The seat upon which Harriet rested was covered with plush, red velvet and was set in front of the vanity table in her bedroom. The mirror was surrounded by elegant lights. She had been careful to lock the door on her way in. She was home before curfew, but slipped in quietly to avoid her parents. Harriet gazed incoherently at the face opposite her. It didn't seem like her own. The dark maroon smears of blood underneath her nostrils had dried, as had a drip coming from one corner of her mouth. Her left eye was almost swollen shut and was bright pink. She knew it would become black and blue by tomorrow. The white, silk blouse her father had asked her to wear seemed like it belonged to a stranger. Harriet gasped as she glanced further down the sleeve of her blouse. A long tear starting at the shoulder and ending at the cuff revealed four oblong marks around her upper arm. The memory of the tight grip which had held her made tears prick her eyes.
At the same moment a scene from the week before flashed in Harriet's mind. Her family was watching the news when a story featuring a victim of child abuse came on. "Macenzies are not victims," her father had declared, irritated. "We do not have those kinds of problems. If there is a problem, it stays within this house. I won't have our reputation smeared all over the city." Harriet forced herself to choke back the tears.
She rose silently from her perch, and let her legs carry her into the bathroom. Harriet was equally careful to lock the heavy brass doorknob for more privacy. More of her parents' words floated into her mind. "Oh, you'll like him, Harriet. He's tall, good looking, and was the star of the track team at his high school. Come on, honey, just one date. He's the boss' son and they are new in town. You want me to get that promotion, don't you?" Harriet's fingers had begun to shake so violently she could barely unbutton her stained and tattered blouse. She let it fall to the floor as she pulled off her jeans.
She wasn't the one who wanted her father to get that promotion, but her mother couldn't live without her quilt collection, and her brother would be disappointed if their parents didn't buy him a new car. Harriet knew her father would do anything to please them. He had missed their youth because of business meetings, phone calls and out-of-town conferences, trying to attain success. How could she think to act as she did, sacrificing the needs of their family for his own desires? No, she would never do that. Harriet gathered the heap of clothing, wadded it into a tight ball and dropped it into the wastebasket, slamming the lid shut, disgusted.
She stepped into the steaming shower and thoughts started streaming like the water that pounded her bloodied, swollen and black-and-blue skin. This time the voice of her date echoed within her skull. "Come on, Harriet ... I like that name ... you're so pretty, some would say the prettiest girl in school ... Don't you like me? ... Well, I paid a lot for this date, and now you're not putting out for me? Well, I'm getting something from this, even if I have to take it!" She wanted to scream, recalling the feel of his hand covering her mouth.
Harriet tried to use soap to wash away the feeling of his hands touching her. But deep down she knew a century of washing couldn't make her feel less dirty. Harriet felt claustrophobic remembering the feeling of his closeness, hearing his breath, his invasion of her. She struggled to swallow the lump in her throat that left her gasping for air. Things like this don't happen to the Macenzies. You'll have to see him every day at school. I won't have our reputation ruined. We keep our problems to ourselves. You want me to get that promotion, don't you?
Harriet's face distorted into a confused anguish; she turned off the faucet and towel dried. She slipped a loose nightshirt over her head and suddenly the knot that had occupied her stomach since the date turned to nausea. Harriet ran to the toilet and began throwing up as tears streamed down her cheeks. The wrenching stopped as suddenly as it had begun, and she pulled herself up to the sink. Harriet filled her shaking hands with cold water and hesitantly rinsed her face and mouth.
She crept under the covers of her safe bed, in her safe house, in the safe part of town. The cold sheets sent a shiver through her whole body. Instinctively, Harriet rubbed her arms for warmth, forgetting how tender her muscles were. She winced, realizing she would be wearing long sleeves for a long time. As for her eye, well, she accidentally tripped and hit it on the corner of the coffee table. Forcing her eyes shut, Harriet struggled to escape the pain of consciousness. Her struggle was in vain, though, for she remained awake, remembering and thinking, unable to forget her anguish. As she lay there trying not to think, images of her father and his business, her mother's collections, and her brother's car, plagued her. Harriet, you'd never sacrifice the family for yourself. You are in control of the future of the family. You'll never sacrifice that for yourself. You'll never tell. 1
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.