By Jess Charle
I’m turning into my mother.
Since I turned 20, it’s been happening more and more. I’ll open my mouth and an idiom I’ve heard my mother use time and time again will spill out. I’ll watch a movie and become aghast at the provocative nature of the female protagonist. I’ll grimace when I notice my friend isn’t wearing a slip under her hinting-at-sheer skirt. My friends laugh at the naturalness of the situation, thinking I’m just growing older, adapting the long-held traditions and thoughts of my overbearing mother. The mother who scolds me for frowning, because it’ll ruin my smooth skin, or for using the wrong moisturizer or makeup, which makes me break out, or for eating pizza, because it’ll make me fat.
Thursday was my 21st birthday. In true newly legal status, my friends and I went out bar hopping on a mission from the gods to get more drunk than any newly 21 year old before us.
I woke up the next morning ill. My head pounding against my skull like a fetus kicking the lining of it’s mother’s uterus. I felt simultaneously nauseous, exhausted, and like I had to take a massive shit. I ran into the bathroom, hoping I could relieve at least one symptom.
Thirty minutes later, I rinsed my face with cool water, relishing the sensation on my clammy skin. I looked up into the mirror and saw her. My mother. It wasn’t that I saw her face in the mirror instead of mine. I saw her in my face. The crook of my mouth forming her always present half-smile, the way my eyes were looking up while my head was tilted slightly downward towards the sink, the way my nose was scrunched, the lines in my forehead that met in the middle. They weren’t mine, but they weren’t foreign. I knew those lines, that scrunch, that look, that smile. It was my mother’s. I wasn’t adapting the familiar words and expressions and ideals I was taught through living with the woman for 18 years, I was her. For a split second, I couldn’t recognize myself in my own features.
I called her then, but she didn’t answer, her phone drifting lazily into voicemail. I left a quick message and hung up, then called my boss and told her I was taking a sick day. I forced down some orange juice, and went back to bed, to forget about the incident.
That is, until this morning, when I woke up from the first nightmare I’ve had since I was a child.
I was me, but also I wasn’t. I woke up in a different bedroom, a room covered in posters and filled with knick-knacks, trophies, and photos that weren’t mine. A sloppy stack of albums lay in the corner along with discarded clothes and a white bra. I recognized most of the people in the posters: there was a young Madonna in black lace, Michael Jackson with his fedora covering most of his face, a white gloved hand on top, and the two curly haired men from Tears for Fears whose names I don’t know.
I lifted the covers and placed my feet on the faded pink carpet. There were noises coming from outside the bedroom door, and I followed them, the carpet rough but not unpleasant against my bare feet. There was a full length mirror leaning against the wall, and I stopped to look at myself. I looked to be in my early twenties, wearing a long white cotton nightgown with yellow flowers embroidered along the high neckline. My face was familiar, but also distant. Like another version of me. Like when I looked into the mirror yesterday, after my 21st birthday. The chin was soft, like mine, but the blue of my irises was a shade or two lighter, and the almond shape of my eyes was wider, the eyelashes shorter and lighter. My brown hair was cut with thick straight bangs, my frizzy wavy hair shoulder length when I usually wear it much longer. My eyes skittered downwards briefly and I realized with jealous annoyance that my breasts were much larger than in reality.
A loud bang sounded outside the bedroom, and I opened the door hesitantly. There was a faint acidic chemical smell in the air of the hallway. I followed the peculiar smell to a closed door, and opened it.
I was in another bedroom, much more bare than the one I woke up in. Sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor was a woman in her mid-forties. Her brown hair was short, ending right below her ears and she wore a black dress, the velvet sleeves flowing down her arms, covering almost every inch of her porcelain skin. She looked up at me, her blue eyes twinkling, her mouth set in a small, crooked half smile.
I recognized the woman from old photographs in withered albums in my mother’s attic. It was my grandmother. She sat in a white circle, spray painted onto the carpet, the same faded pink fibers matted together in the sticky white residue. But it wasn’t just a circle. It was a pentagram, a star with too many point for my sleepy, bewildered mind to comprehend and count. It was ornate, swirls and shapes extending from each point, filling the room. Inside the circle in front of her was a large bronze bowl, filled with something that appeared to be sand or dirt.
The smile stayed on her lips, only a whisper of pleasure, as she lifted her hand, an ornate purple bottle between her fingers, and poured a clear liquid into the bowl. The air around us became thick with what I can only describe as an electric charge, sending my hair on end, threatening to crack violently and kill us both. My feet instinctively began to shuffle back towards the door when something struck my chest with a heavy force, knocking me backwards.
I closed my eyes, and winced in pain, tears forming on the edge of my eyelids. It felt as if there was a heavy weight against my chest. I opened my eyes and tried to right myself, but I couldn’t under the force. The room began to spin around me and I closed my eyes to avoid feeling nauseous.
After a few minutes, the sensation dissipated, and I looked up. I blinked as my eyes focused on the figure of my grandmother in front of me. Wait, no. It was me. The me I had woken as. I looked down, my body clad in black velvet. I looked up, heart pounding, as the dream me reached up to the top of the dark dresser against the wall, and came back with a knife. She crawled towards me, one knee dragging through the carpet, then the other.
I tried to crawl back away from her, from me, but I was stopped by the bed. The thought of getting around her and running to the door rose in my mind, but too slowly. She was above me, her hand raised, the knife blade shining threateningly. I looked from the knife to her, the dream me, and as our eyes locked, her face twisted.
Twisted into a crooked half-smile.
I woke up in a cold sweat, my heart racing. I was relieved for a moment that it was just a dream until my doorbell rang. I walked to the front door of my apartment in my sweatpants and an old t-shirt, and looked through the peephole. There, standing in the hallway, was my mother. My stomach dropped.
“Sweetheart?” She called, pressing her eye close to the peephole as if it were two-way. “Are you there? You sounded ill on the phone yesterday. I tried to call back and I got worried when you didn’t answer!”
She stood back from the door, removing her eye from the peephole, and all I could see was that smile.