by Katalina Gamarra
*Disclaimer: Please note that this story is a work of fiction and contains graphic language and situations. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
They strut through the cafeteria, giving everyone bitch glares. They sit at Their Table. The only time The Younger One tried sitting there, milk was poured on her head. Everyone laughed. Especially The Older One. They kept laughing and mocking until The Younger One ran out of the cafeteria and threw up in the bathroom. Sticking a finger down her throat was the appropriate payback for betrayal.
The Older One wakes as her alarm blares. She smacks it, rolling over. The room is dank and dark, nothing like the pink one she and The Younger One had shared.
The day’s beginning. The mask needs donning. It’s time for her disguise to begin.
The Older One pushes the covers away and gets out of bed. She cracks the door open and looks down the hall. Bathroom’s empty. Good. She walks in and immediately wants to leave.
It stinks of vomit.
The Younger One was here.
Shame creeps up her stomach making her feel hot and lightheaded, but she pushes it down. Her disguise returns. She brushes her teeth amidst the stench of her sister’s revenge.
The Younger One sticks a finger down her throat roughly five times a day. She awakes to her alarm, smacks it, rolls out of bed, and begins inhaling her junk food stash. She’s so hungry, stressed, confused, and destructive that all she wants are Cheetos, Lays, and cheesy popcorn. After five bags of chips the guilt sets in, and she makes her first trip to the bathroom. The first finger-down-throat occurs. She leaves the bathroom, seeing that her sister’s door is still shut. Good. She can smell payback as she brushes her teeth.
The Older One sits with Them on the school bus. She never sits with her sister. The Younger One walks past Them, and one of Them sticks out her foot. The Younger One stumbles and laughter ensues. The Older One joins in, her disguise forcing the laughs out of her mouth, her shame muting the part of her brain that might emit sympathy. The Younger One says nothing and sits in the back. She’s already looking forward to the second finger-sticking-down of the day; the moment she can punish herself for letting The Older One slip away.
At school, The Older One passes notes in class, sasses her teachers, and enjoys another lunchtime where her disguise makes her forget what she’s causing. She merges herself with Them.
After lunch, They leave, everyone’s eyes on Them. They strut down the hall, not noticing The Younger One walking past Them, her head down, the stench of vomit kissing her lips. They ignore her; They can’t get caught. The Older One glances at her sister while the others laugh at something unimportant. Her head is still down; she won’t tell Mom what They’re doing.
People get out of Their way as They saunter to study hall. There’s one customary stop They make every day before They’re parted for class.
It’s the first year none of Them have classes together.
They can’t split up; too many tales of broken condoms and bloody underwear confessed between Them. They’re all They have.
They’ve reached The Younger One’s locker. She’s tucked away in study hall, her nose deep in a chemistry book because only equations make sense. They open her locker and add to what keeps Them together.
Puke faster yr fats still showing.
If I need my virginity back can I borrow yrs?
One of Them uncaps a red sharpie and grins writing, Nice greaseball ever heard of shampoo? Most of Them laugh and hail the zinger, but for a moment, The Older One can’t. Her mask slips.
She feels hot with guilt but cold with shame; feelings she works so hard to lock away sneak out and prod her conscience. They don’t notice; They’re too busy being relieved that bullying is uniting.
The Older One shoves her mask back on and smiles. She looks up to see her sister staring at her from down the hall.
Her chemistry book is clutched under her arm and not even fifty lockers can musk the vomit The Older One smelled that morning. Her sister stares but doesn’t see.
The Older One looks away clutching clutching clutching her mask.
It started with favoritism. The Younger One’s kindergarten art was always plastered on the fridge, while The Older One’s work would lay under piles of bills. Whenever they reached a crosswalk, Mom would say to The Younger One, “Take my hand,” leaving The Older One to grope for a finger, scared of death by car strike. In the living room, pictures of The Younger One were hung everywhere: her first bike ride, her horseback riding competitions, her sitting around doing nothing.
That was when The Older One began building her disguise. When it was clear her accomplishments would never be First Place in their mother’s heart.
But They had always been there for her.
They were sympathetic even before They were old enough to understand what was happening. They never played in the living room, always in The Older One’s room; or better yet, at someone else’s house so The Older One could have an hour of respite.
Their sympathy even extended to excluding The Younger One. Whenever she sat down with Them, eager to add her Barbie to the Dream House, They pushed her away. The first time, she ran to her mother, who barged in and yelled so much, They didn’t know who started crying first. Whenever The Younger One returned, she was allowed to stay, but it was clear she was unwanted. Eventually, she stopped going. And stopped telling Mom.
One day, The Younger One entered her room to find her Barbie lying on her bed: head severed from body.
They congregated at a park after school. The park where all the boys skateboarded and eyed the girls pretending not to watch them. This park had led to the incident that scarred Them all. Twelve-year-old tears streamed down her face when her period was late, an insult to the excruciating torture her first time had been. They rallied together, texting every hour, all of Them taking on the feelings of palpable pregnancy.
But it passed.
Blood blessed her panties a couple days later. They had never been so happy to talk about menstruation.
The whole ordeal terrified The Older One more than the others. She worried The Younger One might follow suit. What if she had broken condom sex too young before learning the mechanics of safety?
But The Older One couldn’t talk to her. The joyous bond they shared as toddlers vanished when the refrigerator art and picture palace began. Sometimes when The Younger One was at a horseback riding lesson, The Older One would scour her room, checking all the possible places she might hide condoms.
She never found any, but she did find the junk food drawers. A mix of feelings had risen, but ultimately the disguise won out.
She took a Sharpie and scrawled on the inside of the drawer: Nice to see you’re trying to get fat.
The Younger One began mistrusting her mother even before the drinking began. When asking her to fix the empathetic exclusion backfired, The Younger One realized nothing her mother tried would help. She spent most of her childhood alone in her room, hating herself more and more each time she heard Their laughter next door.
Age ten was when the junk food drawer began. Their laughter hurt a little less when she was inhaling something that tasted good and made her feel sick. And as her mother started abandoning her for bottles on that kitchen shelf, The Younger One expanded her junk food drawer to two.
When she was twelve, she’d come home to find her mother passed out in a pool of her own sick. The Younger One could smell her mother before finding her. She followed the stench of desertion down the hall to her mother’s room where she was lying on the floor, eyes closed, a chunky lake by her head. The Younger One screamed for her sister for the first time in years, the instinct for help so ingrained that she forgot they hated each other. She screamed and screamed but no one came. The Younger One ran out of her mother’s room, barging into her sister’s. She wasn’t there. The Younger One ran through the house but no one was home. She called 911, and after the promise of an ambulance, she sought solace in her junk food drawers. As she lifted up a bag of potato chips, she saw her sister’s inscription.
After consuming ten bags, The Younger One stuck a finger down her throat for the first time and the ten bags came back up: like mother like daughter.
The Older One coped with her mother’s drinking by getting Them to torment The Younger One at school. It started on a Tuesday when The Older One asked The Younger One to sit with Them.
“Really?” The Younger One was skeptical but too hopeful to be smart.
“Yeah!” The Older One insisted.
As The Younger One sat down, one of Them poured milk on her head, and the cafeteria-wide laughter started. The Older One laughed with triumph, feeling high off finally getting her sister back. High on feeling in control. The Younger One ran out of the cafeteria and did her third finger-sticking-down of the day.
One middle school day, the sisters came home at the same time.
“Oh,” said The Older One. “I thought you had horseback riding.”
“Cancelled,” said The Younger. “It’s supposed to snow later.”
The sisters stood there until The Younger One marched into the house and locked herself in her room. She couldn’t remember the last time they’d been at home together after school. The Older One always hung out at that stupid park with her stupid friends, and The Younger One was careful to schedule her horseback riding lessons on days when The Older One usually brought Them over.
She kneeled in front of her junk food drawers and started crying as she pulled one open. She hadn’t cried in years; maybe that’s why her fucking eyes were geysers, making up for lost time. Despicable sounds escaped her mouth, and she tried to shut herself off, but she’d lost control of her composure. The Younger One lay on the ground, sobbing into the rug, feeling tears and snot run down her face and soak into the carpet. Through her tears, she heard The Older One’s door open.
No. She couldn’t be coming.
The Younger One heard footsteps that stopped outside her door.
After a moment, she heard her sister walk back to her room and turn on music to drown out The Younger One’s honesty. She cried until her head throbbed and her eyes were sore. The Younger One wiped her nose and opened the door to get a glass of water.
That’s when she saw her old Barbie: its head glued back to its body as if nothing had been severed.
It happened in one day.
Three years had passed and The Younger One was sixteen. Her junk food drawer had shrunk back to one, but she had scars on her arms and legs to make up for the other. She still stuck a finger down her throat five times a day and now she ran fifteen miles a week. She’d quit horseback riding.
One Tuesday afternoon she brought someone home: a guy she’d flirted with in AP Chemistry. He’d asked her to tutor him for their midterm but they both knew that wasn’t really what he wanted.
He made small talk about the test until the need to forget overpowered her. The Younger One kissed him and he seized her waist with such force, she could tell he wasn’t surprised. Fumbling towards her bedroom, The Younger One yanked off his shirt and squeezed his skin.
She didn’t know what she was doing but she knew she didn’t want to sit inside herself anymore: she wanted him to.
He grabbed her breasts, unhooking her bra with one hand while fondling her with the other. She fell on the bed as he bore down on top of her, not feeling anything but wanting to be free.
He pulled the rest of her clothes off and rubbed a condom over his penis, before shoving it inside her.
“OW!” She screamed without meaning too, it was more painful than she could have imagined.
“Shh,” he put a hand over her mouth and started.
The more he moved back and forth the more painful it became, and the intense pain of being fucked for the first time with no lube, no desire, and no self-worth brought her back.
“Stop,” she said, trying to pull his hand off her breast. But he crushed her arm into the bed and started going faster.
“OWWWW,” she screamed again and tears flowed down her face. “Stop, stop, please, get off, oww…” her sentence trailed off into her sobs as he kept moaning and growling.
The door crashed open.
“GET THE FUCK OFF MY SISTER.” Before The Younger One knew what was happening, The Older One was pulling him out. She winced and clasped her vagina the second he was gone. Blood.
“Knock much?” He didn’t seem to care that he was naked in front of a stranger.
“Get the fuck out of my house,” The Older One snarled, throwing his clothes at him.
“Calm down,” he said pulling on his clothes. “Crazy bitches,” she heard him mutter has he left.
The Younger One was in shock. She stared at her sister. The Older One stared back. Now that the threat was gone, awkwardness settled in. They hadn’t spoken in years. Then The Younger One remembered she was naked. She pulled a comforter over herself.
“Hold on,” The Older One grabbed the comforter. “There’s blood on your sheets.”
“Here, I’ll, um…wash them or something. Just get dressed.”
“You don’t need to tell me what to do, I know how to put clothes on.”
“Well, you don’t have to be so snippy, I just pulled a fucking rapist off you.”
“FUCK YOU, Anna, you don’t even—”
“Ezra, SHUT UP, you could at least—”
Anna’s phone rang.
“Of course she answers the phone,” Ezra muttered, pulling a shirt over her head.
But then she saw Anna turn white. “Okay. I’ll be right there.”
“What?” Ezra asked.
Anna shoved her phone into her pocket. “Mom’s in the hospital. Someone found her passed out on a bench.” She was breathing heavily, her feelings at war, but the fear of losing their mother beat her disguise.
Anna and Ezra sat by their mother’s hospital bed. Tubes were tucked into her skin and a monitor beeped by her bedside.
Anna took Ezra’s hand and squeezed.
Ezra squeezed back.