I saw her in the supermarket when I was eight years old. Her bright face adorned the cover of a tabloid, right beside the face of Bat Boy, who always fascinated me because I was never sure whether he was real.
I hated her. I hated everything about her in that one instant when her smiling face glowed up at me. She would steal everything. She was pretty.
“What happened to her?” I asked my mother, because I did not yet know what the word murdered meant.
“She was killed,” my mother said, shaking her head as she pushed the cart of groceries along and began to stack cans onto the conveyor belt. “Poor little girl.”
“Good,” I said, my mouth full of bitter poison.
“Bridget! How dare you!”
The reprimand made me hate the girl even more. She had a funny name, and that made it all worse. Some stuck-up, rich, preppy name. A name I couldn’t pronounce, but once I heard it pronounced, I was jealous all over again because the name sounded so perfect, just like her.
“Concupiscence!” the parish priest bellowed, his white robes flapping around him. He reminded me of a dove anyway with his beaky nose and black liquid eyes, and as he yelled now, he seemed to be filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. “The tendency toward sin! No one is exempt!”
My eyes fell on the statue of Mary to the left of the altar. Except her. The epitome of woman. Blond and pristine as depicted. Blue, dewy eyes, looking nothing like she would have looked in reality. Not a dirty, dark-skinned, large-nosed Jew.
I had some female friends. Girls with blond hair and lovely, musical names like Selena and Alexandria, girls I eventually grew to hate because my name was Bridget, which sounded like a punishment when it was screamed and utilitarian when it was not. As if I was a chair.
Her name echoed back to me when I called the names of my friends. Selena, Alexandria. God forbid I call them Lena or Lexi. God forbid I ever call her Jonny, even in my mind.
The Christmas when I was eleven, we were poor. My father had fallen into depression and lost his job, so my mother could not afford presents. I wasn’t disappointed because the part of Christmas I liked the most was going to church at midnight and exiting the church with snow whirling around me, so when I looked back at the lights glowing from the sanctuary, I imagined that I was prairie girl Laura Ingalls Wilder, who took nothing for granted.
That morning, there was a box under the tree, somewhat heavy, and on the plain white label, in frilly handwriting, was “For The Little Mother.”
“Mom, this must be yours,” I said.
“I think it’s for you, Bridget,” she said, a secret in her smile.
I unwrapped the box, trying to hold back what would surely be disappointment upon realizing that the gift inside was indeed my mother’s.
A porcelain doll stared back at me, so delicate and flawless that she took my breath away. Her hair was stiff and white-blond, her eyes blue. Lily, I thought. She looks just like a Lily.
Part of me knew that I was long past the age when I should be playing with dolls, but a stronger part of me wanted to raise my doll. After all, I was “The Little Mother.”
My mother sensed my hesitation. “Are you sure you want her?”
“Yes,” I said firmly.
Lily went everywhere with me, except for school, where I would have been relentlessly teased for still playing with dolls at the ripe old age of eleven. I bought dresses for her, combed her stiff blond hair until it was soft and pliable, and read and sung to her as though she was my own child.
Until the day a heavy book fell on top of her and broke her where she lay in her carriage. Her porcelain face was smashed into three large pieces, and seeing her like that destroyed the illusion that she was a child.
She was just a doll, nothing more.
High school was a minefield, full of girls who would steal your boyfriend and your success when they were pretty and intelligent enough to obtain both on their own and you were hideous and desperate and grabbing at whatever you could get.
He had ugly teeth and uglier hair, several years out of style. I loved him because he paid attention to me. My face was dull, but I had a vagina, which was more memorable.
I still spent time with Alexandria, who had developed marvelously, somehow remaining slender and small while growing enormous breasts and child-bearing hips.
He fell victim to Alexandria’s claws and to her vagina, which was probably more memorable and special than mine.
I stopped talking to her, but she never stopped talking to me. Whenever her words went in one of my ears and out of the other, I could see the knife she held behind her back. I could feel it as she plunged it between my shoulder blades, twisting and pulling.
Eventually, I took that same knife and her own boyfriend, whose penis could hardly be seen under the flap of fat that was his stomach. The revenge was sweet, the sex not so much.
I married a man who was borne out of a dream. At his request, I sought bridesmaids to even out his posse of groomsmen. I thought of them as handmaids to my queen, and when they would swoop to attend to me on that most special day, the knives I imagined they held in their hands would turn to bouquets of flowers, their green scales to flowing blue dresses, their knowledge of makeup into words of wisdom on how I could heal myself from the hatred I still harbored.
They chatted among themselves in the room where we all dressed. I saw myself in the mirror, beautiful for the first time in my life, my lips somewhat resembling a rosebud, and again, she appeared in my mind. The hatred welled up.
My maid of honor came up behind me and squeezed my shoulders. “Bridget!” she squealed in her too-high voice. “This is the best day of your life! Are you excited?”
I must not have looked it as I stared into the mirror, still faced with the girl whose face should have faded from my mind long ago.
Now I have a daughter, six years old. From the moment she made her appearance, my husband and I adored her. She has his hazel eyes and curly blond hair, which I am sure will deepen to brown as she gets older.
When she looks into my eyes, when I tuck her in and kiss her good night, I tell her that she is my sunshine, but words cannot express all that she means to me. I would never prostitute her like that other little girl so many years ago, so that she falls into the wrong hands and her face adorns tabloids.
My daughter is pretty but not pretty enough to be used.
Her father and I look at each other after looking at her, and something in me believes that she is the glue that will keep us attached to each other.
I know it is selfish, but when my husband works late and my daughter asks when daddy will come home, I can’t help but think that a blond woman about our age, with pouting lips, filmy hair, and a voice like an angel will swoop him up in her claws, and he will be powerless to resist her.