I'm Me, Not Debris
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Thinking about the chapters of a woman’s life is easy to do; much harder to live.

I remember when I could see my ribs without trying, and how much I loved that, the sharp angles. I would touch them and think I would stay that way forever.

But then I remember seeing the curves of womanhood coming on, budding breasts and, what my mum fondly referred to as ‘child-bearing hips’.

She’ll never know how much that really hurt.

The curse of puberty ushered in another chapter in my life. A chapter that I now know many girls women experience but is so often torn out of the middle of our history as sharp as an abortion in favour of more favourable times.

But I have photos; they aren’t meant to lie, but to me they’re proof that I was never really me, and maybe none of this happened to me just because everyone looks happy in the photos, and because I was always just a prop.

One time, we went to a theme park — never Disneyland; we never got as far as Disneyland and the princesses that stole my imagination when mum used to put on a VHS at Christmas; that would be too much freedom and idealism.

'"It would put radical ideas in my mind."' (I forget who said that, but it hardly matters.)

And we took a photo in the middle of the park. A snapshot in time caught by a tourist after my mum asked in her most pleasant voice.

In the photo, my dad has an arm around a younger me. His hand creeps over my shoulder and holds it with a grip that nearly turned his knuckles white. He holds mum the same way with his other arm.

“My girls,” he says and maybe strangers heard a fondness or at least pride in that.

All I heard was possessiveness.

Still, that was not me in the photos; I was debris.

I only realised when I became an adult that my dad was drowning and clinging to whatever he could to stop from going under into a sea of being alone.

Me and mum, we were parts from a wrecked ship in a cold sea; doors, maybe, or tables, repurposed from their original purpose to support a man with desperate, grasping hands and a red face that showed dual anger and fear.

We got home and mum put the film on the counter to take to be developed in the morning, to preserve our trip in images forever, a literal film of rose-tinting hiding what was wrong underneath it all.

After that, I remember my dad carried me up the stairs that night.

Mum had been on the couch in the living room all evening long. I heard gameshows on the TV. There was money, flying, and the TV people desperately clung to it as if they were drowning, too.

Maybe everyone has their own ocean they’re trying to stay afloat in.

My brother was eating meat from a can. Mum turned the volume of the TV up and lit another cigarette as my dad reached the top step.

He gave me something that tasted like medicine; said take it, it’s magic potion.

But it came in a bottle, and it came from the fridge, and it was bitter like poison, not a potion – not like in the films.

He lay me on the bed. The purple floral duvet lay cold beneath me. I stared at the ceiling as I had before, and I let myself see faces there as his hand snaked towards the soft folds of my impending womanhood.

But then

She bit back.

My dad screamed and withdrew, blood spitting from his wrist, his whole curious and horrible and invasive hand gone.

We never saw it again.

He never held me like that in photos again.

He never carried me up the stairs again.

He never held a magic potion for me again.

He never put his hand there again.

And, in photos since then,

I’m me; not debris.

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