I was in my running phase.
I ran everywhere; couldn’t get there fast enough—or rather, couldn’t get away fast enough.
Thank God you don’t have to wait until adulthood to choose where you live in Canada. Hit sixteen, and you’re sprung.
Three days past my sixteenth birthday, I slammed the door of my mother’s grey, stone home for the last time. The brass knocker rocked on its hinge, squeaking indignantly against the red metal door. I felt the vibrations in my arm, rooted to the spot for a moment by my own audacity.
Then I ran.
I ran and looked over my shoulder, almost tripping over the curb, as if she’d come after me. As if she’d actually put down her paintbrush and open the door of The Tower long enough to notice her daughter was gone. What would I have done if she’d actually noticed? What if Heather had got into her car and come raging down the street, hissing out her window for me to get back in the goddamned house? Would I have gone back with her? What if she had opened her arms and cried, wanting to apologise for everything—the silent contempt, the quiet but screaming disapproval over everything I had become?
Would I have let her?
It was far too late for that. I needed her even less than she needed me—which was not at all.
I could almost convince myself.
Because it was my running phase, I hadn’t exactly planned this out. I’d packed what I could carry—a backpack, and a little duffel bag full of clothes. The rest would have to stay. Even what was mine didn’t belong to me. What was mine was Heather’s, and taking Heather’s things would be stealing.
No choice. I was drowning alive in there.
The day had come when I’d found myself sitting in my corner window seat, frozen to the ledge, unable to get up to turn off the white noise on the radio in case I walked right out of my body. I hugged my knees to keep them attached to me, and rocked and rocked into the wall to prove I could feel it. Even one more minute in The Tower would cause me to melt into my head.
With time enough to pack only a few things, I imagined myself turning into that python that swallowed an alligator, and exploded. I had to keep running or the beast in my gut would claw its way through my organs and flesh and kill me. I wasn’t crazy, just terrified of myself—of my own obsessive mind that never seemed to shut off.
Jackie was supposed to have fixed this for me. She’d promised, knowing I couldn’t handle slipping back undercover in this house after that summer. I’d breathed fresh air and stretched out my cramped muscles until they hurt. And I’d laughed. Crunching myself back into Heather’s tiny box would kill me.
It would be like living in a house infested with black mould, never turning on the lights. As soon as you see the tiny infectious spores, you can never again pretend it’s safe. You have to run, or die slowly—being poisoned by your shelter. Inevitably, that decision changes you. You become someone else.
No sense blaming Jackie; it wasn’t her fault. Everything that happened that summer was like a series of glass brick interlocking in front of me. I never thought to be afraid, because it was so beautiful. It seemed so harmless.
Now, those bricks have allied to build a sheer solid wall in my path. I can’t go forward, and I can’t return. Stuck between two versions of myself, I don’t know where to sketch my outlines.
I am Grizabella, on my way to the Heavyside Layer. I just haven’t arrived.
Obviously, I’m a little obsessed with Cats, the musical. When I was about thirteen, my mother took me to see it live at the theatre. I sat riveted as this old, straggly cat—the beauty queen of her day—limped around the stage, while the other cats hissed and shunned her. When the first chords of Memory started streaming out of the orchestra pit, and Grizabella opened her haunted mouth, I sat stunned, tears streaming down my face. She had such a beautiful voice, such a beautiful hope. All she wanted was to be perfect again, to be beyond reproach and shame. She wanted what I needed, and in the end, she got it.
She got her Jellicle Transformation.
From that day in the red plush seats of the domed theatre, I knew my happiness relied on my own Jellicle Transformation. A fairy tale ending. Perfection.
The day I left The Tower, I still believed it would happen to me. I could erase the events of the summer and glide into the perfect, normal version of myself that was waiting for me on the other side of the bridge. I just needed air. Space. A big fat toke would also have been helpful, but I didn’t have one. I wandered around the neighbourhood for a few minutes, drifting half-heartedly down to the bus that would take me to the subway.
For a few hopeful moments, I imagined myself in my own apartment, decorated with the best from IKEA, making peanut butter toast in an overpriced cherry-red toaster. Of course, I was about to start my junior year of high school, which meant no job, and no skills to get a job. As the daughter of a successful artist, I’d never had to work, and Heather had never considered telling me to try anyway. That gave me time to do my own things, a nice plus, but her motivation was probably more self-centred. It would have ruined her image for her daughter to dress in a McDonald’s uniform.
Reality set in fast—fast enough for me to start panicking….