And Then I Found Her
I found her for the first time when I really needed her most. It was in that first week in the new house, after a colourless dinner, when Dad’s fork was slammed down and the snapping of drawn-out tension bled through the house. It may have been the plate mum dropped by accident, or my too-loud cough; but his voice split the vein, rose in heavy waves and fell through to my intestines. I pulled my sister from the room, pushed her under the bed, stuffed toys into her hands. I pressed my palms to my ears and went outside.
The backyard was long and steep. The air was ice hard and rigid. The dark surrounded me like a solid wall. Facing away from the house, I sat down at the base of the tree at the furthest end of the garden. Leaning against the brittle bark, I slowly took my hands away from my ears. I couldn’t hear him, just the horn of a distant train sweeping through on rusted tracks. I wiped my eyes and nose and pulled my knees close.
A sliver of light cut through the dark near the shed. And then I found her. She was just shapes at first—a mound in the shadow against the back fence. I squinted hard trying to find the answer, the whole picture of what she was. At first I thought she was a man, crouched low. My chest seized and my pupils shifted.
But it wasn’t a man. It looked like it could be a large dog, but the size and form didn’t fit. I got up slowly and inched closer. My eyes adjusted to the dark, or the moonlight hit at just the right angle to make her perfectly clear. She turned her head toward me and I lost everything in that moment: my stomach, my breath, my sadness, my disbelief and something else. Something dark that had grown in me. I lost it when the moon hit her full in the face and I saw her completely.
When midnight approached and my fingers were numb I went back inside because no one had come to collect me.
Inside there was a great deal of broken glass and a few droplets of blood that hadn’t yet been wiped from the kitchen sink. I washed it away and went to bed, the feeling of her soft pelt remembered on my fingers. I slept well that night. The first night of my life I slept right through.
It was strange to have one secret so dark and another so bright. Dad often said he didn’t hit kids. Nobody from school ever knew, or if they did they didn’t say. That secret lived deep within me and had long been settled in the pit of my stomach, like a sort of sickness. But, the moment I had passed the back of my hand across her glowing forehead, she lit me from foot to face with something so pure that the darkness didn’t feel heavy. It felt like velvet, the rattling cough in my chest eased and the tension in my fingers and toes. When I was with her, I could carry the world better.
A virgin, it said. The book in the library told me what she was, and what I was, and why I could see and touch her. She’d chosen me because I was a virgin. Someone pure, the book said. I smiled at that. My sister read the book beside me, while I stroked her hair. When I took the book up to the librarian, my sister asked her what a virgin was. The librarian blushed, looked at me with raised eyebrows and said that was a question for us both to ask our mother.
We got back home later than we were expected. Dad said it was Mum’s fault. It wasn’t, I told him. When he went to strike her, I took the blow instead, for the first time. He went a bit pale but told me I wasn’t a kid anymore. As if it didn’t count.
I slipped out of the house away from the lounge with the TV blaring, from the drained football players and spilt beer and his muttered oaths about maggots or faggots or both. My head was sore. I found her there in her usual spot, with her silvery flank that changed colour with her every breath. I lay down beside her in the tall grass behind the shed, not worrying about thorns, bugs or dirt. Not worrying at all. I lay my head on her stomach and felt her breathe. With each breath she lifted my pounding head to the sky and gently brought me back to earth. Up and down in soft, endless motion.
I told her what had just happened.
I asked her if she thought I was brave even if mum hadn’t said so.
And if she could feel the lump on the back of my head.
And if she thought it would heal.
I was silent for a while.
Then I asked her if she had the power to kill someone.
I left her when the sky was darkening, and the anthem of the wrong team was playing. I touched the back of my head; the lump, pounding and pain were gone.
I promised her then, when she’d given me resounding calm, I would be a virgin forever. I stayed with her for hours on end, night after night, long after Dad had gone to bed or slunk back to the couch to cough out words of regret or remorse.
Every night I’d stay with her, stroking the soft hair from between her eyes as she closed them lazily. With each stroke I would feel lighter and lighter, like I could blow away. Then she’d bend her head low and whinny, and I knew it was time to go back inside and not be afraid of the dark I would find there. Before I’d leave, I’d kiss her between the eyes, below her spiralled horn and wipe the dirt from my knees, praying that I could keep her forever.
I didn’t expect to meet him. He called out to me through the small crack in the rotten planks of our wooden fence. I was on my way to see her. I’d frozen as the sound of his voice cut through the air. He asked me to pass his football back to him, which was not far from where she was lying. He hoisted himself up onto the fence to look into our garden. He told me that he went to my school, and that our grass was too long. I passed the football back to him, trying to hold his gaze so he wouldn’t look around, so he wouldn’t see her. He said I should climb over.
He had a new game and he didn’t want to play it alone. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to spend the afternoon with her. It was raining and I planned to make her a small shelter from a sheet of tarp I’d found. But he wouldn’t accept my quiet refusal. So I climbed over and passed slow hours playing dark video games with him.
He caught me almost every day after school. I’d hear him slam the back door, throw down his backpack and lift himself onto the fence. At first, I did what he asked to protect her. I played video games and watched boring movies until I could safely say they needed me home for dinner. Instead I’d go back to be with her, to feel warm and safe again.
It happened slowly. After a while, I didn’t mind the games, or the movies, or when he put his arm around my shoulder and asked me to stay a little longer. I didn’t mind when he kissed me or said I was pretty. Sometimes it almost felt as nice as when I was with her.
It slowly began to mean something. The promise I’d made to her. When he kissed me on the neck one time. Staying a virgin meant something when he’d thrown the game controller on the couch, put his hand on my leg, leaned in and said, ‘Look, if you don’t feel the same way, you probably shouldn’t come by anymore.’
I didn’t cry until I lay my cheek against her coat. I asked her if it was true that I wouldn’t see her again if I did it, and when she didn’t answer, I went back to the book to find anything to tell me that I could somehow keep her too—it didn’t have to be the end. I’d be pure either way.
But I never found what I wanted. The truth was that she’d leave me if I did it, and he’d leave me if I didn’t. I told her that I never wanted to let her go. She rested her face in my arms and nuzzled closer to me. I began to cry, thinking about who I once was, who I was then in that moment with her, and who I would be after.
I asked her if it would hurt and if she would still love me. She didn’t answer. I stayed there with her until the wind dropped, and it felt as though it was the end of a very dark world. When I began to shiver, she nudged me as if to say get to bed. Walking away from her, I said goodbye, gasping with hot tears. She was silent.
The next day, with a racing heart, I found him. In a rushed hour of privacy, in the dark and freezing cold, in a cramped corner of a single bed, I allowed it to happen. Because I knew that I had to, whether then or at some other time—because he’d asked me so persistently. Because in the end, I knew that I would never be able to hold onto her forever.