Captive in the Mirror by Nancy J. Walker with Peter Lundell
We were Catholic, and confirmation classes had begun the October just before Aunt Loretta broke my heart. Oblivious to my ongoing depression, Mom wouldn’t let me quit. I was neither interested in the teaching, nor did I understand the purpose of the rituals. Mom said I should be grateful to have the privilege of Confirmation at age twelve. It meant I was mature. Odd, because I had no idea what the word mature meant.
Nonetheless, the thought of donning a fancy, white dress enticed me. Mom said it spoke of purity, another word I didn’t understand, but she made it sound special. Not one to question authority, especially Mom’s, I never asked for explanations. I only needed to feel special.
Besides wearing a white party dress, Mom bought me my first pair of half-inch heels. Confirmation appealed to me even more.
I chose Therese as my confirmation name. One of my religion teachers taught about her. St. Therese was “The Little Flower of Jesus.” I wanted to be his little flower too. As the day approached, I decided I should become a nun. I envisioned the holiness of actually being married to God, even though I didn’t know who he was.
That dream died quickly.
An older boy named John invaded my life that same month. John spotted Mom and her mechanic, Danny, riding alone in her car. John, a lanky, black, high school student with thick glasses, towered over my skinny four-foot-eleven frame.
I was in seventh grade. He trapped me in the junior high school section of the building after school in front of my locker. He put one hand on my chest, thrust my chin up with his other hand, forcing my head back against the hard metal slats, and then whispered into my ear.
“Do what I tell you, and I won’t tell your daddy your mama’s a whore,” he threatened, and then walked away. Plastered to my locker, I sucked in a deep breath, trying to settle the swooshing in my stomach.
Daddy went to Taiwan a lot on business, and I heard my mother tell him he “should not be with that woman.” Dad’s affairs and cold treatment of Mom made her cry a lot. She was so lonely and desperate to be loved.
I knew that Mom liked Danny, a muscular olive-skinned Italian man with dark eyes and wavy black hair. She told me so, and I saw her kiss him. Danny managed the Sears auto service center on Highway 35, where she often took me to have our station wagon fixed. They laughed and chatted together in his office for hours. It bored me, so Mom gave me her Sears credit card and sent me into the store (where they knew us) to shop. Sometimes Danny treated Mom and me to Carvel Ice Cream. Mom must’ve gone with Danny to Carvel without me.
And John saw them.
I feared how my possessive father would react if he knew Mom had a friend too. I saw no way out so I did whatever John said. I had to conceal what I perceived to be Mom’s secret. Immaturity and naiveté kept me silent and submissive.
The sins of an unloved mother, pushed by an unfaithful husband, became the next falling domino.
One day after school, John forced me go with him under the train trestle that crossed over Matawan Creek. Two boys my age tagged along side of us. John lifted up my skirt. The giggling boys dropped coins into his hand, and then touched my panties.
I covered myself but John slapped my hands away and gripped my elbows. Squirming, I crossed legs. They laughed harder and continued their stupid game of torment. My stomach ached. After I dry heaved, the snickering boys quickly tired of their fun and backed off. John called me a pig, then left me there. I slumped down into the muck, tucked my hands under my armpits, hugging myself as I rocked back and forth, and sobbed for what seemed like hours.
The disappearing sun meant it was nearly suppertime. With tears rushing down my face, I rose from the ground and ran towards home. My face heated up with shame from the weird sensation I felt when they groped me.
I slipped in through our front door unnoticed and tiptoed upstairs to the bathroom. I turned on the tap, squirted some Mr. Bubble into the tub, sank into the hot water up to my eyeballs in bubbles. The mirror on the door seemed to dominate the bathroom. A mirror never lies. Soap couldn’t wash away what those boys did or what I felt.
I was now a dirty little girl.