Her body was covered with scars, but Alice didn't mind. In fact, she secretly loved them. Her scars were memories that lasted, they were permanent. They were designs that represented events long past and people half-forgotten. They spoke about the life she had lived; that she had lived a life at all. She wasn’t a figment of someone else's imagination, brought into existence until she was no longer needed. Even when her thoughts got murky, her body held markers of remembrance.
Alice traced her fingers around the star-shaped scar on her knee. Time had disassociated it from pain and connected it instead to recollections of her brother. Four years her elder, Paul had never really seen her. She was only his annoying little sister, never a person with worthwhile thoughts. Alice would hear stories about protective older siblings and wonder if the tellers were exaggerating. Their relationship was distant; strangers living in the same house.
Except one afternoon, seven summers ago. She had begged him to take her to Grady Park, a few miles from their house. Their mother wouldn't let her walk by herself, despite her protests that thirteen was a perfectly independent age. She wanted to run, but she needed more space. Exercising in the area surrounding their house felt constrained, like doing chin-ups in prison or running in place. But she had covered for Paul three nights earlier, and he owed her. So he walked with her, grumbling all the way. When they reached the park, Paul sat on one of the benches, and tuned out the world through the earbuds of his iPhone.
This made Alice angry. This wasn't what she had wanted at all. She thought about her expectations while she ran, mentally kicking herself for wanting him to notice her. She should have paid more attention to where she was putting her feet. Suddenly, she was flying through the air, surprised by the break in the rhythm of her steps. Her limbs were out of control, and landing was going to hurt no matter what she did.
Her left knee absorbed most of the fall. The impact itself didn’t hurt very much, but the way she skidded afterwards made her eyes tear up with pain. The skin covering her knee had been ripped open and blood was streaming down her leg into her sock. It looked worse than it was, but it looked awful.
Alice picked herself up and limped over to the place where her brother sat. No passersby asked if she was okay. She supposed they didn't want to get involved, so they pretended that being hurt was entirely her own fault. She wondered if it was.
However, Paul's expression seemed evidence to the contrary. He glanced up, spotted her, and immediately sprang to his feet. When he finally reached her, all he could manage to say was, "What happened!" It wasn’t a question.
"I . . . had an accident."
"Yeah, I'll say. You fell or something?"
"Does it hurt?"
"Sort of. I'm more worried about the blood than the pain, though."
"We should go home . . ."
Paul was trying to slip back into his nonchalance, but it was difficult. He was flitting about her like a bird, asking her questions and touching the area around the wound. Her knee was throbbing. The blood had dried, forming a sticky line that would be hard to remove once they got home. Alice didn't notice any of this. For this tiny slice of time, she was the center of his attention, the focus of his worry. He spoke to her like an equal and told her jokes, trying to keep her mind off the pain he thought she was in. She knew that when they got back to their house and he could deposit her into their mother's care, this attention would end. The spotlight would shut off, and that would be it. But right now, she was important. Right now, her big brother loved her more than anything.
And then there were those scars that she didn’t fully remember getting. Jagged red lines running down her back spoke of a dog attack from long ago, one that was now broken into little pieces until it seemed potentially fictional.
She had been at her parents' friend's house, running around in the backyard with the other children. She might have been nine. She might have been older, or younger. This confusion was what made her question the reality of what had happened. Truth was in the details, and these were too murky for certainty.
The dog wasn't a bad dog. In fact, sometimes he could even be considered overly friendly. It was only when he started running that he became wild. His hunting instincts kicked in, and then nobody was safe. If he caught up to you, he would try to take you down. No kid could outrun him when he was motivated to catch them. For this very reason, the adults tried to keep him on a leash.
The children weren't unaware of this, either. However, their innocence and feeling of invulnerability often led them into trouble. So when one of the boys announced that he thought it would be a fun game to let the dog go and then try to escape from him, the rest of them agreed.
The only thing Alice remembered for sure was how she felt in the minutes after. They had all scattered in different directions, daring the freed animal to chase any one of them. He chose Alice. She knew this before he touched her. That had been the worst part. Years later, she could still feel the base fear take over her brain and then her body, as she knew instinctively that she wouldn't be able to escape. She wasn't fast enough. It would only be seconds before he caught up. It occurred to her that she could relate to that gazelle on TV, the one that the lion chased down and tore apart. People watched it for entertainment, cheering on the predator and desiring to see him catch his prey. And that was her. The pain would arrive in mere moments.
The she remembered lying face down on the grass, thinking that it didn't hurt as much as she had expected. The fear had been worse than the pain. She didn't realize she was screaming, but she must have been. The adults were alerted. The dog was removed. Her body was still in shock, and it took her a long time to be able to stand without assistance. That was all. It was so far away now.
Things like this made her think about how much the past was a sort of fiction. Everything left of it was made of memories, and even those varied among the people who had experienced them. How could she ever be sure that what she remembered was what had happened? How could she check with others when they were just as likely to be wrong as she was? She was the sole witness to her life, and she couldn't help but feel unreliable. So she avoided talking about it. Alice rarely mentioned the past. Often she pretended it didn't exist.
But those red lines on her back said differently.
She had no such reservations, however, when it came to grieving for the future. She cried over it all the time. It wasn't the unknown that she was upset about, but rather that which she knew would never come to pass.
She thought about the possibilities. Alice felt the fiery passion inside of her, the relentless drive. She saw strangers everywhere she went and wished she could reach out to them the way her mother could. To be able to strike up a conversation with someone she didn't know would be a gift she would value above all others. She could have it, maybe she did have it. But it would never be a part of who she was.
What she was was the product of her experiences. She had come into this world with some form of personality, some identity and a set of skills unique to her. These things mattered, but only up to a point. In fact, few things were so easily crushed as the qualities that set one apart.
Her sister had made sure of that. It wasn't apparent to Alice until several years later, but much of the person she became rested on how this sibling had shaped her. It had all been so secret, so hidden beneath the facade of a happy human being. Every word that Raquel had said to her was calculated. There had always been a goal in mind.
The obvious, "Are you really going to eat that?" comments weren't uncommon. She eventually figured out that they were made by an equally insecure woman, and so she stopped taking them at face value. These were the words that were easy to ignore, the messages that were simply decoded. She could stop paying them any mind.
And then there were the looks her sister shot her which sang judgment in every raise of an eyebrow. She couldn't complain about these to anyone, as it was her own fault for taking them so seriously. But when she made a wrong move or said something stupid, there they were. Looks of superiority. Looks of disgust. Looks that made Alice regret anything that made her a little bit different. Looks that made her never want to leave the house again. These stung more than any ugly comment Raquel could make. They were open to interpretation, and her sister knew that.
But worst of all was the manipulation. Alice was certain that nothing so awful had ever been created, nothing so damaging to the human condition. Being controlled by someone she loved was painful. It hurt even more when she knew it was going on. Every sweet syllable uttered was a test, a way to get her to do something without the awareness of a motive. She could have just asked. She could have just asked Alice to perform whatever simple task she required, and yet she never did. Their lives together had been a game from the start and Alice hadn't wanted to play. The fact of its existence only held her down. From an early age, it was proof that Alice shouldn’t trust easily, that people weren’t deserving of it. She didn’t even live with Raquel anymore, but she still hadn’t been able to let this idea go. She doubted she ever would.
Never once had she hated her sister. It had never occurred to her to do so. The things that caused resentment among others didn't affect her in the same way. She had been angry, that was true. There had been plenty of yelling between them. But there had always been a deep-seeded connection, love she felt that was unexplainable. It was untouchable. Their relationship was as broken as any could be, and yet what she felt was unchanged.
When she got older, she saw the situation for what it truly was. She had so much cause to hold a grudge. She could reopen the same grief as often as she desired, and no one would have a reason to blame her. So what stopped her? What kept her from making a choice that would be fatal to their family?
Alice knew Raquel had trauma of her own. When Alice was little, the whole world had seemed in her sole possession. She couldn't see things from other perspectives, for there was only her own. Now she knew that her sister had suffered, probably worse than she had. There was no excuse for what had happened between them, but there was room for forgiveness. So much forgiveness. Alice was ready to give it to her sister when the time came. Until then, everything would stay as it was.Scars were like tattoos that you hadn't paid for, not with money. They made you unique from everyone else, an original with a story. Once they found their places, they were there for life, permanent. People weren't born with scars, they picked them up as they went along.