The Woman Inside the Girl by Spiritual Echo
This Sentence Starts The Story contest entry
Artwork by VMarguarite at FanArtReview.com
Time travel isn't supposed to be possible. Until it happened to me, I would have bet money on the statement; Dr. Who be damned.|
I'd like to report the whole thing happened in some scientific laboratory, and I, a participant in a grand experiment, but it didn't happen that way at all. It began in my bedroom, or, to be more specific, in the mirror of my dressing table.
Once again I'd been dumped. With mascara streaming down my face, I stared into the mirror and wallowed.
"Why me? What's wrong with me?"
"Why not? You've brought it on yourself."
Thinking the voice was in my head, I tried to defend the relationship I'd lost.
"Do you really think molding yourself into a man's image of the perfect mate is the key to happiness? You're a stupid, stupid girl."
"Who said that?" I whirled in my chair, a mixture of indignation and fear in my voice. When I turned back the reflection in the mirror terrified me.
An ancient, unkempt woman stared back at me from the mirror. Her straw-like grey hair hung from her scalp like rusty stainless steel wire, cigarette smoke curling around her face, disappearing into the crevices adding another coat of despair to an expression I imagined came directly from the grave..
"I don't believe in ghosts," I tried to say, but no sound came from my lips.
Harsh knocking at the door would not allow me to process what I was seeing.
"You better not be smoking in there again, Mary."
"Go away." My voice, low and raspy, was unrecognizable.
The knocking continued. My knees creaked and as searing jolt of pain in my back made me reach for the cane propped against the chair. I hobbled across the room and flung open the door.The landlady stood, hand outstretched.
"Rent. You still owe me for last month. You better have my money.
"Tomorrow," I said, slamming the door closed.
The knocking continued, but eventually I heard footsteps in the hall. I stumbled toward the bed and sat down. I wanted it to end, this hallucination or dream; a rational reason to explain the moment. Most of all, I wanted the pain to stop. It felt like every bone in my body was inhabited by termites; gnawing, eating me alive.
A photo album lay open, face down on the bed. I picked it up, turned it over and gasped; wedding pictures--mine. I stood smiling at the camera in the dress I'd always dreamed about.
I skipped ahead, turning page after page, as if trying to find clues, some explanation for my current predicament. It seemed as if I was watching the seasons of life--me--aging preserved by an indifferent camera lens.
It appeared I'd become clumsy, a broken arm, a leg in a cast, catalogued evidence, at the very least, a reason my bones ached. What frightened me the most in the middle of this dream--for surely it could be nothing else--were my eyes. They'd dulled. The celluloid images bespoke of a beaten-down soul.
This could never happen to me. And yet there it was, proof of...nothing but an existence. I tried to focus on the man's face that stood beside me, but it blurred. Turning back to a happy page, I looked at the bride, so ripe and full of promise.
I brushed my hand over the picture, imagining I could feel the smoothness of the pearls on the bodice.
"It's not too late to back out."
My sister was fussing with my hair. I'd left the bleak, dark room, no longer trapped in the old crone's body
. "Something strange is happening to me."
"Don't I know it? You've lost your mind marrying Richard."
"Yeah... Richard. He lives up to his name--a real dick-head. I don't know how we're going to hide these bruises." Jenny dabbed more make-up under my eye. "I'm not kidding, sis. We can still get out of here; to hell with the wedding."
I turned to look at myself in the mirror. "I look beautiful. It's all I ever wanted--to be a bride."
"You've always been beautiful. I just wish you'd gone to college, traveled, did something for yourself. Why Richard?"
"He's the only one who wanted me. He proposed."
The Wedding March began to play in the chapel. I heard Jenny begin to cry. I turned away; ready to walk down the aisle.
And then, it was me. I was crying; sitting at my vanity, staring at my mascara-streaked face. I'd returned to where it began. None of it seemed real, but when I looked down, I discovered I still held a bridal bouquet.
It was only the second time I'd told the story, and twenty years passed before I'd told anyone. But, every detail remained etched in my mind.
Instead of talking about my profession, the organizer of the career fair suggested I focus on the decision process leading to my education choices. It was hard to say no. Jenny was the teacher who was now in charge of the event in our old high school, and she knew my time travel experience changed my life.
My sister stood at the back of the classroom beaming, her approval of my talk obvious. The reaction of the students was quite different. I felt like I'd stepped back into a time machine, but this time revisiting my past.
I recognized myself; the cluster of girls who wore too much make-up and provocative outfits barely skimming the edge of decency. Most of them spent more time ogling the boys than paying attention to a word I said. But, not all of them.
I easily identified the scholarly types. They took notes throughout my presentation, and I was certain they could recite every word I said, but they might not have received the message.
The boys were an interesting lot, and I couldn't help remembering how I'd once thought they were the prize; having a steady boyfriend was my ultimate goal in high school. Some were making jokes; few looked like they were ready for a nap while others were fixated on the girls, ready to continue the mating dance as soon as the bell rang to end the period.
"There's still time for a few questions," my sister told her students. It was only when Jenny told them they'd receive extra marks for class participation that hands shot up.
"Do you think it was an alien abduction?"
"Were you drinking that night?"
"Did you marry Richard?"
The bell rang and the students raced out of the room, all except for the girl who asked the last question.
"Did you?" She asked again when the room cleared.
"I never met him. The night I was dumped, I stopped crying and decided to change my life. I went to college, got my degree and managed to get a great job. It was tough, but I've never looked back."
She started to walk out, but hesitated at the door. "Did you ever get married?"
I laughed. "Yes, I did--last year. It's not an either/or choice."
Jenny walked forward and put her arm on the girl's shoulder. "Molly is struggling with deciding whether she wants to go to college."
I felt like Jenny was urging me to say more, but I wasn't sure what to say to this sixteen-year-old girl. What could I say to her that might make a difference? Finally, I blurted out the only truth I accepted the night I took control of my own life.
"Do you know why I got dumped? I was too needy, expecting a man to make my every wish and dream come true. I was so willing to give up control of my life, live his dreams, accept his values and...settle. I had no idea what I wanted--hadn't lived enough.
"And, guess what? It's a lot of pressure on a guy to be the center of your universe."
The bell rang for the next period.
"You're late for your next class. I'll write you a hall pass," Jenny said, leaving to get the slip.
"You know, "I said as the girl left, "I don't even remember the name of the boy who dumped me, but if I could, I'd probably want to send him a thank you card."
Jenny tells me my talk made a difference, Molly's marks have improved and she's taking an active interest in researching college options.
Even though it was just a high school event, news of my story spread, and for a few weeks I had a flurry of reporters who wanted more information, challenging my experience and trying to paint me as a quack.
I can't explain it, and there were lots of times when I tried to put it down to something else, but when doubts surface, I pull the bridal bouquet out of my closet where it's stored in a hat box, the petals withered and the stems brittle.
I've reconciled the absurdity of my claim from the real experience. Is time travel possible? Absolutely.
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