It was my eleventh birthday when everything went to hell. I was a little girl, a simple girl. I favored tea parties, pigtails and the smell of cotton candy on a warm summer day. I, like most girls, could never understand why my barbie’s hair wouldn’t grow back after I cut it with my TommyGirl scissors. I was simple in my wishes and simple in my dreams. I remembered one time my father asked me what I wanted to be when I got older. I told him I wanted to be a giraffe. It was a simple wish and I of course thought it plausible. But he merely patted me on the head and told me, “That’s stupid honey. Grow up some.”
I was eleven years old, just turned. I didn’t want to grow up. I wanted to stay in my little townhouse and write on the sidewalk with chalk. I wanted to sing while I dreamed on what color giraffe I was going to be the day I possessed the knowhow to actually become one. I just wanted things to be simple. I didn’t understand why things had to be so complicated for all the grown ups. And I decided that if growing up meant things got confusing, then I would stay little forever. I would stay simple. But unfortunately everything around me did its best not to be. The world liked to be complex. It liked to twist, to distort. To bleed you dry of whatever feeling you could muster while still letting you hold on to your sanity so that you could experience heartache at its prime. I didn’t know how cold the world could be when I was eleven. If I would have known… then maybe I would have packed a sweater.
But on my eleventh birthday everything changed. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary at first. If anything it was a day supposedly destined for nothing but the extraordinary. I had sent out my invitations to everyone at school to come to my house for what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. I got up at six in the morning on that cold rainy day with nothing but sunshine in my eyes. I looked through my dressers and put on my nicest skirt and my favorite sweater that was decorated with tiny little kittens. I brushed my teeth with my favorite toothbrush, of course shaped like a giraffe, put the cutest shirt on my teddy Dr. Snuggles and donned my favorite bows and wrapped them in the most perfect pigtails I had ever crafted in my life. I put on the glitter that shined the brightest, wore my shoes that looped the tightest and of course prepared my arms for hugs that would no doubt be the mightiest.
I looked out my window that entire day as the rain came cascading down. At first it came in small drops. And I could count them, one by one. I thought maybe for every raindrop that fell, my door would open and another happy party guest would arrive. That made me happy. I loved people. I loved the kids at school. And they loved me, I thought. But soon the rain started falling harder. And the amount of party guests wasn’t keeping up with the number of raindrops. Mostly because the number of raindrops had probably reached the thousands, where as the number of friends who walked in the door had remained at zero. The splatters of the drops started to sound like the sky’s plummeting tears. I held my bear in my arms the entire day. I did not eat. I did not nap. I did not comb my barbie’s hair.
I looked out my window for what seemed like forever. And as the entire day went by… no one ever came.
My heart sunk like Titanic. I sat on my bed and just stared at my shoes with the perfect loops fastened so nicely. I just felt how useless it was to get all dressed up and all excited when nothing was going to happen. But how was I supposed to know? I didn’t know what to think. I guess I was just cocky enough to assume that everyone I invited would come. I made excuses. Maybe they’re late because of the rain. Maybe they all just forgot about me. And the most outlandish, maybe they’re all planning a special surprise party for me somewhere else. Maybe they all cared that much.
But they didn’t. On my most perfect of birthdays I, Avalin Marsh, was alone.
With no one.
I remember the sky turning dark and the rain still beating down against the house. I hadn’t moved from my spot on the bed, the mattress dipping and sinking under my small little rear oh so slightly. My dad stood at my door for a good while. I didn’t see him come up. He was always quiet when he was sad. I had been crying for a good while and he just stood at the door. He held his large hands together; his expression was as dismal as the stormy weather. He didn’t know what to do, really… and I couldn’t blame him for his silence. After all, what do you say to your child when none of her friends show up for her birthday party? Not much it seems. Even at that age I knew this must have been hard for him too. I knew that as my daddy, he was hurting like I was. At least that much I understood.
If that happened to me nowadays then I wouldn’t care if nobody showed up. I don’t like people anymore… but back then it meant the world to me. Every person was like a little piece of my heart. And when none of them came, it’s like my heart skipped out as well. To a little girl life is all about those friends and fairytales and extravagant wishes that seem too big to fulfill but still find a way to come true. But I thought this request was reasonable. And it hurt a lot; I’m not going to lie anymore. That day hurt me… maybe even caused my dislike of crowds. And my father seemed to hurt for me almost more than I did.
So he took me downstairs with my small hand in his. My other arm gripped against my teddy with all the sadness my little body held that day. I took each step down those wooden stairs while tears dripped off my cheeks. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to be mad at my friends. I didn’t want to be sad, either, and I didn’t even want an explanation. All I wanted was for my day to be perfect. That’s all I wanted. But I didn’t know where to go from here. I didn’t know where to turn.
It all seemed so out of my control. But that would feel so insignificant compared to what else was going to happen.
We came to the kitchen of our small little house. My dad had just managed to get a small smile out of me. He promised me something. He said that one day he, mom and I would go to the beach and just play all day in the sand. I loved the beach because it was fun and the sand reminded me of dad’s blonde hair. He told me I could bring Dr. Snuggles if I wanted. I wanted to badly. He had never seen the beach before because mother feared it would ruin his stuffing to get sand inside. But dad said I could bring him. And a promise was a promise. I started getting so excited that I smelled the beach and the salt of the tears I tasted reminded me of the vast blue ocean that would soon be my personal playmate. Because when you’re at a beach, it feels like the world belongs to you.
But then my father stopped moving. I looked up at him and his face morphed into an expression that I had never seen before. It never occurred to me to look at where he was staring. I was just so perplexed, so captured by his expression. It was the first time I couldn’t tell what he was feeling by looking at him. I think for the first time, my father couldn’t tell what he was feeling to begin with.
I would be able to relate soon enough. I finally brought my gaze over to my mother. She was a pretty thing, dark brown hair usually pulled into a bun and always wearing very conservative, motherly clothes. But her hair was wild and loose today as it flowed down her shoulders and over her pale blue top. She was standing with her back to us. And in her hand she held a pan, which was actually a very common situation.
And that’s when I saw it. I saw a body. I witnessed a dead body at the age of eleven. And it was lying in my kitchen… bleeding on my floor.
My father yelled out mom’s name. She turned around like lightning and her eyes were on fire it seemed. They widened in horror as she saw us standing there. She screamed for me and my father to stay away. She said we were in danger. In danger of things that we didn’t understand that would be caused by things we could never fathom. The look in her eyes was pure terror. Not terror from what she was doing. It was terror for us. She was scared for us. And I truly believed that we were in danger… because she believed it. But the woman on the floor was the one who had been in danger… until my mother killed her.
I didn’t understand any of this. And for once my father and I were coming from the same place.
But she didn’t drop the bloody pan. She didn’t try to explain herself at all. She made it clear she owed us no reason, no explanation and had no time to talk. She bent down in front of the body right in our presence… and began to search it. My dad released my hand and ran for the phone. He began dialing it as I stared at my mother with the blood in her hair. I couldn’t move. I only heard the rain hitting the roof in soft pitters and patters. It was like I was deaf to the world… alive only to the horror I was seeing.
Then my mother pulled something from the body. It was a strange thing. I didn’t realize what it was but now that I think about it, I believe it was a peacock feather. But it was a pen. A peacock feather quill pen, that’s what it was. My mother’s body shuddered and she started speaking in a way that I couldn’t understand. While my father was busy calling the police, my mom whispered to the air. Her words seemed to speak to me the most, like the lullabies she used to sing to me.
The words weren’t English. I thought back then that they were just words I hadn’t learned yet. Later on I believed they were something of another language. But they weren’t. To this day I’ve never heard those words from any language at any time, uttered by any person. And I know this because for some reason those very words never left my mind. They’re embedded in my brain. Maybe it was because of the emotion I was feeling, but they just never left me. I remember them perfectly. Every syllable, every pronunciation… I even remember where to take the breaths.
And as she speaks these foreign words the peacock feather catches fire, like her sayings took the form of a match against something covered in gasoline. It burst into a rainbow flame and the feather dissolved in my mother’s hands as the ash dispersed to the sky like the pen had never even existed to begin with. And then the body in front of her did the same. It faded away like an illusion, like an old-time projector displaying an image on a tarp that was slowly catching flame. The woman disappeared, completely and as a whole. And the body left absolutely nothing behind.
I would realize years later who the woman was. She was Cathy Harolds, the mother of one of the girls I invited to my birthday party. Her daughters’ names were Amy and Rebecca Harolds, Rebecca being the oldest and the one in my class. Rebecca’s mother’s blonde hair was soaked in her own blood… blood that my very own mother had spilled. And after the woman’s body burned into rainbow fire and turned to ash that scattered in the air in exactly the same fashion as the peacock quill, I began to realize that this was real. It wasn’t a dream, despite the fact that in a few seconds my kitchen was empty. Even the blood had disappeared from my mother’s body and clothing. The pan, the bludgeon I would say now, was stripped clean. Nothing was amiss in the kitchen… besides my hunched over mother wielding an object used to murder the parent of one of my classmates.
And she looked at me. The last words I ever heard from mom came paired with the most sorrowful look I had ever seen in her eyes. They began to well with tears as she shook her head slightly at me and I just froze, staring at her like she wasn’t even human. Her lipstick-traced mouth formed the words “I’m sorry” as I began to realize right there… that things were never going to be the same.
It was my eleventh birthday when everything went to hell. As my father scooped me into his arms and bolted out the door with my frozen body, I saw my mother fade away from me in the distance, standing there with a pan and a look of regret. They took my mother from me that day. The police came and shipped her off to a place for people who suffered from a lack of… mental stability. No charges were pursued because there was no body, no blood. Only my mother’s crazy ranting and my father’s push to have her institutionalized came from this ordeal. And I would later face years of psychological observation to make sure I didn’t suffer from the same affliction as she did, whatever that may have been. My father and I lived in that house alone for seven years. We never moved. Don’t ask me why.
I had been changed forever that day… and no one ever mentioned my eleventh birthday again.
We don’t celebrate birthdays now. We don’t really celebrate anything anymore. My life has been hollow, been empty and filled with broken promises and destroyed dreams, so nothing nowadays receives much glee. Coming up on the end of my junior year in high school it seemed like few things really comforted me or brought me significant happiness… not since before that rainy birthday which took my family and broke it into little unsalvageable parts and pieces have I ever felt complete.
I longed for something, anything that could put my shattered heart back together. Anything that could bring out that small little pigtailed girl from before and leave this cold, dark-haired outer shell behind… but I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see what else there was to live for. I simply existed at this point… as I searched for something that would breathe life back into me. Something that would bring back whatever it was my mother took away.
I cursed her, blamed her, hated her… and I missed her so much.
But I missed me even more.