Illustration by Erin McPhee
She knew me better than I knew myself but ten years stood between us.
When I woke up, my surroundings reminded me of a cross between a hospital and a prison. Florescent lights casted their sickly hue onto the dull walls, the floor and even the worn leather of a sofa that was just a few feet away from me. Ironically enough, a hybrid of both those institutions closely resembled my high school. A sharp gasp rose to my lips when I felt the touch of cold steel against my back, my posture correcting itself with the surprise. The door behind me had seen better days but even with a death grip around its latch and a mighty yank, it wouldn’t budge. It took me three more tries to accept that I was stuck there and yet another long minute to notice the faint knocking that had fallen deaf on my ears.After throwing a glance over my shoulder, I tripped and tumbled into an impending sense of doom. A thin, seemingly unbreakable pane of glass sliced the room in half and constrained me without revealing its purpose yet. Upon closer inspection, I could spot a slim figure waving to me from the other side. It was at this point that I wondered if I was the animal or just a cruel spectator.
She pressed her ear up against the barrier with a hiked eyebrow and I raised my voice a little, only to be met with a shrug and a smile. My chest caved in a deep sigh as I crouched down to level my eyes with hers. Her gaze seemed familiar, with her soft curls parted slightly to the right and her navy eyeliner winged, I grew an instant liking to her style. After a brief moment, I finally matched the silver cross on her neck to mine. Presumably,to stop my uncomfortable staring, she gestured to the black marker to my left and uncapped hers. I let her write the first line with the intention of following her lead.
I frowned at the simple message scrawled backwards for my convenience, my nostrils burning from the astringent smell of the black ink.Upon pressing the chisel tip to the glass, I realized just how hard it was to write backwards. Surely, my penmanship would suffer under these circumstances.
Who are you?
I’m you, just ten years older and ten pounds fatter.
Incredulous, I watched as she carefully strung her answer together word by word, blinking when her hand came to a sudden stop. She used the sleeve of her blue cardigan to rub away a speck of ink and added the detail about her current weight. Ah, so the self-deprecation was still intact. If what she was saying was true, it was both comforting and disheartening to know that she had retained a few of my personality traits.I erased my previous response with the gentle touch of my fingers, finding temporary beauty in the etchings that crowned her head. From lotus flowers to water ripples, every line reminded me of the flow that I only experienced in art class. The wall between us resembled a large sheet of plexiglass ready to be inked and made into a print. I recapped my marker once I was satisfied with my answer.
If we’re really the same person then tell me the story behind that necklace.
She glanced down at the silver chain around her neck, thoughtfully caressing the pendant before going to form a reply.
My grandmother gave it to me on her deathbed but you already know that.
I just stared at her as the eerie coincidence of our shared appearance slowly sank in, my eyes drawn to her felt-tip as she printed backwards once more.
You really have to be less suspicious of people. It’s important.
Yes, trust is essential.
Alright, so I’m here to learn some life lesson, right?
Whatever you want to call it. Is there anything you want to know?
At the opportunity to ask questions, my thoughts became a steady stream and writing backwards became a primal instinct. There wasn’t a sleepless night I couldn’t remember and each one came with the persistent, almost gruelling worry that by the age of 25, I wouldn’t know the taste of success, love or happiness. The process of drawing information from my older self became quite simple;write, erase and repeat. To my quiet frustration, she was sparing with the details she provided. From her college credentials to her financial situation, I slowly had all my questions answered but when my eyes fell onto the silver band wrapped around her finger, I felt a nagging in my chest.
So, you’re married?
She smiled at the hot flush that rose to my cheeks, smudging away the dark ink again before raising her marker to the glass. Even just by watching her, I could tell that the faint squeaking that came with writing on glass irked her.
Tell me about your fiancé.
I swallowed thickly, chewed at my lip until it flaked and fumbled with the instrument in my hand. It came naturally for me to look away from her, neatly fold my hands in my lap and hope that she’d correct the pronoun soon. She didn’t. Instead, she let me study the lackluster room, patiently waiting for me to be done with my denial. In the few seconds I examined my environment, I noticed a few minor details I had missed the first time around. There was a clock just above the door with hands that refused to budge and tally marks carved purposively into the walls. There were too many to count but clearly, there had been others before me. When my eyes had nowhere left to go, I finally faced her.
She smiled at the hot flush that rose to my cheeks, smudging away the dark ink again before raising her marker to the glass. Even just by watching her, I could tell that the faint squeaking that came with writing on glass irked her. Engaged! Tell me about your fiancé. She’s beautiful. I swallowed thickly, chewed at my lip until it flaked and fumbled with the instrument in my hand. It came naturally for me to look away from her, neatly fold my hands in my lap and hope that she’d correct the pronoun soon. She didn’t. Instead, she let me study the lackluster room, patiently waiting for me tobe done with my denial. In the few seconds I examined my environment, I noticed a few minor details I had missed the first time around. There was a clock just above the door with hands that refused to budge and tally marks carved purposively into the walls. There were too many to count but clearly, there had been others before me. When my eyes had nowhere left to go, I finally faced her.
Yes, she. Don’t act surprised.
So, you came out? Everyone knows?
I was never good at reading body language but I guess I was so anxious that she could feel it from across the room. Face softened with empathy, she pressed her hand up against the smooth glass and let me match mine to hers. I could in no way, feel her warmth but the simple gesture was enough to make my eyes sting. Upon pulling away, she hurriedly wrote another line.
Then, things are perfect.
She shook her head gently and for a second, I swear she looked melancholy. Still, her eyes were wishful as she replied.
No, things are okay just like they are now.
It didn’t matter that I couldn’t hear her saying it, her words cut through me like a hot knife. Had she forgotten about all of this? All the hard days, the harder nights and the shrill voice in my head that would eventually make worms’ meat out of me? Had she forgotten about all the self-hatred and all the self-doubt that came with living a lie at school and living the exact same one at home? My hands shook as I pieced together a weary response.
I don’t think so.
You won’t for a long time and that’s okay.
I can’t do this anymore. I want to be with you.
I wish I had let her finish writing before I rose to my feet and started kicking, screaming and soon enough, heedlessly punching at the wall. I couldn’t hold out any longer, it was all too much. All I wanted was to cross the threshold and arrive to a place where I could be comfortable in my own skin but even that was beyond me. I lost count after ten and sometime after my knuckles bled, I felt my fist shatter the glass. Shortly after that, I felt my spirit break as well. Through tear-soaked lashes, she was nowhere to be seen. She was not nursing my bruised and battered hand and the giant hole I had created was not a door to my safe haven. There were no warm arms to run into, just warm blood trickling from my fingers and pooling on the otherwise spotless floor. By now, I could hear the clock ticking and the soft click of a door opening behind me. Upon looking over my shoulder at the exit, I realized how much I already missed her. Ten long years stood between us but triumph conquered time like how the ocean swallowed everything in its path.