I didn’t want to be her any more, the girl he held. The photo was in a silver frame on the living room wall: he had his arms around her while she wore a white dress and an ill-fitting smile. I couldn’t stand passing her in the living room, or when I walked past the bathroom sink. Every time I looked down, I saw her black hair hanging over my shoulders like a veil.
The hair was the first thing, and the hardest. There are tricks to changing, and I had forgotten them all. I used kitchen scissors. I sat on the top step of the back deck and hacked off chunks. They floated down into the flowerbeds and settled there like strange little nests. Later that week I went down to the drugstore and bought peroxide and hair dye. I became blonde, brunette, redheaded. I learned to heat up a curling iron. I blew my hair pin-straight.
After that, it only made sense to make other changes. There were so many colors of lipstick in the world, carmine and plum, glossy and matte. Foundation, concealer, bronzer, blush, eyeshadow. I contoured my nose and highlighted the corners of my eyes. I swept the tip of my eyeliner brush down into the tube and learned to draw on a new face every day.
I could see still her sometimes—in the mirror, in the way that I moved. Worse, he still looked at me like he knew who I was.
I threw out my clothes and bought new ones. I lost weight until my hipbones were knife-sharp and my wedding ring rattled off my finger and clanged against the sink. I gained it until my thighs thickened and rubbed together when I walked, fraying the inside seam of my jeans. My ring couldn’t be slid back on after that. I left it on top of my dresser. I owned myself. The shape of my body belonged to me.
Changing became easier and easier. I learned to grow six inches taller, or two decades older. I practiced becoming old movie stars, former presidents, our neighbors. I didn’t see her in the mirror so much any more, that black-haired girl. I saw a man with a beard, or a teenager with pink hair, or Clara Bow.
He didn’t touch me as much, not now that I was so changeable. One day he came home and there was a young stag in the kitchen, a long horizontal score in the wall from its unwieldy rack of antlers. Another day I was a tree. My skin became rough and pebbled or shiny and cold to the touch. I made myself tangled and thorny or undulating and slippery. But he would still look at me sometimes, like I was that girl in the photo, the one squeezed between his arms.
I took up smoking. I sat on the back deck where I cut my hair all those months ago and flicked a little snowfall of ash in the garden. When he found me that day, he looked at me with such certainty and said “You don’t smoke.” He didn’t mean anything by it—that’s how he always defended everything else he said. Sometimes I tried to imagine him defending his actions the same way: I grabbed you, but I didn’t mean anything by it.
I smoked exactly like my cigarette: one burning end curling into the air and a shower of sparks against the deck, impossible to hold.