Bethanie Lee

I only get a quarter of everything; a quarter of passed-down clothing, a quarter of an immune system, a quarter of love from my parents of four daughters. 

I became worthless in my father’s eyes the moment my younger sister was born. I loved my little sister; nevertheless, a part of me was jealous because I had already gotten used to all the attention that was hers now. Though, I could tell my little sister wasn’t too fond of me either. 

We shared a room growing up. I was ten and she had just turned seven. We pushed two beds together to create one giant playground. Nights passed forming animals from the shadows of our hands. When we got bored of that we roleplayed as princesses. I was always Aurora and she was always Elsa, and we were always fighting over whether or not my prince could beat her superpowers. we’d scream and scream about the topic until our lungs gave out and then we’d agree that Jack Frost could beat them both. 

We lay in exhaustion with our backs pressed against the mattress, staring at the ceiling that seemed to inch closer to our faces. 

“Do you ever think about death?” I asked her, still staring above as the ceiling slowly pushed downwards. 

she looked at me, “What?” 

“What would happen to us if Mom and Dad died,” I said slowly. She didn’t reply. The room was quiet as the walls tightened, suffocating us. I imagined waves of darkness dancing like they were putting on a show for us. 

When she finally opened her mouth and the cracks in her throat broke through, “Why would you ever say that?” 

I realized she was crying and wondered why she was so upset. 

I used to think the reflection of my father’s spite was because I was disobedient, or maybe it was because when I let my frizzy hair down it reminded my father of his late grandmother who he despised, but now I know it was because my features represented him the most out of the four of us. He hated seeing himself as the failure that I was becoming. 

I was officially diagnosed with eczema at ten, but I had suffered a lifetime of it. My immune system was too weak to fight off the allergens and irritants in my body and so my skin cracked and bled when I scratched it. But I wasn’t allowed to touch it in front of other people. No, even if my skin was so itchy and irritated that it felt like fire was burning my hand, traveling to my chest, and scorching every part of my body– 

Disgusting. he gazed at me, my scarlet face, and I could practically hear his thoughts. 

The joy of raising me was passed to my 姐 oldest sister

姐 never showed any signs of weakness. That’s why no matter how she scolded me or kicked me or slapped me, she was never punished for it. She taught me how to dress, how to socialize, how to have fun, and when to hide from my parents. 

She fought them often, screaming until their faces grew red with fury. she’d scream, “I hate you!” then grab her jacket and force the words, “Come on” out between gritted teeth as she stormed past me. and though her face was still twisted in dissatisfaction, she held my hand as we walked out the door. The world instantly grew brighter. 

She mostly got whatever she wanted by arguing her way through it: her first phone, her first pair of shorts, her first bad grade. An A minus was tolerated, but a B could not be

accepted. They dragged her into a room and slammed the door in our faces. The walls were too thick for us to hear what was happening, so the rest of us hid in the corner of the hall and waited. After what felt like the longest period, my father emerged from the door with my mother trailing behind him. 姐 walked out slowly after a few minutes, a hand pressed to her cheek. She looked at us, at me, her eyes gleaming with victory. 

My father had a big appetite. He always ordered whatever he liked—too much of it. He would then yell at us for not being able to finish the food. Going to Chinese restaurants was my favorite because of the small aquariums that they had. I liked to watch the fish swim within the warmth of the four glass walls, because no matter how big or how small the fish were, they swam together, though the smaller ones always seemed to be swimming faster. My parents told me I was too heavy. They told me to pace myself. I could only finish whatever was on my plate, and if I reached to grab another dish, my father led me to the side away from prying eyes and hit me. 

“Do you know that our parents aren’t normal?” my second oldest sister said as she took a bite from a chocolate chip cookie. It was the last hour on the eve of Christmas. my parents had already gone to bed hours ago, and she and I were the only two people awake. “What do you mean?” I replied. 

She shrugged, “I thought all parents were like ours: manipulative bastards. my friends have never been hit before.” 

I didn’t understand what she was saying. 

“Just think about it,” she finished the last bite of her cookie. 

I couldn’t think about anything else for the next three days. 

“And you know, “妹妹 little sister is scared of you.” 

I attended a church retreat the winter after I turned thirteen. My counselor was an older girl who had been close to my family ever since she was little. I opened up to her completely. I told her about my family and I told her about how hard it was for me. She empathized with me, comforting me with calming words and hugs, but when I started talking about my siblings, she grew quiet. I asked her what was wrong, and for a while, she kept to herself, but then— 

“When you were little, and we were at your house, your hand got jammed in the door and it became all bloody and bruised. when your parents got back…they yelled at your oldest sister right in front of all of us. they said it was her responsibility to look after you and they took her into a room and… I remember how–” 

Her eyes welled, screaming for help, but my mother only watched as he beat her again and again. 姐 stood in defiance through my father’s screams and punches, tears dripping down her face and gathering at her chin but still, she refused to let out a single sound. I knew a part of her would resent me forever, but still, after everything, she barely sniffled, walking back to her room with her head held high. 

My parents took 妹妹 little sister and me to a Chinese restaurant the night we returned. My attention was fixed upon the aquarium in the middle of the room. It seemed smaller, and something was floating at the top of the water. 

“I’ll be right back,” I said to my parents as I made my way to the glass. As I got closer, patterns on the flecks grew visible, shining in the light. Dips and crevices like…scales; dozens of them at the top. I glanced down at the dots of red and blue bolting back and forth. swimming furiously away from the mouths of the bigger fish.

Tears welled in my eyes as I scratched my wrist till it became bloody. I returned to my seat 

“Mom, I feel so bad for the fish.”