You’re twelve the first time you dye your hair. Red. Red as your mother’s leather couches. Red as sunburn. Red as the period you’ve just started.
You know you’ll get in trouble, but that’s why you locked the door. Dye packets litter the tile as you inexpertly run the bottle through your hair.
When it’s finished you look awful, but you’re happy. You’ve never been so excited to be so ugly.
You’re in Japan. You’ve worked twenty days in a row. It’s cold, your ski boots haven’t dried all the way through and you’d lost feeling in your toes earlier that morning.
You’re barricaded in a stall in the ladies restrooms. There are people waiting, complaining about the line as they peel off layers of thermals and down jackets. You can’t imagine talking to another person. You’re tired, so, so tired. The thought of meeting someone new is terrifying, but you’re late. You’ll get in trouble but a new face a new name seems insurmountable but you’re late and you’re going to be in trouble and before you know if you’re looking at the ceiling. Breathing is hard. Then impossible. It’s not the first panic attack you’ve had. It is the worst.
Your boss finds you on the floor fifteen minutes later. She’s angry, you’d cost her money. You can see her winding up for an argument, you know what you’ve done is irresponsible but when she sees you her face shuts down, voice falters.
She helps you off the floor. Kneels in front of you, deft fingers undoing buckles, releasing hard plastic and molded foam.
“Go home,” she whispers. “You need to go home.”
She covers your shift with a man that will sexually assault you a week later. He corners you in the bar bathroom, presses your back against the sink as you press your hands against his chest. All you’ve ever wanted is to escape.
Blonde. You’re desperate to bleach your hair but you don’t have any gloves in the cupboard. Fuck it, you do it anyway.
Your fingertips wrinkle, scalp burns. The pain is comforting in its familiarity.
You ask him out first, amidst graffiti and urinals. He agrees, but he’s not excited. It’s not cool to be excited.
You’re doing a weight drive by. He’s putting on muscle, you’re losing fat. One time he catches you eating a cookie and looks so disappointed you get on your knees and blow him, the only penitence you know how to offer aside from getting smaller.
After, like a lamb to the slaughter, he leads you to the scales. Shows you which parts of your body to better run your fingers over to feel them wither and fade away.
You’re all soft curves giving way to hard angles. Desperate.
Purple. He’d said it was his favourite colour. Sure, it won’t go with most of your wardrobe, but he never really liked your style anyway.
When you wash it out the hue runs down your body. It looks like a bruise, slick with bad intentions.
You’d been binging for weeks and the laxatives were a safety measure. You’d dry swallowed mouthfuls and fallen asleep, stomach churning, in so much pain the ceiling looked unfamiliar.
Now you’re on the toilet, shitting your guts out, tears streaming down your face onto your distended belly. You always cry here. The ache is so deep you fancy you can feel it in your bones, body trying to purge everything inside it, waste, half digested food. Blood. There’s always so much blood.
Orange. Let it be orange. Let it be short. Copper falls to the sink in curls as thick as snakes.
He leaves you. “You’re not as fun anymore.”
Let you become smaller and smaller until there are no places left he’s touched. Now you’ll really look like the manic pixie dream girl he always thought you were.
She’s in the shower when you barge in. She laughs as you start your routine and dump the contents of your makeup bag on the counter.
“Sorry babe,” you say, distracted. “I’m running super late.”
“It’s okay,” she chirps from behind curtain. “Interview today?”
“Yeah,” you reply, frantically searching for foundation.
“Hey, check this out.”
“Check what out?”
“Just come here and look!”
You oblige, pushing the curtain open. She’s giggling and holding a plate with three slices of cake. At the back of the shower there’s a glass of wine. “I’m getting started early.”
You laugh, eyes drawn to her heavy breasts and narrow waist.
“I’m being… What’s the word for it? You know, the word for Tauruses…”
“Hedonistic?” You supply.
Her eyes brighten, smile widens. “Yes! That’s it! I’m being hedonistic!”
You kiss for the first time under the spray. She tastes like cab sav. You hate cab sav.
Pink. You bleach your roots, wash it out. Prepare the dye. It goes on evenly, the same pastel as your baby clothes.
When you finish washing the colour out you glance in the mirror. You look like an anime character, like a girl sprung from a book, imagined and brought alive. Good. Let them think you have honey-sweet words and good intentions, gentle hands and delicate feelings. You’d do anything to be anyone other than yourself.
You watch all your best thoughts circle the drain.
She’s shaking in the water, all blackened eyes and broken ribs. She makes his excuses as you wash her back and straighten her limbs in the tub.
“Please, you can’t take me to hospital,” she begs. “I can’t get him in trouble.”
“He can’t do this,” you argue half-heartedly. You already know the outcome.
“No, no,” she insists. “It’s my fault, I promise.”
You sigh. Her bottom lip is nearly bitten clean through from where her teeth are worrying it. You Google how to stitch a wound closed. You have everything you need. Vodka. A sewing needle. Dental floss.
She holds herself like a girl gone quiet as you sterilise the needle. Bring it to her thigh. Pull her skin together and press metal through the raw edges of the wound. In and out, in and out. Like a garment, you remind yourself. Small, precise stitches. When it’s closed you tie it off, pour vodka over the gash without warning and watch as her body convulses.
You want her to understand how you feel. You want it to hurt.
Turquoise. He dyes it for you. Kisses your brow while it sets.
He offers you coke and you do four lines. It’s never affected you much, but that’s not why you do it. It’s naughty, illegal, expensive. Makes you feel like you’re worth something, anything, as long as someone will press your head against porcelain, nose to powder.
You want him to make you feel the way you think you deserve to feel. Maybe if you do enough your nose will bleed and someone will notice.
Black. Your hands are shaking when you pay for the dye. You don’t like making decisions you can’t back out of. You sit, ass on the rim of a broken chair, tattooed fingers spreading liquid through your faded hair.
In front of the full length mirror you watch the colour turn. It applies white and as the moments pass gets darker and darker, inching towards cobalt.
You’re packing your things, but not with the care and consideration this moment likely deserves. Hurried, rushed, dry eyed.
Your friends are in the next room throwing whatever looks like yours into black bin bags. Something about clothes and electronics shoved into plastic has always felt so final. This is final. Final and quick. You don’t have much time until he comes home and the thought makes you sick, anxiety pressing itself into your synapses and catching on your arteries, so deeply entwined you cannot imagine its absence.
You remember the way your face changed in this mirror, week after week, month after month. The three years you lived here together. Thin then fat then thin then fat, however he decided he preferred you. You remember the weight of his body, the weight of his stare, the weight of his everything pulling you under so quietly you didn’t even realise you were drowning.
You wonder if he made the others feel this way. Brittle and empty. One step from disaster, one day from seeing how many coins you could all fit into the hollows above your collarbones again. Again. Three. Three that you know of, three with shrinking pains and empty veins. Fuck.
“What are you doing in there? We don’t have much time!”
“Just a minute!”
You pull toiletries off the shelf without looking.
You think of the others, you think of yourself. Do they see you staring back at them, years apart and pulled apart by the same hands? Did they cry? Did they scream? Did they sob, repeating again and again, “but you don’t even want me?”
Why did this take so long? Why were you so scared? When did the most important parts of you grow so silent?
You’re tired of waiting for you and him to be anything other than what you are.
When you’re ready you colour your hair again. Bleach a welcome pain, a friend come home. Silver this time. He’d never liked it, but he’s never been here. Never strolled onto this tile in his worn out boots, so beloved they had holes in the toes and soles, more loyalty than he ever showed you.
You fancy you are made of smoke and bone. Hair spun from starlight and steel, armour in a world where it’s vital yet obsolete. When you’re done you drain the bath and sit there naked. Feel the press of your thighs and folds of your stomach. For once self disgust doesn’t take root, can’t crawl into your cracks and bloom.
You stand. You dress. You bend over and pull fistfuls of hair from the drain. It’s grey and rotten, like mould or skin you’ve shed.
In time the water runs clear.