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Authors: Julia Mayer

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BOOK: Eyes in the Mirror
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“It's okay,” he said, looking up at me blearily. “You didn't…just don't…let me tell her, okay? I want to be able to tell her myself. I've been waiting all this time to tell her, trying to come up with the perfect place and way, and…and, oh shit.”

He banged one hand against the ground and fell backward onto the grass. I heard a few leaves crunch underneath him. I could see him cooling off, though the bright white color of his knuckles was still distinct against the grass underneath them. He took a few deep breaths, then sat up and did his best to smile at me.

“Well, welcome to my world,” he said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “How's your day been so far?”

“I took one step forward and found out what it's like to have a mom who waits for me to finish breakfast before leaving for the day and cares whether I go to school or not, friends who actually like spending time with me, and a boy who's in love with me. My life is feeling pretty bleak right now. But I guess Dee's day is looking up.”

I tried to smile and Jamie tried to smile back. We sat there for a minute. I don't think either of us quite knew what to do with the other. Finally Jamie broke the silence.

“Come on, let's go have lunch. My treat. Least I can do for, well, for mixing the two of you up.”

“Oh, you don't have to do that. Thanks, though.”

“Well then, let's go have lunch just because…”

“Because you have the munchies?”

Jamie smiled and got up, grabbing my hand and pulling me up with him.

We went to a pizza place nearby and ran into a bunch of Jamie's friends. I sat with them for lunch, but while we were walking back toward school, Kelly came over and asked to “steal me” for a second.

“So,” she said, “come on. Spill. I saw you walking off with Jamie. What happened?”

I wasn't sure what to tell her, but her arm was linked so tightly with mine that I didn't think I had the option of not responding. Eventually my hand would have fallen off due to lack of circulation.

“Nothing, he just wanted to ask me something about the homework we were doing together.” I tried to fake disappointment without being too obvious about it. I wasn't sure what Kelly knew about Dee and Jamie, and I didn't want to be the one to start rumors.

I couldn't help thinking about that kiss, and it left my head in such a fog that I barely noticed the rest of the day passing. Fortunately the people around me seemed content with smiling and nodding at appropriate times and didn't mind that I wasn't talking much. I had never been kissed the way Jamie kissed me—kissed
Dee
, the way he had kissed Dee. The same voice in the back of my head that had driven me to look for Dee again was making me wonder if it would be possible to make that kind of kiss happen again.

What would I tell Dee about what happened? I hated to keep anything else from her, especially something that would make her so happy. And we had agreed not to keep secrets. But then I ran into Jamie and he asked me again not to tell her. The earnest look in his eyes sucked me in. I couldn't take that moment away from him. He wanted to tell her himself. I felt like I should respect that.

“No, I won't tell her.”

“Thanks,” he said. “I owe you one. Am I going to see you tomorrow?”

I shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. But if Dee is back tomorrow—I mean, if the two of us don't see each other again—then I need to say this now.” I pulled on his arm to stop him from moving and turned him to face me. “Don't hurt her. Dee is a wonderful person. She's loving and trusting and sweet. You don't have the right to hurt her, okay?”

“Don't worry,” he told me. “I couldn't imagine hurting Dee.”

“Good.”

***

Unfortunately, Jamie was the first thing Dee asked me about that night. I think she just needed something to ease me into the conversation we were about to have. We were in each other's rooms. We owned the same pajamas, and I know it must sound weird, but it was funny having my reflection look like me while we were sitting there. She had lit a candle in my room that illuminated her. The side of her face that was closer to me anyway.

“I forgot to tell Jamie. I forgot to tell him you were coming. Was everything okay? Did you explain it to him?”

“I told him. Don't worry about it.”

“Did he say anything about me? Do you think he might like me?”

I paused. I didn't want to lie, but I had promised Jamie that I wouldn't say anything. “He, well, yeah, I think he might like you. He'll probably make a move soon. I mean, I think.”

She smiled and sat up a little straighter.

“Did he say anything?”

“He just said he…wants to talk to you when you get back,” I said, shrugging and trying to look nonchalant. If he wanted to tell her, I wanted to let him. And maybe…maybe he wouldn't. I tried to drive that thought out of my head.

We sat silently for what felt like an eternity after Dee asked about Jamie. We avoided making eye contact. I played with the fringe of the rug in her room.

Finally Dee took a deep breath and said, “I understand, Samara. For the first time, I understand that this…” she ran my hand along my thigh, “…is an addiction. But that makes it all the more important that you get help stopping.”

“I don't need help. Dee, I haven't thought about cutting all day. Not even once. I'm kicking it already. I don't need help.”

“I don't believe you. And I don't think I can help you. I think this is too big for me to help you with alone. I have to tell your dad, Sam. I'm sorry.”

What right did she have to tell anyone anything? “You don't have to. You don't have to
do
anything. All you have to do is let me handle this, let me deal with it myself.”

“You'll never stop if I let you deal with it yourself,” Dee said. “It's too addicting. You're not going to be able to stop doing this without help. I'm going to help you.”

I had kicked habits before. Dee had never even tried. She had never needed that kind of release, that kind of outlet. What did she know about it? I couldn't imagine what made her think she was the expert in this.

“It's like I told you. I haven't thought about cutting all day. There's no reason to get my father involved in this whole thing. He can barely handle himself, let alone other people. Believe me, if you put my dad in charge of my addiction, it's going to take ages longer than if I just deal with it myself.”

“I know you can't see it now, but I'm trying to help. My mind is made up. You'll be glad I did this when you're better.”

“That's bullshit and you know it,” I said quietly, staring into the flickering flame of the candle sitting next to Dee. “When's the last time you heard someone actually thank someone else later?”

Dee's shoulders slumped. “I'm sorry, Samara. But I won't let you hurt yourself anymore.” She blew out the candle and walked away.

I sat in front of the mirror for a few minutes longer and gaped at Dee's reflection, not knowing what to do.

chapter 6

Couldn't Tell the Difference

Dee in Samara's World

I couldn't believe that through all of the time that Samara and I had been struggling, she had never told me that she was dealing with this huge thing. It had been close to a month of talking every single night. She had been cutting herself the entire time (based on the number of scars). She had never told me she was
this
unhappy. I'd thought I knew what was going on with her. I'd thought she was being honest with me, and obviously she wasn't.

I decided to leave for school, even though I wanted to stay home and sit in the dark replaying every conversation Samara and I had ever had. I wanted to look for clues that this had been going on. But I knew that, given everything else, Samara did
not
need to skip more classes and have that on her record.

I'd thought it was going to be easy. I had been to Samara's school before, and I had seen everyone there. But I was so involved in how Samara and I would get along when I was there the first time that I hadn't really been focused on her friendships with other people. I'd assumed when we talked that she was exaggerating how lonely she was. After all, the two of us picked up so easily that it was hard to imagine other people having trouble getting along with her. I hadn't seen her sitting with anyone, but I also hadn't been looking. It was easier for me to approach her when she was alone anyway.

As I walked to school, my mind raced over the cuts I had found on Samara's arms, hips, and legs. If she had kept that from me, I could hardly imagine her talking to the prissy girls at school about her life. That's why I was particularly happy to turn around to a familiar face when someone called, “Samara.” The girl was pretty and had short brown hair and big eyes. She motioned to her friends to wait for her for a minute and came over.

“I just wanted to say,” she glanced back at her friends, “you look good today. I mean, I like your hair like that. Down and I don't know…natural like that. It's like you used to wear it when we were little.”

“Eva, come on,” someone called to her.

She smiled for a moment before turning back to her friends and calling, “God, chill. I'm coming already.”

Samara's classes were easy to get through. She had told me to take the back right corner of each class, and I did. Her teachers never called on me, and given all that was on my mind, I didn't particularly want to raise my hand and have to fake Samara. In class, I often found myself absentmindedly running my hands over the scars that were hidden underneath my clothes.

I dreaded going to lunch. The only person I knew was Eva, and she didn't seem like someone Samara would sit and talk to for an hour. It didn't sound like they got along. I wondered what had happened between the two of them that made it that way, since Eva seemed perfectly nice to me.

Maybe I could fix things with Eva. Then Samara would have someone to talk to in this world too. Someone to walk to school with and to sit with at lunch. And then, in a while, if Samara wanted to, it would be okay if she told Eva about the mirror. That way she would have someone like Jamie to talk to.

Jamie! That's when I realized: I'd forgotten to tell Jamie that Samara and I were switching places for the day. I trusted Samara to tell him, but she was supposed to not have to deal with this. She was supposed to be finding out what was going on with him for me.

As soon as Samara got to the mirror for our first check-in of the day, I said, “I just realized what I forgot.”

“What?”

But before I could explain, a group of guys walked by and I had to shut the mirror. As difficult as school was for her, she didn't need people thinking she talked to herself. That certainly wouldn't be helpful. One of them gave me a very knowing look. Something about the way he looked at me made me really uncomfortable, and I wondered how well he and Samara knew each other.

I sat alone at lunch, nibbling lightly at the salad I had gotten. I was alone in my classes for the rest of the day. I had hoped that I would get home and find Samara's dad there, at least for some company, someone to talk to who I wouldn't feel so self-conscious around.

Samara hadn't made it to any of our hourly check-ins for the rest of the day. I wasn't worried; I figured she would be okay in my world. There was very little that she could do to really screw things up. But it would've been nice to have a little support being her. I was shocked to find that it was as bad as she'd said it was.

When I got back to Samara's house, there was a note on the kitchen table that said, “Money for dinner under the plates. Back late. Love, Dad.” Great, I thought. Besides being lonely all day, now I have to sit in this giant echoey house all night. I felt completely empty.

I went up to the bathroom and, without thinking, picked up a razor and put a slit in the top of my arm. Then another. The first thing to register was the smell of blood. Then the deep red color on my arm. And a moment later, the pain. I stared at my hand, my terrible hand that had just done this. It looked foreign to me. I couldn't believe that was my hand,
Samara's hand,
that had just put a cut into my arm,
Samara's arm
. Mine. Samara's. I couldn't tell the difference between them anymore. I had done this without thinking, without knowing what I was doing. And now without regret because it felt so damn good.

The house seemed somehow smaller, less intimidating. School seemed farther away. I had had a stomachache all day that I hadn't noticed, but I was very aware that it was gone now. I stared at my hand and sank down to the floor. What had I done?

***

I had to decide what to do before I saw Samara that night. Would I tell her that I had cut myself? Was it that she had cut herself? I felt like a bystander. I didn't feel like
I
had done it. I had never been addicted to something before; I had never known what it was like to do something compulsively or to not be able to stop myself.

I heard the phone ring and wanted to peel myself off the floor but I just couldn't. I listened to the third ring and accepted that I wasn't going to get it. After the fifth ring I heard the answering machine beep. The door was open, so it was easy to hear from the second floor. I heard little Samara say, “We're not home, but you can leave a message after the tone.” I heard the beep.

“Sam? You home yet? Okay, well, like I said, I'll be working late today. I have to meet the West Coast VP after work but I'll be home as soon as I can. There's money for dinner. Okay, see you later.”

I stared down at the blood on the floor. If it hadn't been me, hadn't been my hand, my arm, I wouldn't have believed that cutting was even something that a person could be addicted to. But it
was
me. I watched the blood flowing down; I felt the intense relief at the same time that I felt intense shame. It was me; I had done all of it. And I knew it was wrong.

I knew better than to mutilate my own body and, even worse, to mutilate somebody else's body. This body was on loan. Samara's arms weren't mine to cut. Not that she should cut her own arms either, but I wasn't going to be the one with the scars I had just made. And I had made them anyway.

I wanted so badly to show Samara that her life was fine. That the problems were in her head. But they weren't. It was as bad as she thought and maybe worse. As I stared at the cuts I had put into my arm, I knew that hadn't really made any of the problems go away. It had made me feel better but it hadn't fixed anything. Samara needed to look at what was actually wrong, and I wanted to help her do that. I wanted to stop her from hurting so badly.

I couldn't be with her all the time, and even if I could, I didn't really have control over Samara or her actions. Apparently I didn't even have control over my own actions. I had done this without realizing it. I couldn't handle this. I needed an adult involved.

When I'd thought all Samara needed was a friend, I could do that. I wanted to. But I didn't even know what the first step was toward making this better. I didn't know what she needed. I knew that I needed to talk to her dad. He had called to check in. He cared more than Samara thought he did. However hard it was for the two of them to talk, I knew he would listen, would want to help. He was still her father.

***

That night, I let Samara start the conversation by talking about Jamie. She knew—and I knew—that we had something more important to talk about. Something else, something huge. But to just sit down and start there was too hard. I had hoped that something would have happened, that she could tell me for sure that he liked me or, I guess, that he didn't. Just so I would know. But all she told me was, “I think he likes you. He wants to talk to you when you get back.”

Samara didn't know that the cut I was staring at on her arm was mine, not hers. And as I ran my index finger over the cut I had made, I wanted to say so many things. I wanted to say I wasn't strong enough. I wanted to say I could only do so much. I wanted to say I loved her, that I felt her pain, her suffering. But all I said was, “I understand.”

She looked at me and I knew she didn't believe it. “For the first time, I understand this is an addiction. But that makes it all the more important that you get help stopping.”

“I don't need help stopping. Dee, I haven't thought about cutting all day. Not even once.”

But she could only say the things she said because she didn't know. She didn't know that I had done this. I had made this cut in her arm. It was me, and I knew that if I couldn't stop myself, as much as I wanted to, she wouldn't be able to do it alone.

I couldn't let her keep doing this. She had two arms and half a leg full of scabs and scars. “I'm sorry, Samara. But I won't let you keep hurting yourself.” I couldn't look at her anymore; it hurt too much to see her anger and her sadness and her pain. I blew out the candle that was lighting up the room and left the mirror. I hugged a pillow in Samara's bed and cried for close to an hour. I would have kept crying, but I ran out of tears.

***

I waited up for Samara's father that night. I knew if I didn't do it then, I never would. I sat on the couch in the living room in the dark for hours. Waiting. The cable box only flashed 12:00, so I don't know exactly how long it was. The room was big and my heart was beating so hard that I could hear it echo, especially when someone got close to the front steps of her townhouse.

I knew every inch of that room by the time Samara's father got home. I sat curled in the corner of the green leather couch, which was faded and worn from years of use. The couch was in the center of the room. In one corner behind it, an upright piano stood next to a huge window that took up most of the wall. The piano was covered in a layer of sad dust, showing that it hadn't been played in years. In front of me in one corner were a television and the cable box with the clock that wasn't set.

Next to the television was a fireplace with a mantel that held an assortment of pictures of Samara, her father, and her mother. The corner on the other side of the fireplace had a small stack of wood, showing that the fireplace had once been used. I could imagine a very distant past when a fire blazed and Samara and her father sat on the couch as her mother played piano, everyone smiling. But even those memories seemed to be covered by the same dust that covered the piano and the fireplace. They seemed unused, as if no one had even thought of them in years.

I shivered when I finally heard Samara's dad's car pull up. He turned on the light in the living room and jumped.

“Hi, Sam. What are you still doing up?”

“Hey,” I said. “I couldn't sleep. There's some stuff we need to talk about. I need to tell you something. It's important.”

“What is it?” he asked, crossing the room to sit next to me on the couch.

I knew that what I was about to say was going to devastate him. I knew I was bringing him news that he would be happier without. But I also knew that Samara could never be happy if her dad didn't know, if he couldn't help her get through this. And as bad as I felt for this balding older man my father had once seen in the mirror, I had to keep my promise to Samara to help her.

I pulled up my sleeve to show him Samara's arm. He immediately held onto my wrist and traced the scars. “What—?” But I interrupted his question.

“I've been cutting myself. I've been doing it for a long time, and I'm realizing now that I have to stop and I need you to help me.”

He sighed heavily and pulled me close to hug me. He smelled like scotch. I was prepared for certain questions I thought he would ask: What's so wrong in your life, Samara? What made you think this was a good idea? But I don't think he understood enough to ask any of those questions.

“I'm going to help you through this,” he said before his voice cracked. “I'm so sorry I didn't notice. I'm sorry I haven't taken better care of you, that I didn't take better care of your mother, and that she isn't here to help you.”

I didn't want to hear about his guilt; that wasn't what was important. I wanted him to tell me what he would do for Samara to help her. “Don't be sorry. Look at me, Dad. I need you. Don't be sorry. Just don't let me down. Not again.”

He looked shocked, and I felt shocked at the rage I had. It wasn't even my rage. I knew this was hard on him too, but all I could think was how angry I was that he was making this all about him.

“You're so strong,” he said to me. “I'm going to help you. I…I'm sorry, I don't know how yet. I don't know. But I am here for you. I'm so proud of you for telling me.”

I didn't know what I was supposed to do next. I didn't want to get too far into bonding with Samara's dad because he needed to connect with his daughter, not with me. I hoped he would have the conversation he needed to have with Samara when she was back. I hugged him again.

BOOK: Eyes in the Mirror
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