the front door opens and my child skulks in, a surly gothic teenager with a ring in her nose. her hair is bleached white and tipped with red, knotted and gnarled in spidery dreads hanging down her back. it looks and smells like roadkill. her sweet face is coated with oily white makeup, her brown eyes ringed with black. she wears rubber dresses seamed together with zippers, black and white striped socks that i secretly like because they make her look like a cartoon character. my daughter snarls “hello” at me. her black fingernails scratch at the air, skull rings catch the light. her friends Lucy and Xavier and Sludge slither in behind her and nod vaguely in my direction. the four of them disappear into the dark cave of her room and firmly shut the door.
my husband and i try to imagine what they do up there; most likely a combination of sex, drugs, video production and bloodletting. i remember the day she painted the walls black, a sliver of sunshine earnestly peeking around the edges of heavy curtains. a plastic skull grins on the bed stand next to the purple bong she doesn’t even bother to hide anymore, melted candles illuminating posters for Cradle of Filth and The Newlydeads. her pet snake, a blond eyelash viper named Lola, spirals in its reeking cage under a red heat lamp glowing in the corner.
hours pass. i busy myself with bills, cleaning up, flipping through a magazine, trying not to listen to the muffled laughter coming from her room. at last her friends slink out the back door. i head upstairs to my daughter’s room to check on her. i open the door and the walls have changed. they’re now a cheery yellow. her massive four-poster fabric-draped bed has morphed into a little girl’s bed covered with flowers and overflowing with stuffed animals. the glass crystals we bought last summer hang from her window, refracting rainbows that bounce all over the room. glitter floats through the air from a recent art project. we hear our neighbor’s wind chimes and the room smells faintly of the lilac bush growing outside her window. my daughter looks up from her drawing of a dead spider, black crayon gripped tightly in her little dimpled hand. i notice whispy blond hair curling up around her neck.
“hey, mama. what you doing?”
“oh, just wondering what you’d like for dinner.”
“hmmmm,” chubby finger tapping on her mouth. “how about ice cream?”
“that’s not a healthy dinner. how about some noodles?”
“mmmmm! i like noodles.”
she smiles and turns back to her dark art.
“shut the door, mama. i got to do my work.”
“ok, little girl.”
i sigh and shut the door. sometimes she changes right before my eyes, like a werewolf under a full moon. i see her face stretching, arms lengthening, clothes ripping. other times, it happens behind closed doors. she’ll go in a room one way and come out another. the first time it happened, she was just a little baby. i went into her nursery, expecting to find her asleep in her crib dreaming about baby things. instead, i found a full-grown woman, packing her suitcase and getting ready to leave home. sometimes she’s gone and sometimes she’s here. but she’s always on my mind.