I come from my mother, full as an egg with the weight that sits and grows, sinking into her pelvis, into the centre of her like a truth. I am plump and round and perfect, as the midwives declare my sex, and for a moment, all is whole. One has become two, and each of those two is one. A whole.
Crossing the road with my mother when I am 11. She launches a volley of fury at a man passing us. Somewhere, later, I learn that my swelling breasts, still tiny mounds on a child’s body, had drawn his eye down. A little piece of me is nipped away.
A dark bus station, 14 years old, counting the chewing gum pebbles on the bricks. A man sits next to me. His hands, my legs, my skirt. I am giddy with relief when another man comes to help, hollowed a little more when he asks me to show him my gratitude. The police come and my mother, who was the start of me, tells me I will be the death of her. Another chunk of me falls away.
I take the little girl I babysit for a walk on the meadows. We are followed by a man with a golf club who hits ball after ball our way, aiming to injure. The police come and I tell them I swore; my mother cuts my pocket money and offers days of silence. I lie in bed and worry away more of myself.
I eat to fill the hole. But the hole is cunning – as I expand, so it does too, so I stop. I stop, and I stop, and I stop, until I am all hollow. There is my outline, curved in on itself, and there is the hole inside me. People marvel at my slender shape; I am approved – a ghost girl with space inside, ready for others.
At 17, I fall in love. We fumble and manage what we think we’re supposed to; there is no pleasure, only disappointment and a dragging sense of loss. The next day, my mother sees in my face that something has changed; she screams, “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” She turns her face from mine, and I know I am no good. Something heavy falls from me; it leaves a raw wound.
I begin to lock the bathroom door, hungry for my own space, not just inside of me. My brother, who fills more space than I, spreading himself in the way of teenage boys, spits at my face, calls me a whore. Our parents tell us we are both as bad as each other; rage when I refuse to go to bed while my brother sleeps soundly.
Quiet words at the haven of school, whispers of exceptional, applications, interviews. Rushing home, the hole in me throbs at the edges, open as a sky. I am told that there will be no support, no loan, no help if I get above my station. There will be no keeping up with the Joneses. I follow my brother quietly to a mediocre university, extra modules shields against the boredom.
The space inside me rejects all I drop into it. I crouch in toilet stalls, clinging on for dear life, knowing life is not dear to me at all. The hollowness expands until I feel it could tear through the skin and burst out, leaving only shreds. I move abroad and am exotic for a while. I let men touch me, each caress digging away more of what I think I want, dropping the heart of me into the dust under the bed.
I waste money, emptying my already hungry bank account on failed journeys to find myself. I fly home, still lost and afraid, and my mother tells me I’m not as slim as she thought I’d be. I sleep on a friend’s floor until he questions his place in my friend zone; I move away again, wasting more money. I cut my mother out like a cancer but she leaves a singing wound that throbs with every angry email and letter.
I meet the man I marry. I swell with my own new truth, expanding slowly and cradling the taut flesh that no longer feels like my own. Something new within me; she fills me, and yet I know I will be less when she leaves me. And when she does, I am, but it is a hollowing out I am willing to bear. My own egg – round and smooth, curled in an infinite oval but unfurling as she dares more and more.
The depression that follows is less easy to carry. What a word for a thunderstorm that breaks endlessly beneath your ribs, shaking your bones from inside, filling your head with fury. Nothing is depressed – all hate and hurt and devastation breaks loose to flash on my horizon, blinding me in the dark hours when she finally sleeps. It eats me from the inside, chewing away at the heart of me. Again, I am less by the end.
I am still hollow and pale. But still an egg, replete with potential, cracked but not broken, my wounds still singing but not drowning out other sounds. My own egg is growing; we are two that came from one, that came from another who is now lost to us both. Our shells will hold.
Lorrie Hartshorn is an English literary and speculative fiction writer, whose work has appeared in The F-Word, FlashFlood, Six Sentences, 1000 Words, The Pygmy Giant, Six Words, The Literary Nest, Compose, Anthem and Vagabond. She blogs at Circles Under Streetlights.