Shadow Play

She’s sitting on the couch. Fraying the tissue in her hands as she folds and refolds it, she scrunches up her nose so she won’t cry for the fifth consecutive session.

“I don’t like to think of myself as a victim,” she says defiantly.

But she’s instantly in that room, remembering the flowering purple that claimed her skin. Remembering the knife that pressed on her neck as she lay crumpled in the living room she and her sisters used to dance in.

Fall back. She’s nine years old. Her sister is hanging upside down in the toy closet with the help of a yellow nylon jump rope, screaming and begging to be let down. And despite all of her parents’ coaching about protecting her siblings and taking care of them, she knows the best thing she can possibly do is nothing.

Spin around. They’re at Magic Kingdom. Their dad has bought them hot chocolate, and they watch the fireworks go up over Cinderella’s castle. Her mom squeezes her hand. She thinks, “I love my family.”

Take a step. She feels the cool tile on her feet. Her mother’s on top of her sister, pinching and slapping every surface area available. Her sister is crying so hard that she’s starting to retch. The next day, there will be purple dots on her upper eyelid—little bruises forming, capillaries broken from the exertion of a breaking heart. And no one will ask her about it.

Reach up. Her dad has driven forty minutes to tutor her in physics because she got a 62 on the last test. He painstakingly explains potential energy, kinetics, velocity, acceleration. She makes an 88 on the next one.

Side sweep. His hands are in her mother’s hair, dragging her to the red carpet. She ushered everyone else upstairs, knowing that their combined crying and screaming and begging will do nothing to stop their parents’ fighting. She stands guard at the staircase, trying to gauge when it’s done. When it’s safe.

Still for a moment.

“I can tell you’re loved.”

She looks at him warily, this boy who claims he can read people, read her. “I can tell your parents really care about you. That’s something that I don’t quite have.” She quietly agrees, but thinks that sometimes, her parents care about her too much.

Jump forward. She is tugging down on her sleeves, hiding the bruises from the beating the night before. “We want you to remember what you did every time you sit down. We want you to feel the pain you’ve caused.” Her friends ask what happened. “I fell off my bike.” They are satisfied.

Leap high. Her mother is talking about the first date she had with her dad. Her mother talks about how they went to an amusement park. How on the bus ride home, she was starting to fall asleep, and this boy-growing-into-a-man took off his jacket, rolled it up into a makeshift pillow and put it under her bobbing head.

“At that moment, I knew this was a man who would take care of me, my family. He was thoughtful and unselfish. You need to find someone like him.”

Hold the position—

Did you make this?

“No, my mom made it. Every now and then she makes me a lot of food, so I don’t have to cook,” she says.

I wish I had your mom.

“No, you really wouldn’t,” her friend blurts.

She glares at him, her eyes spitting out: how dare you remind me.

These are so sweet! The figs taste like honey.

“Thank you. My dad grows them in his garden.”

He’s so talented—working so hard, having the time to grow these, raising such accomplished children. I want to learn his secret.

She bites her lip.

—and smile.

Her therapist leans forward, placing her file on the desk. “Why?”

Because it means I’m defenseless. Because it means I’m vulnerable. Because it’s easier if I don’t think about it. Because I don’t want anyone’s pity. Because I can’t stand it.

Tears drip off her chin. She tucks herself into a ball, hides her face in the worn-down tissue square, and relives every moment she felt the nagging intangibility that she wasn’t normal.

Wait for the applause.


Rosy Hao is a 23 year old girl becoming a woman becoming a girl. You will find her wearing knee socks, eating soup, and watching NBC comedies. She likes books with strong female characters, by strong female characters. Her first favorite poet was E. E. Cummings.