That was the end of girlhood, and the end of this story, but I cannot leave her — me — lying there, on the cold locker-room floor. That wasn’t the end. She got back up, but it took another 17 years.
(Sometimes I write in the first-person. Sometimes she can only bear to tell her story in the third-. If you’ve just arrived, you probably want to go back to the beginning.)
There were OK years, and there were grim years. After that first, hideous year in the States, she found a refuge, and things were a little better for a while, but it was always complicated. A few years after the end of this story her mother died and her father threw her out. She was homeless for a time; let strangers take her home in exchange for a meal, a shower, a warm place to sleep. Alcohol and drugs and gender and hopelessness played their parts. She ended her life, several times, but continued nonetheless.
Eight years after being sent away, she found her way back to Europe, back home (but not); ballet and an Englishman played their parts. She found herself a stranger, a foreigner, lost her way, lost her man, everything; again. She relocated, again, hid, masked herself in society’s image, a ‘family man’, became ‘successful’; a Frenchwoman and a child played their parts. Thus she lost herself; again. Abandoned herself, really, as her mother had. She ended her life, but continued nonetheless.
But — she found her way back, eventually. Cast off the mask and became herself; again. In the end, the red-haired, green-eyed girl came back.
And here she is, at last: Seventeen years after being kicked to the floor, a girl no longer, but a woman —
Now, 56 years after her mother applied that first lipstick, she blots her own with a tissue, closing her mouth over a fold, just like her mum used to. It’s about the same shade, she thinks. Her green eyes have faded to hazel, and her red hair has thinned and darkened to brown; grey is beginning to appear at the temples.
Like that 12-year-old girl, she occasionally has that anguished dream, though rarely now. When she does, momentarily anxious upon waking, she checks herself, touches her vulva, cups her breasts; and begins her day with the most profound sense of relief. Sometimes she imagines herself sheltering that little girl in her arms, brushing the long, strawberry-blonde hair back from her shoulder, whispering in her ear —
‘Don’t worry, little one. It will all be OK. The dream came true, after all.’