“Beauty on the outside doesn’t mean anything if there’s ugly inside,” Mother said when she saw my teeth marks in Timmy’s bloody hand.
Mother was at choir practice at church and my brother and I were home alone. I was 16 and Timmy was 11 and a real pest, even downright feral. As soon as Mother left the house he started taunting me, searching for just the right button to push and getting up closer in my face with each one he tried. He was more relentless than usual that night and oblivious to my pleading. The louder I yelled at him to knock it off the happier he got. I tried ignoring his antics but that just sent him into peals of gleeful ecstasy until finally his teasing escalated to unprecedented heights that included cackling while jumping up and down and flapping his arms like a chicken in heat. He wiggled his fingers inches from my nose, the size of which (too big) had always been a sensitive issue for me. This went on for hours — at least that’s how it felt to me then, and how I still remember it fifty-four years later.
Timmy finally wore himself out. At first I was wary, able to devote only half of my attention to my homework while the other half kept an eye on what he was doing. But when he went off somewhere, I assumed to his room, I sat back, took a deep breath and smiled to myself. I hadn’t gone crazy, hadn’t hit him (much as I’d wanted to) and, most importantly, I hadn’t cried. In short, my little brother had not gotten to me, not this time, no matter how hard he’d tried. Tonight, the victory was mine.
I settled into doing my schoolwork and became so immersed in writing an essay for English class that the rest of the world disappeared. I forgot all about Timmy.
“BOO! EEK! BOO!”
I shrieked at the top of my lungs and jumped out of my chair. It crashed onto the floor with a bang that turned my fear into an overwhelming terror and sent my heart racing into the stratosphere. Timmy burst out laughing. He screamed with delight.
“I got you! I got you! I got you! Ha, ha, ha. Hee, hee, hee. I got you!”
That was it. I lunged at him. I snatched one of his fluttering hands, twisted his wrist and yanked it toward me. Timmy stared at me, his eyes bulging out of their sockets as I stretched the web of his hand between his thumb and forefinger, lifted it up, opened my mouth, and sank my teeth into the fleshiest part of it.
When he tried to pull away I clamped my teeth deeper into his skin and refused to release it until the unpleasant taste of metal on my tongue made my spit it out. I dropped his hand and he backed away, staring at me like he didn’t know who I was.
Ah, the gratification, the complete and uninhibited pleasure I felt as I stared with fascination at the trickle of blood oozing from the two perfect little tooth holes in the web of my brother’s hand. The trickle slowly spread from the point of penetration into a red stream that flowed over the rest of his hand and eventually dripped down onto the floor.
Timmy held his bloody hand high in the air with his other hand, a trophy of his victimhood. His eyes were frantic and he screamed uncontrollably for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, with one sudden and unexpected movement, he dropped both hands down to his waist, one still clasping the bloody other, and doubled over like he was either going to faint or vomit onto the floor any minute.
When Timmy looked up at me with the eyes of a dying fawn, I found myself suspended between two worlds — one of victory, the other of regret, with the world of regret quickly gaining ground. How could I have done such a horrible thing? I fell to the floor, immobilized, as a mixture of laughing and crying produced a guttural sound like the scream of a strange animal in my throat. Would my brother pass out and bleed to death before Mother came home? What should I do? What kind of a person was I? I hugged the leg of the table as tears stung my eyes and streamed down my cheeks and onto the floor where they mingled with my brother’s blood. The fires of hell burned in my body. It was too late to be saved. I was doomed. I glanced over at the kitchen stove and imagined turning on the gas and sticking my head in the oven. I didn’t deserve to live.
Just then Mother walked in the door, which reignited Timmy’s hysterics. Mother spotted the blood on the floor and started to scream along with him while at the same time grabbing Timmy’s hand and squeezing it to stop the bleeding. I hid my face between my legs.
“He … wouldn’t stop,” I sobbed. “I couldn’t make him stop.”
I watched Mother dab at Timmy’s hand with the handful of napkins she’d grabbed from the table and wondered if the bleeding would ever stop. Would they have to take him to the hospital? I shuddered when I imagined what the doctor would say when he was told I had done this. Maybe Mother would ask the minister of our church to come over and pray for Timmy’s healing and my soul.
“You’ll live,” Mother declared after turning Timmy’s hand over a couple of times and studying the damage. Then she turned to me with the sternest look I’d ever seen on her face and said, “Go into the bathroom and get the first aid kit. Now!”
With slumping shoulders and trembling hands I handed the first aid kit to Mother then watched as Timmy basked in her attempts to soothe him with cooing sounds and kisses and screamed bloody murder when she dabbed at his hand with a ball of cotton soaked in alcohol.
After Timmy’s hand was cleaned and bandaged, Mother looked at me for a long time. I wondered what punishment awaited me. Ten lashes with a belt or a slap on the face, from a mother who had never before raised a hand to me? Or would she say, “Just wait until your father gets home,” like she usually did, and make me suffer in anticipation of a more severe fate? I held my breath.
“You know,” she finally said with a sigh, “beauty on the outside doesn’t mean anything if there’s ugly inside.”
My heart skipped a beat. Tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t believe my ears. Had she really said that? My mother thought I was beautiful? Really?
I tried to suppress the smile that was making my lips tingle in its eagerness to express itself. Butterflies danced inside me, tickling my nerves, muscles, blood vessels and all my organs into a collective giggle. I relished the words, “beauty on the outside,” savored the delicious taste of them on my tongue. If Mother considered me attractive, even beautiful, then wouldn’t it be possible for my skinny-minny, awkward, insecure, ugly-duckling self to actually be able to see me that way, too?
“I’m sorry I bit you,” I said to Timmy with as contrite a tone as I could muster.
Then I walked to my room, stifling an urge to skip, and closed the door. I looked in the mirror and smiled.
“Hey, Beautiful,” I said to the pretty girl smiling back at me.