I remember the first time I heard her in the bathroom, fifteen minutes after we had dinner when I had finished all the dishes. I went to find her in her bedroom to ask her if she wanted me to do anything else before I got back to my homework. The ensuite door was closed, but there was no lock and I could have just gone in. I stopped when my hand reached the handle though, because I could hear her vomiting and started to panic. We were the ones who got sick, not Mum.
I knocked on the door, asked her if she was okay and if she wanted me to get her anything. All she said was that she was fine, and that she wanted me to go and make sure the others were getting ready for bed. I should have gone when she asked, but I didn’t. I stayed outside the bathroom door and listened to my mother upheave the dinner she just made us all. She didn’t stop for ages, and the smell that rose up from the gap under the door was the most retched thing imaginable. I thought I was going to vomit myself, so quietly crept out to the other bathroom, careful not to let her hear that I was there the whole time. I doubt she would have heard though, over all her dry reaching.
This went on for years. Seth soon learned about it, too, and joined forced with me in trying to help her stop. We would come up with excuses to keep her from having time to go to the bathroom straight after dinner, like fake our own sicknesses, or start an argument, or need urgent help with homework due the next day. It never worked.
Soon enough, there was hardly a time when the lingering smell of half-digested food and stomach bile didn’t saturate the air like a foul air freshener. It was revolting, and I recognised the smell instantly when I walked into Camden’s bathroom after dinner one night. Everything seemed to follow the same pattern in my life, where whatever bullshit happened at home apparently needed to be replicated in my relationship with Camden.
Unrealistic expectations of beauty and attraction were just one those things, alongside the alcoholism and violence, which usually went hand-in-hand.
My mother and I were both artists it would seem. As a young child I had always wondered why any woman so naturally beautiful would feel the need to wear as much make-up as she did. Everyday she’d have wide, bold lines of black encircling her whole eyes which blended into her dark eyeshadow, and a thick layer of foundation smeared all over her perfectly olive skin. There was a time when I couldn’t even remember what she looked like underneath it all, like it had all been permanently tattooed onto her skin.
I didn’t know why, but I always hated the smell of her make-up. A part of me just instinctively knew it meant nothing good, and my fears were clarified one day as I watched my mother through the crack in the bathroom door as she painted her face to cover the bruises I previously didn’t know lay hidden there underneath. I couldn’t un-see them, despite all her many, expertly applied layers of make-up, and I could barely walk down the make-up aisles in shops from then on without feeling nauseated.
I never hid the fact that I hated my stepfather, but it got so much harder after seeing the blackness underneath my mother’s paintings. One time Seth and I had been dragged to the local shopping centre with him and he stumbled into some people he knew. He introduced us to these people as his children, but Seth and I were both so mortified by the insinuation that we might be likened to him through shared DNA that we both rejected his claim, clarifying that he was only our stepfather and that we were not at all his children. We had no idea what these people thought of what we said, as the immediate fury in our stepfather’s glare down at us was enough to scare us out of ever looking away from him to check.
We copped it when we got home for allegedly “embarrassing him in front of his work colleagues,” and I remember so clearly the sound of the cracking timber when the wooden spoon broke over my ass. Seth and I laughed later on that I’d never be able to bake cookies again without feeling that same sting across my ass cheeks, which, as it turned out, wasn’t untrue. From then on, chocolate chips were never the only bittersweet things occupying the mixing bowl anymore.
Excerpt from my novel Rise and Fall, published on Wattpad here: https://my.w.tt/Mm6qIEBcbR