re so sore—no, broken feeling. And my jaw aches like a mouthful of cavities.

I close my eyes again. Take a deep breath. Reach down and touch my body. No underwear. I sit up too fast and my bones wail like I’m an old person. I’m scared to look. But there they are: my days-of-the-week underwear in a ball on the floor. They were my Tuesdays, even though it was Saturday, because, well, who would ever know anyway? That’s what I was thinking when I put them on yesterday. And now I know, for sure, it happened. It actually happened. And this pain in the center of my body, the depths of my insides, restarts its torture as if on cue. I throw the covers off. Kneecap-shaped bruises line my arms, my hips, my thighs. And the blood—on the sheets, the comforter, my legs.

But this was supposed to be an ordinary Sunday.

I was supposed to get up, get dressed, and sit down to breakfast with my family. Then after breakfast, I would promptly go to my bedroom and finish any homework I hadn’t finished Friday night, sure to pay special attention to geometry. I would practice that new song we learned in band, call my best friend, Mara, maybe go to her house later, and do dozens of other stupid, meaningless tasks.

But that’s not what’s going to happen today, I know, as I sit in my bed, staring at my stained skin in disbelief, my hand shaking as I press it against my mouth.

Two knocks on my bedroom door. I jump.

“Edy, you up?” My mother’s voice shouts. I open my mouth, but it feels like someone poured hydrochloric acid down my throat and I might never be able to speak again. Knock, knock, knock: “Eden, breakfast!” I quickly pull my nightgown down as far as it will go, but there’s blood smeared on that, too.

“Mom?” I finally call back, my voice scratchy and horrible.

She cracks the door open. As she peers in her eyes immediately go to the blood. “Oh God,” she gasps, as she slips inside and quickly shuts the door behind her.

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