Carbon

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Chapter 26

I stared at my body in the mirror. My ribs stuck out broadly, my abdominal muscles flexing as I struggled to slow my breathing. My icy blue eyes failed to fall away from the reflection, riveted like a magnet to this awful human being standing in front of me. My blonde hair billowed over my shoulders like a weeping willow’s tendrils, and my arms lay to my sides as my fists clenched tautly in rebellion. My sports-bra and underwear did not match as the fifteen-year-old girl just glared back at me vindictively, bumps rippling on my skin from the chill.

The porcelain sink reverberated yet a distorted image of my body, curves where curves didn’t exist, giving me the body of a girl instead of a prepubescent boy. My muscular thighs gave me the illusion of hips, but the muscular stance I often held gave way to end the illusion. A small blade sat at the edge of the sink, my blood already tainting the silver razor. I slowly recalled how I sliced open my abdomen with the blade as to hide the marks from my mother and sister but still gain the same awful rehabilitation. Tiny scars mottled my abdomen like slivers of stretch marks without wavering hesitations taunting my skin.

If I had the chance, I would have blown my brains against the ceiling.

Hopeless and undetermined, I was done with my purpose in life. All I could do was have sex with people just because they needed it. I snatched the blade from the surface of the linoleum languidly, eyeing my reflection in the minute sheen.

My eyes fell back to my reflection, and I contemplated what truly made me so appealing, what made me so dirty. My lack of breasts should have been enough for someone to be repulsed, let alone my piss-poor attitude. My muscular legs protruded from my underwear like thick trunks, bare without bark. My hand twisted a thin piece of hair around it while glancing at the blade.

An epiphany came over me as I noticed the long tendrils of my straight hair brushing against my floating rib, tickling my sensitive skin.

I took the blade and sliced through the thin strand with little difficulty, cutting through thin air and dead proteins. The strand fell to the floor, tiny hairs exploding upon the light impact, dusting the floor like hay. My eyes fell back to my reflection.

Losing the little feminine attribute I had tore me up inside, but I needed to rid myself of everything that made me this way. I forced myself to abandon all that made me bait for any desire or longing.

I grabbed a thick lock of hair and sawed through the thin strands with reckless abandon. The lock fell, and then I continued on to the next piece of hair, and the next, and the next until I felt naked and hollow.

My bangs fell into my eyes, and my hair was short and choppy, uneven and uncultivated. A small smile grew on my face as I thought I could be mistaken for a boy. My hair wrapped and embraced me, hanging on to my clothes, encircling my ankles and bare feet. I did a slow twirl, investigating my amateur work, pleased at the entropy and madness of all the angles and cuts.

I was unusable now.

“Dev?” my sister inquired outside the bathroom.

I mindlessly said, “Come on in.”

I never thought of the poor consequences of my actions. I just thought of how I could be excused from attending my meetings with Heath because of my boyish appearance. I did not consider the punishments still viable even with a masculine frame and face.

Esther opened the door and froze. Her identical icy blue eyes stared at me, absorbing my whole appearance. A look of panic overwhelmed her as my hair clung to her as well. She kicked the hair away from her feet frantically, disgusted by my actions.

And all I could do in reply was give her a crazed smile of victory.

“Devin, what did you do?!” she squealed, kneeling down to the floor and grabbing my hair from the tile floor in handfuls as if glue and tape was all we needed to restore my appearance. Tears collected in the corners of her eyes the longer she absorbed my appearance, and I was surprised to have her so startled by cutting my hair.

I turned back to the mirror, a sense of euphoria taking over.

I was in control for the first time since I could remember. It was my decision, and I couldn’t contain my excitement for being able to be my own master. A sense of confidence poured out of my pores as I imagined all of the freedoms I would have after disobeying the stigma of being a long-haired, petite, blonde girl. I was free.

“Mom! Mom!”

My mother rushed up the stairs from what I presumed was dinner on the stove. She stood beside my sister, eye-level with her after fifteen years, with question carved into her face. Esther shot a finger in my direction; my mother’s black eyes followed the imaginary plane. She dropped her jaw. She marched authoritatively into the bathroom and glared down her slender nose at her disobedient mistake.

I twirled a chopped lock in between my fingers and thought of all the reasons and excuses to degrade my mother, but I would never waste such poignant wit on this woman.

“Why did you do this, Devin? Why did you destroy your beautiful hair?” Her hand brushed through my thin hair as if I was merely a baby begging for attention. Even though my sister seemed to sky-rocket in height during puberty, I barely moved, remaining at five feet flat, so my mother enjoyed the opportunities in which she could discipline me as she could still feel authoritative against at least one child.

My rebellious eyes silently glared at her. Disgusted, I thought of slapping her hand away as she let this all happen. Even though she was a bystander in all of my misery, she could have stopped this all. “You don’t know me.”

Her eyes fell away from my hair, blood on her hand. Glued to her hand momentarily, her swift gaze turned to my scars on my abdomen. She murmured, “Devin, baby…” She tried to touch my bleeding stomach, but I slapped her hand away. Hurt, she meekly tucked her hand behind her back, separating from me about a couple feet away.

I roared, “You don’t even care! You don’t care at all, Mom!” Esther glanced at Arianna and then back at me, curiosity growing in her fragile chest. Her bulging eyes made me unsettled, saddened to expose my sister to all of my internal demons.

And then he came.

Jude stood in the doorframe, his eyes wide with anger and repulsion. Esther turned to him, and he pointed his chin to her bedroom—silent in beckoning her to leave. She immediately followed orders, never looking back over her shoulder to see her sister, my hair still trapped within her fists. Arianna followed behind her daughter, quietly aiding her in walking to her bedroom like she was a toddler.

And then it was just us.

Jude slowly grabbed the doorknob as if I was a feral cat frightened of him and willing to attack in any way possible if I needed. The door gently closed, and my heart rate rose infinitely to a point where my chest tightened and a sense of urgency overwhelmed my senses. He gingerly chortled, “Boys don’t like short hair on girls.”

I hissed, “Good.” I took a step back away from him, my back pressed against the cold tile on the walls right below a mural of an open field with colorful trees distorting a sunset—back when my mother used to paint.

He shook his head, his brow furrowing with concern. “Baby girl, don’t you want someone to love you?”

I felt my chest rise and fall with each labored breath. I fought back the urge to flee or throw anything at him, knowing full well how he would or could react. I wasn’t going to give him leverage to protect himself. “No.”

“Devin—“

“Fuck off! I’m tired of people using me. I’m disgusting and dirty, and it shouldn’t be this way. I shouldn’t be caught chopping off my hair. I should be caught having a crush on a boy in my class. I should be caught cheating on a test. I should be caught procrastinating. I should be a freaking teenager instead of a fucking whore!”

His hands rubbed his eyes and then rubbed up into his hair, tousling his usually tame mane. He purred, “You see, Devin, this is why I’m the only one who loves you, Devin… this rebellious attitude... I love you, and no one else does.”

I grabbed the razor from the sink hastily and pressed it into my abdomen, slicing hard, and then the blade magnetized to my forearm and tore up the forearm like a slice of meat. Before I knew it, Jude jumped on top of me, managing to tear the razor out of my hand, his other hand pounding into my wrist until I regretfully let go. “Dammit,” I squealed as he shoved me onto the floor. I folded up my legs to my chest, but he slammed his foot into my calves, forcing my knees to fall out. He straddled my hips and sat down on my lap, pressing his weight into my knee caps. I groaned in pain as he shifted his weight, and he smugly smirked.

“Now, now, Devin, we don’t cut ourselves or our hair.” He then took the razor and pressed it into my neck.

I tried to wiggle away, but his other hand shoved my right shoulder into the wall, leaving me defenseless and paralyzed.

“God doesn’t like it when you cut things, Devin. He made you a certain way, and He wants to keep it like that, okay?” The blade sunk into my soft flesh, and a maroon droplet slithered down my neck and pooled just above my collar bone.

I clenched my eyes shut and pushed against the blade abruptly.

A strong hand clasped my crown and shoved my face into the lush carpet amidst the remnants of my hair. My nose crackled as Jude further shoved my face into the shag rug. Jude hissed, “Don’t you dare do that again. I love you, Devin. Can’t you see that?”

Tears slid from my eyeballs as he pressured me further into the hard linoleum floor and I realized nothing had changed. Nothing I ever did would change anything.

“Devin, sweetheart, you aren’t eating your sweet potatoes. You love sweet potatoes,” Esther said, elbowing me at the dinner table. I hated how she always thought she had to be my second mother because she was five minutes older than me. A big smile spread across her face as she retold what happened at school and how Leslie proposed they go to prom their junior and senior year together. She thought it was really sweet but also very optimistic of a high school affair.

I placed my hands in my lap and stared at the food, resisting making any eye contact with my family members. A rash still remained on my wrists after being bound for about an hour, but I never screamed because I didn’t want Esther to know how bad things really were.

My mother finally interrupted Esther’s narrative, “Devin, do you understand why what you did was wrong?”

My father answered for me. “Yes, she and I had a discussion about that situation, and she understands that we still love her even when she is disobedient.”

My sister spouted out a verse about obedience. Deuteronomy 4:1.

My fork scratched across my plate, and the hair on my arms stood up as if the wind suddenly swept through the room. My mother glared at me, probably worried about me scratching the dishes she got from my grandmother when she went off to school or some wedding present. Jude agreed with Esther and patted her on the head.

I wanted to break his hand one finger at a time and then finally break the palm.

His weary eyes caught mine, and I could see he was telling me about our little secret and how it should remain that way. Caught up, I learned my lesson, feeling the pressure in my abdomen and then the pain radiating up into my spine. I learned my lesson because to “obey is better than sacrifice”—1 Samuel 15:22.

“Look at Devin… she should just go ahead and get a sex change.”

“She looks like a freaking boy.”

“And I didn’t think she could look any worse.”

The voices cluttered around me as I debuted my new look for the first time at school, and Esther told the wonderful story of how I cut my own hair in my bathroom. She didn’t mean for me to sound crazy; she just wanted to explain why my appearance had drastically altered in a matter of a night.

I leaned into my locker, slowly closing the door so I could press my forehead into the cool metal. The cold assuaged the pain radiating from my cheek after last night, and I was confident I had persuaded the class I managed to punch myself in the face due to a mental breakdown instead of Jude shoving his fist into his daughter’s face. A girl from my Biology class knocked into me and bitterly snapped, “Get out the way, faggot.”

I constructed some retort to rally back, but my conscience felt it was better to withhold my ire. She didn’t deserve it—she was merely acclimating to the competitive social construct that is high school. Even though she was to blame for her individual acts, I brought this upon myself in hopes of protecting myself. I turned back to numbly tapping my head against my locker vacantly, hoping maybe I would kill enough brain cells to give me the same influence drugs have on the brain.

“Dev, what’s up?”

I pulled my head out of the locker and turned to an exuberant Heath. He was one of the very few people in the world who was both a morning person and a night owl. He could charm the socks off of anyone at any time of the day, and I guess that was what partly attracted me to him. I hoarsely mustered, “Hey, Heath.”

His green eyes widened as he meekly stared at me, absorbing my new look. I ran my fingers through my hair, tidied up by a hair stylist after dinner the night before. I gave him a timid smile as his jaw dropped and his eyes shivered to really consume my image. He rustled my hair with his fingers languidly, messing my hair up into a faux-hawk.

“You like it?” I whispered.

“God, what happened?” Both of his hands cradled my face as he realized the bruise on my cheek. His thumb gently prodded it, and I could feel one of my teeth loosen just from his touch.

I narrowed my eyes, silently telling him who did this.

“I’m going to kill him.”

I didn’t answer. I tucked my chin into my chest and took my gaze away from Adonis. I twirled a blonde lock behind my ear and stared at the floor innocently. I didn’t want to deal with judgment or advice because I was still in shock that I couldn’t escape my torture. I couldn’t escape any of it. Even when I destroyed the thing I thought was the most feminine about me, I failed to end it.

“I guess I’ll see you tonight,” I noted, remembering the appointment he and I shared at the hotel at ten o’ clock after club soccer practice. I recall it was the week before the state championships, and my coach was astounded I did such an ignominious action and thought I needed a break from competitive soccer, a reprieve. He just didn’t seem to understand soccer was my reprieve—something I actually was supposed to do. Heath’s coach was drilling their team with conditioning sessions and then technical sessions to prepare, and my team was too wound up over my new appearance to truly focus on anything. I guess the girls found it odd that a girl with hair past her waist chopping off her hair until she was a pageboy was not in tears over the loss of her hair. I guess I should have found it traumatizing to destroy my appearance.

School and practice dragged on as I continued to distance myself from my teammates and my peers with my peculiar behavior. My mind kept wandering as I sauntered down the halls, sat through class, dribbled the ball and passed it off. What can I do to get away? I could run away, but, if I was found… The ideas fluttered into my mind and then were struck down within seconds of its genesis. There were so many errors and so many consequences birthed simultaneously with the meditations.

Eventually, both school and practice came to an end, and I found myself escorted by my father to the hotel. Nauseated and repulsed, I caught myself spitting up nearly anything I imbibed or consumed. I puked at least five times in the hotel bathroom, bile crawling up the back of my throat. The alcohol burned worse coming up than it did coming down.

Jude sat impatiently in the chair across the room beside the bed, his knee bobbing up and down to a beat. He leaned into the heel of his hand as I lurched forward again into the toilet. He growled, “Your boyfriend is late.”

“Why am I dressed like this?” Before he pulled me out of my bed to take me here, he threw a stack of clothes on my bed and demanded I put them on. I immediately recognized them as an outfit a mannequin wore in the men’s department—plaid shirt, t-shirt, and loose-fitting jeans. If Jude desired for Heath to be persuaded to be straight, why did he dress me like a boy, even forcing me to forego a sports bra and wear boxers? Initially, I believed the plan was ludicrous, but then I realized what it was as the night’s moon waned.

My father utilized my mental breakdown for the opportunity to experiment.

“You better hope to God he shows up.”

I turned my gaze back to my father and folded my brow, curious as to why he was hurling threats at me. Is this what it is like to be loved? Is this what it is like to have unconditional love? Pieces of me juxtaposed in the positions of these arguments. I didn’t know any different.

Heath burst through the door animatedly, a frantic expression on his face. His wild eyes scoured the room for me, and I pulled myself away from the toilet. I drunkenly stumbled out of the bathroom, and his eyes lit up for a moment before recognizing me. He mumbled, “Devin?”

I closed my eyes before nodding to hopefully stifle my nausea whilst moving my head.

He took a hesitant step towards me, his green eyes nailed into mine.

Jude scribbled down a line of notes as he waited for Heath’s reaction, and something dropped in the pit of my stomach. I glanced at Jude and turned back to Heath. I whimpered, “Heath, are you okay?”

He snapped, “Shut up for a second.”

I froze.

Heath’s hand reached out to me, his fingertips brushing against my lip as he stepped closer to me. A minor three inches separated us, and I could hear his breaths hastening and becoming shallow, feel his warm bath over my skin. I whispered timidly, “Heath?”

He languidly depleted the space between us, brushing his lips against mine. He was so much gentler than before in our normal sessions. His hands fell to my cheeks, and he pulled me closer to him, gently undulating his lips over mine. I closed my eyes and let him do what he wished, terrified to rebel after the last night. My fingertips brushed against the curve of his jaw, and he then separated from me. His green eyes melted my heart, and then he whispered, “I’m sorry.”

I folded my brow, readying to argue with him, but he slammed me into the wall, crushing me against the surface. He bombarded me with fierce passion as his lips trailed from mine to my neck. I tried to wiggle away from him, but he gnarled his hands in my short locks, manacling me to him. He ripped my shirts away from my reddening skin, and then he threw me on the bed. He yanked my trousers off as I tried to fight back. In my boxers, he fell on top of me and continued to kiss me passionately. He pulled away to breathe for a moment, and then he began to travel down my chest to my waist.

I clawed at him, but he pinned my wrists to the bed. I howled, “Heath! Heath!”

He chanted, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Eventually, Heath did finish, and I lay in the bed, curled into a taut ball, my face buried into my knees. I sobbed and choked back screams as I knew as an inkling of a thought dribbled down into my conscience. My masculine appearance was more attractive than my female impression, so Heath’s conversion therapy had failed so far.

Pain radiated into my abdomen, and I wondered if I needed to be sick again. I considered vomiting on Heath as I became disgusted with him. I couldn’t believe he actually was so rough and sexual during that one encounter. Shocked and terrified, I didn’t know how to exactly respond.

I was in love with Heath, but I was in love with the guy who hated rap and loved orchestras, who saved me from so many different events, who tried to protect me, who gave me Holden, who loved me in a sense I never experienced before. I never desired to be exposed to this raunchy boy I did not know.

Heath rubbed my bare back and cooed, “I’m so sorry, Dev. I’m so freaking sorry.”

The door closed and locked, and I sat up, twisting to face Heath, the tears still brimming over my lashes. My eyes widened in fear as I realized I really didn’t know this person. I didn’t understand the way his brain worked, and I couldn’t foreshadow any of his actions. Unpredictable like a stallion. I hesitated to say something, my lips shivering as I didn’t know how to respond.

“I’m so sorry, Dev.”

My eyes traced his long nose and his angular jaw. I slowly shook my head and murmured, “No, you’re not.”

Shocked, he wrenched his hands away from me, pulling them to his sides like he didn’t want to contaminate his hands with me. Like I was poisonous or explosive. He shook his head frantically and cooed, “I’m so sorry. He said if I did this, we could stop.”

My jaw dropped, and I howled, “No! No! He’ll never stop this. You don’t understand! You don’t understand any of this! He won’t let this stop. He’ll never let this stop.”

His eyes peeled away from mine to turn to the white sheets.

I whispered, “It was a test, and you failed.”

His hands cuffed his ears as he frantically shook his head. “No, no.”

“He doesn’t care about either of us. He doesn’t care.”

“Goddammit, Goddammit.”

I pulled myself from the bed and pulled on my boxers and my t-shirt, still staring at Heath all the while, waiting for him to spring himself on me again. Wary and hurt, I didn’t want to feel the threat of him attaching himself to me again. I rustled my golden strands and drilled holes into Heath as he held himself on the bed.

He threw punches into the wall. “Dammit! Dammit!”

I launched myself on top of him, wrenching his hands off of the wall aggressively. I pushed his hands to his chest, shoving him onto the mattress. I hissed, “You’re going to wake the neighbors if you keep doing that, you dumb—” I froze as I saw the tears pouring from his own eyes, collecting at the curve of his Adam’s apple and clavicles. “Heath.”

“I just wanted to save you. That’s all I wanted. I wanted to save you from this.” Blood trickled from his knuckles, sliding down his forearms as he stared up at me with his emerald eyes. He whimpered, “God, I’m a failure in everything I do.”

I recoiled from him and sat him up, pulling his arms away from his chest. I grabbed one of the sheets and patted his knuckles, the blood plodding on the snowy threads. I denied eye contact as I nursed his fragile hands, bruises already stretching across his alabaster complexion. His fists shook as I massaged the blood from collecting under his skin, and I turned back to him.

“Why are you doing this?” he begged.

“I don’t know…”

His hands fought against mine, tearing away from my grip. He cuffed my jaw, and slowly leaned towards me, halting a few inches away from my face. His eyes riveted me to attention, losing myself in those emerald pools. He whispered, “I swear to God, we’ll figure something out one day. I’ll never hurt you again.”

I wish he was right.

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