The dry lump in my throat grew two sizes. I clutched the sides of the bathroom sink, knowing the tears welling up in my reddened eyes would soon fall and disappear into the drain.
My hands trembled even when I clenched them into tight fists. I couldn’t control the tears once they started rolling down my angered face. My quivering lips pressed together. The mascara melted off my eyelashes, staining my cheeks.
My younger sister waited for me just outside of the door. She could see from my flushed face as I walked past her that something wasn’t quite right. I played it off with a nod of my head and a forced half smile until I closed the bathroom door behind me, releasing all the muscles in my face until the tears began to rise.
I locked the door so tight that I nearly broke the lock, but even in the safety of my own bathroom I couldn’t shake the disgusting power his betrayal had over me. I could have sworn I was standing naked in front of a crowd of people, but as I looked down, my pajamas were still on and as I glanced into the mirror, it was only me.
I gulped in gasps of air, hating the weakness of my body. As I let the soiled tears fall from my burning eyes, I asked myself where I had gone wrong. I had been certain that I was making the right choice. Though I had known about his troubled past, I was sure that somewhere deep inside, there was a well-intentioned man waiting to be set free.
Minutes later, I heard a knock on the door. My concerned sister quietly asked, “Are you okay?”
I cupped my hand over my mouth in an attempt to control my sobs, but that only invited more tears. I turned around and pressed my back against the wall. As I dropped my arms to my sides, I looked up, my face glazed with regret. My eyes squinted in anger. I believed in this man, even when all the red flags had flashed directly in my face. Those flags may as well have been an army of people warning me about him, which, I hated to admit, actually happened.
I believed in him when my friends told me about his cheating and surprisingly violent past. I promised them that he was different, he was changing. He told me himself about the mistakes he’d made, mistakes I would have been too ashamed to admit to someone I’d met at a church. I believed in him even when he took me out to get drunk after bible study. I believed in him even after he took me to a party where people tried shoving LSD down my throat. I drove him home that morning, watching as he sat in the passenger seat having discussions with people who weren’t there. At that moment I questioned my own sanity, but I still believed that he was capable of good and that he was on the road to a better life. I wanted that life, too.
I turned and rested my shaky hand against the door. In a low tone, I answered, “Yeah. I’m okay.”
I made a mistake, a horrible, confusing mistake. How was I going to explain this to my little sister? I was her role model, her example of how she was supposed to love and respect herself and there I was, unable to look at myself in the mirror. I wanted to wear a bag over my head and take a long cold shower until the humiliation washed away. All I wanted to do was tell her how sorry I was. As insane as it sounded, I wanted her to know that despite what had happened, I still believed in the good.
I let myself fall to the floor, feeling every ounce of strength drain from my muscles. My heart weighed a ton of bricks and ached no matter how hard I pressed my palm into my chest. The last of the tears poured out and I sat with my back against the wall, wearing a defeated expression. All the air escaped my lungs. I closed my eyes, realizing that I was no longer in control.
I lifted my hands and stared at them for a long moment. Instead of curling my fingers in anger, I allowed them to bloom. I examined their youth and beauty and how the unique lines belonged to nobody else but me. It was then when suddenly, in my emotional state, I imagined something that would forever change my paradigm. My eyes squinted and my lips slightly parted as I discovered a hole right in the middle of each hand. Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, but sitting on my bathroom floor with my hands raised to my face, I held that image for as long as I possibly could.
Maybe this wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me. Maybe this was a precious gift waiting for me beneath a crown of thorns. I gazed up to the ceiling, asking whatever it was out there what lesson I was supposed to learn.
As I looked at my hands, for some strange reason, love filled my heart and warmth enveloped my shivering body. Silence surrounded me, compassion calmed my racing heart, and forgiveness released the weight from my chest. My sight became clearer and the corners of my mouth slowly turned upward. The holes became scars as I folded my healed hands gently together. I couldn’t hate him, but more importantly, I could no longer hate myself. I was a beautiful girl with perfectly imperfect hands.
I rose from the ground, my muscles filled with determination. As I stood before the mirror, I lifted my head and gazed into my hopeful eyes. It was then when I knew I would be okay.