Invading My Space: Nail Polish and Photographs

A large part of the abuse of my adolescence revolved around making me feel unsafe in various ways, and a key part of that was making sure that I didn’t have any sacred spaces to retreat into – violating the safety of my bedroom. When you’re a kid, that’s the only space that’s yours in any way, and so there was an ongoing campaign to make sure I didn’t have that personal space.

I could always tell that something bad had happened, from the moment I closed the front door behind me. The sounds and smells of the house told me a lot. Silence was always a terrible thing, especially if my little brother’s door was closed. Him going in to hiding meant that there was something going on that needed hiding from.

It was a pleasant spring day. I was fourteen years old. It was some time after my first suicide attempt, and I was still a bit fragile. But it was a nice day, and things hadn’t been too terrible recently. I had a boyfriend, I had a good circle of friends, and things outside home were good. I was fairly positive about life.

The silence snaked down the stairs and took hold of me as I closed the front door. Something was up. I climbed the stairs with silent steps, feeling the sunshine ebb out of my limbs. These days were always painful, messy, ugly. I tried to steel myself for whatever might await.

My bedroom was a few steps from the top of the stairs. I don’t remember what hit me first as I stepped in – the smell of nail polish, or the sight of my photos torn up on the floor. The combination of sight and sound paralysed me for a moment.

The photos were so precious to me. There were seven or eight of them, and they were of the school production that I had been a part of during the winter of that year. I had won one of the lead roles, and I had thrown myself into the production with everything I had. I had made friends, got to know people better, and most of all, I had been safe for weeks on end. I had been able to lose myself in it so completely that whatever happened at home during those couple of months hadn’t mattered. And those photos were the only physical link back to that magical time.

They lay on the floor, at the foot of the cupboard door that I had lovingly displayed them on, a spot where I could look over and see them as I got out of bed every morning. And they were shredded.

I had collected nail polishes since I was about ten years old. I had perhaps thirty of them, in a closely-woven cane basket. The most precious one of all was the silver sparkly one that my brother had given me for my birthday that year. It had been opened and upended over the entire basketful of bottles.

I was distraught. These were things that were special to me, that had great sentimental value. And they were destroyed. I knelt in the puddle of sunlight beside the pieces of photograph, and I wept. Silently, though, because my bedroom was right next to my stepmother’s, and she was shut in there. The last thing I wanted was for her to come out and make things worse.

My tears had long dried by the time my father got home. I showed him what his wife had done, and he sighed. I don’t know if he did anything further – I certainly heard nothing more of it. That sigh, and the silence that followed, chipped away a little more of my trust in him, and made my home feel a little less safe, if that was possible.

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