“This Place is a Prison”
BY KATHRYN BECKWITH
My disdain runs deep for natural light from open windows. It’s always KIND OF blue, and too bright, and inconsistent when there’s clouds and I can’t handle that. I buy the darkest blinds and use the kind of fluorescent lights that give a slight unhealthy buzz.
Like every other aspect of my personality, my family uses this fact as a punch line. Sometimes, 14-year-old me is brave enough to leave her room to grab a snack and is greeted with
“HARK! SHE EMERGETH FROM HER LAIR!”
“The curtains are open, I hope you have your sun block on!”
Or simply, “WHOA, who are you?”
Fourteen-year-old me lives in the year that Rihanna got that haircut everybody’s mom tried to copy. She is not allowed to have a MySpace profile, but she does anyway because not having one in high school in 2007 is socially equivalent to showing up at the Gathering of the Juggalos fully clothed and without fireworks. Nobody really particularly cares who you are, and you really have no idea what’s going on.
Fourteen-year-old me still sometimes lets people call her Kathryn, and because most girls in her grade do not share names with Renaissance-era queens, it was very easy for her mother to find the MySpace profile she is not allowed to have. Now, there are many more things she is no longer allowed to do; use an internet browser, own a cell phone, leave the property. She is also not allowed to close the door to her room, because it is no longer attached to the hinges.
However, 14-year-old me has listened to far too many Misfits albums to succumb to such suppression. 14-year-old me has a Bikini Kill shirt. She dyes her hair black, and when her mother drags her to the snobby salon that plays Taylor Swift on a loop, she lets FiFi spend 4 hours bleaching it back to white-blonde per mother’s orders with full intent of dyeing it black again the next day. She is a LONER, Dottie. A REBEL.
Fourteen-year-old me smoothes an old sheet across her doorway with scotch-tape (the nails are hidden from her- her parents know her far too well). She spreads out on the floor and uses one big toe, painted black, to gently tap the volume button DOWN until Conor Oberst is just barely whining. She listens closely- Ayatollah KhoMother is on the sofa talking to her BFF excitedly. She has somehow learned to roll her eyes with her voice; 14-year-old me makes a mental note to teach herself the skill. Me flips open the ancient Samsung phone with the ONE COLOR screen…the one she’d kept wrapped up in her sock drawer for emergencies when she was given her SideKick 3. Me is not only a smart girl, but a terrible rule-breaker, and even as she swiveled open the screen, she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold onto her phone privileges for long. A backup means of communication is important for a FREE SPIRIT. The secret Samsung comes in handy. She knows the ayatollah will never find it; since 7th grade this drawer has housed the G-strings she’s not allowed to wear but sometimes buys anyway. She’d never actually worn any of them.
“I need to do something, ” she whispers desperately into the phone.
“I can’t really hear you. Whose number is this?” Roni asks, in a gravelly voice that probably meant she was smoking weed in some guy’s living room. 14-year-old me imagines said living room kind of smelling like a mixture of Hamburger Helper and old bong water, with a carpet that someone wanted to be white but ended up splotchy yellow.
“It’s the sockphone. Is there a show tonight? I feel like skanking. Actually, I feel like anything. Please save me. I’m rotting.” 14-year-old me keeps one ear to a scratchy-sounding Roni and the other in the den where a certain someone is laughing at an abnormally high pitch. She shudders. You don’t have a laugh. YOU DON’T HAVE A SOUL, YOU SOLD IT TO MOTHERHOOD.
“Man, I wish I could, but the guys are in the middle of band practice, and we don’t have a ride anywhere, and TJ doesn’t really want you here.” Those fuckers. 14-year-old me utters 1,000 ancient gypsy curses under her breath- one to break up the shitty ska band, one to give her 21-year-old ex-boyfriend scabies. He’s just jealous because she’s still in high school and he didn’t even make it through 9th grade. Dick.
“I miss you though! Are you ever coming out of your room? How are you even dealing with the light thing?” Roni’s words cut deep, but 14-year-old me is touched by her concern. The bedroom she is trapped in has a notoriously terrible glare around 3 pm that lasts an agonizing two hours. Within those same two hours, her dad comes home from work and gets mad at her, and they stop playing trashy talk shows on channel 8. 3 to 5 p.m. are arguably the most unbearable hours of the day. Roni is certainly picturing 14-year-old me listening to “I Hate Myself” in her closet. Accurate.
“I already told you I was rotting. I’ll keep trying. Someday I’ll escape….I will burn this fucking house down. IloveyouIhavetogoohfuckbye” There’s no more laughing and there’s also bare feet stepping down the hall. 14-year-old me thrashes at the stereo with one foot, CRY LOUDER, CONOR. CRY LOUDER. She chucks the contraband into the closet and braces herself for battle. She is well armed, because she’s reading about Che Guevara. She keeps an arsenal of rebellious quotes at her disposal- her inner arms absorb Sharpie ink for DAYS.
“Do you want to go get our nails done? We haven’t hung out in a while!” asks the WARDEN, enthusiastically.
“NO. GET OUT OF MY ROOM.” She does not mean to shout. She knows shouting is not proactive and will possibly prolong the sentence she had at first hoped to shorten with good behavior. The adrenaline of rule-breaking surges through her and she feels close to overdose; is that possible? Her words escape her mouth and take the form of giant bitch explosions.
Her mother’s eyes are doing that thing where they fill up with tears but she and 14-year-old me both know that she is way too reliant on her power to cry. 14-year-old me fixes a glare upon her, a practiced blend of hate and challenge, and hopes her mother will not see through this to the guilt bubbling up in her lower abdomen. It’s a strange phenomenon, and for a moment 14-year-old me considers the damage that her douchery may or may not be doing to her mother already made fragile by the dumb shit grown-ups cared about, like JOBS and MONEY and MARRIAGES.
The douche-beams radiating from 14-year-old me’s eyes are strong enough to push her mother down the hallway and into her own bedroom. Her bedroom doorknob locks with a drawn-out click that holds a resignation. Triumphant, 14-year-old me exhales and curls up in the closet; it is 3:09 and the muffled airplane noises outside the window fanfare the arrival of the stupid afternoon glare. Conor Oberst moans.