AMOUR DE SOI
I sat on the cold ceramic tiles of the bathroom floor. Even though the door was locked, I pushed on it with my back. His pounding fists sent vibrations up and down my spine. Grabbing the nail scissors from the drawer, I started to grind away at the skin around my wrist. When I broke through the first layer, I stopped and put the scissors down.
"Catrin," he slurred, "get your arse out of there and out here now. What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Leave. Me. Alone," I screeched.
"Oh, that’s bloody fantastic. Very mature. Very grown up, Catrin. You are such a fucking grown-up."
"For God’s sake, will you just piss off? Leave me alone. Please."
My wrist was throbbing. A red trail slowly crawled down to my elbow and dripped onto the tiles. What in fuck’s name am I doing? Moving away from the door, I pulled myself up to the smudged mirror, searching for my eyes through the liquid film. I fell asleep in the bathroom that night, waiting for my father to knock and tell me he was sorry. I fell asleep with my head resting on the edge of the bathtub. When I woke seven hours later, I could barely feel my neck.
Sometimes I wondered how it was possible for a man to be so angry. And how it was possible for a father to hate his daughter so much. And how a father could simply not see his daughter for sixteen years.
When I was sixteen, my father looked at me and asked, "Did you curl your hair or something?" My hair had been curly all my life: wild, frizzy, sometimes brown, sometimes purple, sometimes red, but always curly.
True, I didn’t move in with him until I was fifteen. But I had seen him fairly regularly throughout my life, except for those four months when I was six, after he became impatient with my waiting for the water to cool down and pushed me into a boiling shower. I remember standing there, totally naked, covered only by the steam that was pouring out, shouting at him. His bald patch turned bright red. I pummeled his big, beer-filled belly with my fists, hoping he would feel the burning sensation that was running through my body and down my skin. He simply called my mum and asked her to come and collect me, and for four months after that he was invisible.
When my mum announced that we were moving to America, I never thought of my father. I was anxious about leaving my friends and starting a new school, but indifferent about leaving my dad.
When we arrived in Beverly Hills, the "American Dream" neatly tucked away in our suitcases, things changed. Ninth grade was exciting for a couple of weeks. But once the novelty wore off and I was just that curly-haired, buck-toothed freak whom no one could understand, I was ready to go back home.
Our "American Dream" was rotting from the core outwards. My mum’s "fabulous, dead cert job prospects" did not materialize, and we were living off the money we had made by selling our beautiful house back home. She decided that sitting around all day in a morbid cloud of cigarette smoke and alcohol and pissing away our money was the answer to all of our problems.
"You can’t expect life to just fall into place right away," she would say. "You just have to wait for the opportunity to arise. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity."
"But Mum, you aren’t going to find it here, sitting on your arse all day."
"Have I ever let you down? Have I? Have I ever done anything to hurt you?"
Oh God, not this. "No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just trying to understand how . . ."
"Understand what? Don’t you trust me? I know what I’m doing, okay? I’ll find a job. The opportunity just hasn’t come along yet, that’s all."
I still think pissing our money away is a better way of describing it.
"I knew that she shouldn’t have taken you over there," my father said when I called him. "I told her it was the wrong thing to do, but your mother just doesn’t know how to listen to others."
He was so convincing.
"You know I’m right. I bet she hasn’t even gotten herself a job yet." I could almost hear him licking his lips. "She’s totally lost it. Wouldn’t you agree?"
"Er . . .I guess."
And as my mother and her dreams slowly wasted away, I turned away from her and towards my dad. I didn’t see how skinny she became, how her skin started to hang off her bones and how her once-glistening brown hair transformed into a mass of dry, gray matter. I simply did not see her. And my dad? His beer belly was no longer grotesque; it was cuddly. His crooked teeth and smile were no longer mean-looking, just unique. At least that was the picture of him that ran through my mind as I boarded the direct flight back to London. I was going home.
It would be a year before I spoke to my mother again.
"Do you understand how much shit I have had from your mother today?" This was his welcome address.
"I — I’m sorry."
"I should bloody well hope so," he growled.
"Can we go home now?" I mumbled.
He didn’t answer but grabbed my bag and headed towards the exit. "What have I done?" I heard him mutter under his breath. I took a deep breath, trying to get rid of the ball of dread that had lodged itself in my throat, and followed him. What the fuck have I done?
Six months later, I was studying on the living room floor with my papers strewn across the dark gray carpet. My entire body froze as the front door squeaked open.
"Jesus, it is so bleeding cold in here. Can’t you close the window?" He stomped across the room, through my papers and slammed the window shut.
"That was my history dissertation."
"Excuse me? Do it somewhere else. This is my living room."
"Well, if I had a desk—"
"You are the most ungrateful child I know. I work day and night to scrape by and all you can do is bitch at me from the second my foot steps in the door!" he roared.
"I don’t mean to," I started to plead, "but I have spent three weeks on this paper and you’ve gone and ruined it. Why couldn’t you have just walked around it?"
"Oh, Catrin, I am really not in the mood for this whining right now."
I gathered up the crumpled papers off the floor. The Treaty of Versailles ran into the League of Nations, and soon it was all just one big blur.
I took the razor blade from my new powdery candy of choice and moved it towards my wrist. My eyes turned to the mirror. The girl’s face in the reflection was drawn and her skin hung down. The pupils of her eyes were so dilated that they appeared to be black contact lenses. Beneath her eyes were two heavily shaded circles. It looked as if someone had smudged charcoal into her skin. I watched her for twenty minutes, unable to stop twitching. I began to fall in love. I was going to help her.
"Dad?" My heart was racing so fast that I was having trouble breathing. But I held my ground. "Dad?"
"What do you want?"
"I’m moving out. Georgina’s parents are going away for business for a few months and they said I could housesit for them. I’m moving out next week."
"I’m sorry, young lady, but you are doing no such thing. Who do you think you are to just storm in here and announce this? What did you think I would say? You thought I would say yes?" Every muscle in his body had tensed.
"I thought you would like the idea. I thought it would be nice for you to have your house back," I shouted.
"What do you mean, have my house back?" His voice was softer now.
"Well, it is your house," I mumbled. "I thought you might want it back, that’s all."
My dad said nothing. He just sat there on the futon. I had never seen him look so small.
The next week I packed up my clothes, some photos and my favorite pictures and took the train to Clapham Junction, the busiest train interchange in Europe. Despite having to lug that heavy suitcase around, I had never felt so light and free. Later that day, having dropped off my stuff at the house, I went to the supermarket and filled up the shopping trolley right to the brim. I’d invited my friends round for dinner and at eight o’clock they all descended on the house, bottles of wine in tow. We sat around the sturdy oak table for hours, talking about everything from school to gap years, university, men, family, drugs and sex. At four a.m. we all staggered to bed. My first night in my new bed was the best night’s sleep I’d had in two years.
"Daddy? It’s me," I whispered.
"What are you doing?"
"Just watching TV."
"Did you see the Eastenders omnibus today?"
"Well, anyway, I was just wondering if maybe we could have lunch or something next week," I stuttered. "I mean, if you have, um, if you have time and . . ."
"That would be really nice. I would like that a lot," he stammered back.
"So, I’ll call next week or something and we can arrange it, then?"
"Sure, sure. That sounds fine." His voice was shaking.
"Okay. Well, bye then."
I hung up the phone and turned towards the grand mirror that stood next to my new kitchen. The girl was standing there, smiling at me. I smiled back. "You, my dear," I told her, "are going to be just fine. Absolutely fine, you hear?" She nodded and turned away.