I’m not entirely certain of when I’d first met her; the girl in the velvet dress. But looking back, I think it was around the third or fourth grade. It was a long time ago, and though, unimportant details like the name of my teacher at the time, and what the course material was happen to drift just beyond cognition, the events that happened have remained sharp within my memory. They linger, like a rose bush that you reach out for, anxious to pluck it from its stem and smell it, but in the process you prick your finger on a thorn. You still manage to get hold of the rose, however, but when you finally bring the bright red petals up to your nose and take a long, deep sniff of it, you realize that the scent of the rose maybe wasn’t worth the pain.
While caught in the boughs of youth, I could have been coined a social outcast. Sure, I was a small, timid girl, but more than that, I think it was the dirt that lined the hems of my dresses, the bags under my eyes and the occasional bruises that would poke out from under my collar that caused the other kids to avoid me like the plague. To say I had a hard upbringing would be paramount to saying that twinkies are just barely unhealthy for you. No, though I was avoided at school by my peers, my father gave me nothing but attention. God, I wish he hadn’t.
Yet, as I would hobble down the hallway on shaky legs, I found that the one and only thing I’d ever truly wanted was a friend. I just wanted someone I could talk to, regardless of weight, gender or sex, I wanted a friend. The loneliness weighed on me heavily, and though I was no older than ten years old at the time, my thoughts often wandered towards ending it all. I’d known what my father did to me was wrong, yet I still didn’t fully comprehend why, or just how wrong it truly was.
In the nights I found myself waking up with soiled sheets, and I’d cry silently into my pillow, afraid I’d wake him. Afraid It would bring forth an additional nightly visit. Most nights went this way, and I found myself wishing for a way out, it wasn’t long before those wishes turned into actions and I tried to take my life for the first time.
It had been a rather horrible week for me. The bruises that were typically hidden beneath the thin fabric of my dresses had leaked out onto my arms and neck. My teacher at the time, brought me to the principal’s office on the suspicion that I was being abused. I’d never heard the word before, and shook my head vigorously at the prospect. I’d assumed to ‘be abused’ was a bad thing, and I was correct in that front, however, I didn’t realize that it didn’t mean I was in trouble. So I denied it, and that’s when they called my sole parent to school; my father.
As the men in the fancy blue suits came into the school and spoke to me, my father arrived. Through a hate filled gaze he stared through the open door to the principal’s office and shook his head while placing a lone finger over his stubble surrounded mouth. His eyes pierced through me, filling me with a child like fear akin to finding a monster under one’s bed, the slow reaching hand that threatens to pluck your leg right off the edge of the bed and send you into an obsidian purgatory.
Needless to say, I was quieted by the sight of the gesture. And when the men in the fancy blue suits were finished talking to me, I moved out of the office to sit on the chairs by the receptionist’s desk. She looked at me sadly, though, at the time I could not understand why. I remember seeing the circular glint of metal on one of the men’s belts as my father walked into the room. I caught his eye as he looked back at me angrily, causing me to draw and try to hide the frightened tears welling up in my eyes.
The men in the blue suits walked out of the principal’s office, followed shortly after by my smiling father. He laughed with each of the men as they bid him farewell, then he grabbed me by the shoulder and led me out the door. I remember the smiling faces of the men as I tried to get away from my father.
In the hours following, I found myself beaten and bloody laying in my closet, as I clutched my knees to my chest, wishing deeply for the darkness to take me. I looked up to the cross bar where my clothes hung and eyed the thing leather belt that went with one of my dresses. It wasn’t the first time I looked at it like that, though it was the first time I acted on those urges.
I stood, gripping the thin leather cord tightly as slipped the end through the buckle then tied it onto the crossbar next to the selection of dresses given to me by my mother shortly before she died. Standing up fully now, I worked my head through the small loop in the belt, then gently began to lower myself, smiling as I felt the circulation slow and the oxygen restrict. I’m finally going to be free.
I heard a faint crying sound as the door to my closet slid open and a beautiful girl in a purple velvet dress stood there, looking at me through her tear strewn eyes. I remember thinking that she was a ‘big kid’ as she worked the knot free of the bar and helped me down onto the ground, though, she couldn’t have been older than twelve. She slid the belt off from around my neck and regarded me sympathetically. She felt familiar, and in that moment, I thought she was an angel. I smiled and tried to speak, though, nothing but a hoarse whisper escaped my mouth.
The girl in the velvet dress stood and looked at me and the tears continued to stream down her face, though she didn’t speak. She reached down and took my hand, helping me onto unsure feet and guiding me through the house, towards the back door. I recall looking into my father’s room as we passed and I saw him sleeping in bed. His red blankets pulled up snuggly to his chin. He was smiling as if satisfied with his prior work.
We entered the cool breeze of the outdoors and she led me down the path to the front of our house and onto the sidewalk, dragging me behind her as we ran. She looked back and smiled reassuringly several times, though at the time, I wasn’t sure why.
After some time, we found our way to a large brick building where many men in those fancy blue suits from before – the policemen – were milling about. I looked around in awe, completely immersed in this world I hadn’t known about. But as I felt my empty hand, I frowned, and began looking around frantically for the girl that had brought me here. She was nowhere to be found.
When they saw my dirty dress and bare feet, they asked if I was lost. I shyly hid my face in my hands, unsure of what to say to these large men in blue suits. They sat me down and gave me hot chocolate, something I hadn’t had since the days when my mother was still alive. It tasted so sweet that I eventually talked to them. They asked how I got there and I simply told them that I’d followed the girl in the velvet dress. They looked confused, but asked if I could lead them back to my home. I did, even though I didn’t want to go back.
When we got back, they decided to try and wake my dad up, and had to call more of their friends. He must have been heavy because they needed to put him on a bed and carry him out. One of the men was crying when he’d found my diary, at the time, I didn’t know why.
The world faded into the periphery as the years passed with reckless abandon, and though my life had been changed by that night, I’d never attributed the event to her. Therapy had dulled my recollection of the night and after some time, I’d written her off as some figment of my traumatized imagination. My father had died, and though for a time I didn’t know why; I was glad it happened when it did.
The officers thought I was the one who killed him, though judgement was not passed onto me after they discovered my diary. They’d ruled it as self defense, yet I’d never laid a hand on my father, despite the numerous times he’d laid hands upon me. In the endowment of his will, I received the house, and though my mom’s sister and husband helped to sell it, they’d kept all of my mom’s items that had been in storage.
When I was sixteen, and full of life, I found a job at a local diner in town. The food wasn’t the best, yet, it gained popularity among the night crowd for being the only one within the span of a few blocks to be open twenty-four hours a day. Unfortunately, as I proved myself more and more reliable the owner began to suggest putting me on nights, and after two years of working there, he finally did on the day after my eighteenth birthday.
It was a typical night. One where the smell of drunken men would come in and hit on the single waitress that brought them their waffles at three in the morning. The world passed along in dark obscurity outside the window and after some time I found myself all alone in the diner.
I had been washing dishes and organizing the mugs for the morning rush when I heard the sound of the door opening to the front. Sighing, I walked through the diner to the hosting desk, expecting to see another group of young inebriated men just waiting to reach out and grope me. Yet, to my surprise, no one was there. Assuming it was just another bunch of young, dumb high school kids, I returned to my tasks when I suddenly heard a voice in my ear.
“I have something else you can clean.”
I turned in horror to see an unkempt man standing behind me, wobbling with drunkenness as he smiled. He began to move towards me and I took a step back, fear rushing through my veins as he clamped one of his clammy hands on my wrist. I screamed.
“Ain’t no one else here for you to call for help there sweet-heart.”
I screamed again and this time the man’s face went slack as he looked behind me. His eyes full of confusion, “who’s that then?”
I turned to peer over my shoulder and there she was, a small twelve year old girl in a beautiful velvet dress. Her eyes were full of hate and malice as she strode towards us and the man stumbled back. As she passed, she smiled at me and I immediately remembered what she had done to my father all those years prior.
She launched herself onto the man and dug her fingers into his neck, causing blood to spurt out all over the restaurant’s carpet. He screamed in agony as she repeatedly clawed at him and dug into him, tearing flesh off of him as he writhed in pain. When she was finished, she stood calmly and walked over to me; blood dripping off the hem of her dress.
She took my hand and led me out of the restaurant, into the silent night. This time there were no tears on her cheeks. She simply smiled at me, as if she knew of the fate she’d saved me from. I was afraid of the power she wielded, the agonizing death she’d given that man and my own father, yet I felt so comfortable in her presence. Not knowing what else to do and afraid of what she may do if I resisted, I let her lead me out of the diner and down the beaten path towards my house.
She led me to the house I’d lived in since the day my father was found dead in his bed. Though I hoped she would stay longer this time, allow me to thank her for all the help she’d given me over the years, I knew she couldn’t reply and that like last time she’d have to leave.
She led me through the front door and into the attic of the house, holding my hand all the while. She led me to a small box that I knew contained my mother’s items. It was a box I hadn’t dared to open for fear of what would be kept inside, I was afraid of the reminders of what my father had done to me in years past. I turned to her, scared of what I might find inside, but to my dismay, she was gone.
I turned back to the box, and wept.
After some time, I mustered up the courage to sort through my mother’s items when I came across a picture that caused my breath to catch in my chest. The picture was dated to the year I was born and was taken in the hospital shortly after my arrival. I was cradled lovingly in my mother’s arms and she was smiling down at me. Standing next to her bed was a young girl and my father. The girl’s eyes were wide with wonder, and my father’s eyes were trained on her, with a hungry sort of lust that I had only ever seen when he looked at me.
I turned the photo over.
Today October 7, 2001 Kayla Smythe was born. Her big sister and dad watch with excitement as her mother cradles her.
My heart thudded hard in my chest.
I turned back over the picture and looked at the girl on the front.
My sister, In her beautiful velvet dress.