I was used to being invisible. When they were talking to me, it wasn’t really to me. It was at me. I became an expert at complying. I knew what triggered my parents and I knew what pleased them. For the most part, I walked the latter path but sometimes, I rebelled. I wasn’t the naïve 14-year-old they thought I was. I listened. I absorbed. I hurt. That simple word. Four letters that oh so succinctly, summed up my first 14 years on the planet.
Like most babies, I was born screaming and that never really stopped, I just turned it inwards. I screamed on the inside whilst on the outside, I knew how to behave in order not to raise suspicion. The less I was noticed, the less pain I felt but really, all I was doing was feeding the hurt by denying it.
And then one day, I changed all that. It didn’t take much either. I simply grabbed a lighter. From the second I heard the flint wheel turn I felt a thrill. I was in control now. I watched the flame dance around. I got to decide what happened next.
I reached for my hairspray. As I held down the nozzle, gently at first, I positioned the naked flame in front of it. The result was instantly pleasing. I felt alive. I pushed the nozzle down harder and lit up my darkened room, casting shadows of my belongings. Everything else around me ceased to exist. My troubles melted away, replaced instead by wonderment.
I was teetering on the verge of insanity, albeit for a moment. But it was there. I could see, hear, and taste the madness. It was palpable. I allowed the flame to lick the edge of my desk, scorching it angrily. I put the can down and studiously examined the mark. It was black with grey patches and a bubbling texture. It felt brittle as it cooled. I picked at the sides and tilted my head, listening intently for signs that my parents had realised something was amiss. But there was silence. No yelling, no footsteps on the stairs. Nothing.
I could have left it at that. But I didn’t. Why would I when for the first time in my life, I had allowed myself to do something that I knew was wrong? I had always been labelled as ‘wrong’. I overheard my dad saying once that I should have been aborted. I was only eight and I didn’t know what he meant but from the tears I heard in my mum’s voice, I knew it wasn’t a good thing.
I often listened to my parents talk. We had a three-storey house with open tread stairs. Sound travelled. Even when I wasn’t actively listening, I could hear their voices. I could tell how many drinks they had consumed based on how loudly and rapidly they were exchanging verbal blows.
I just wanted my dad to stop hitting my mum so when I heard that muffled scream as his fist connected with her jaw that evening, I commanded the flame from the hairspray can to lap at the bottom of the curtain.
It crackled for a moment, starting slowly and then with a quiet, comforting ‘woof’, devoured the fabric from the bottom up like a starved animal. Not satisfied with the curtains, the flame leapt to the window frame and then jumped gracefully to the nearby dressing table, cheering with delight. I stretched out on my bed admiring my work. I felt calm knowing that I had at that moment, changed the course of my life forever. I waited for the inevitable and sure enough, it came but not in the way I was expecting.
I woke up in hospital two days later. It took me a while to realise where I was. As my eyes started to focus, I could see the machines and hear the nurses trying to reason with a patient who didn’t want to take his medication, convinced they were trying to kill him so they could steal his collection of puzzle books and empty tins of biscuits.
Nobody came to get me. Nobody called. Nobody aside from social services that is. The realisation that my parents weren’t returning was confirmed without the need for words. Which left me with no alternative but to come for them. And I would, they just didn’t know it yet. But they would see me this time, I would make sure of that. The invisibility cloak I used to wear had been reduced to ashes along with my hurt. Hurt was no longer the symptom. Hurt was the cause.