My Name is Jane

written by Christine Unger



I always knew it would come to this. I lasted longer than I should have. Joy tasted blood in her teeth, felt the grit of mud mix with her saliva. What a ridiculous outfit to die in. She hated to be dirty like this. It didn't hurt as much as she'd feared. She knew this was the end, but really, she'd often felt worse as a child. Maybe she was in shock. The sun's rays reached down over the edge of the pit, sharpening the shadows.

"I'm so sorry, so sorry," she whispered. Knowing no one could hear her.

She understood the Sisters, their lie of omission, as they would have called it. They only did it to protect her. Her brother/sister knelt at the edge of the constructions site, staring in horror, watching her mirror self die, helpless. "She, looks so much like me."

Joy's thoughts began to revolve, jostling chaotically from one memory to another. Hands, hands, more hands, touching soothing, rocking, singing, always singing. Her reflection in a pool of water. The surprise of it, for there was no mirror in her room. Her own beauty taking her breath away. The birth of vanity. Dick's eyes on her, the flush of obsession, and guilt at her own loss of self-control, at the lies. Jane "I know" she'd said. That was all. Holding a kitten for the first time. Sister Martine, laughing with her as they danced to old Fred and Ginger movies in the basement. Dick's look as he'd left her the last time, dismissive, distant. The shadows lengthened again. Time running out.

The Sisters loved me. I was the child they would never have. So much pent up feminine longing. Sometimes it crushed me, their need to care for a child. Babies came and went but I stayed with them. I was theirs. I grew up morbidly aware of how close to death I was and so, how close to god. I could never forgive God for this, but I cared too much for my mother-sisters to tell them the truth.

The sisters would sit with me through the night while I battled against the asthma that sat on my chest, a creature sent by the devil to steal the air from my mouth. For the first five years of my life the dominant sound was the hum of my nebulizer running through the night as I wheezed and gasped into my mask. They would sit, sometimes three at a time, holding my hands, stroking my head, praying to god.

Sister Magdalene who'd grown up in Greece would ring her hands and cry, Mora, the Mora. For a while I thought it was my name. The others shook their head at her ignorance. For the most part, the sisters were smart, well educated, self-taught women of unusual discipline. They were not man haters, lesbians, exiles from abuse, or even just plain Janes without a calling in life. Rather they were a species apart, cerebral women touched by a sense of spiritual connection to a final destiny with God, one foot already in heaven, they separated themselves from one life to be prepared for the next.

I admired them hugely, but as I grew older I realized that the God gene was not among my assets. I felt nothing for the church. No amount of praying, reading spiritually uplifting books, kneeling, fasting, or meditating before the gruesome image of Christ on the Cross could induce in me a sense of a greater being or a higher purpose. Sometimes I wondered if I even had a heart. Passion was nothing more than a vocabulary word. I liked things, but I never seemed to love them.

Nonetheless, my childhood was a happy one. Our home was not a gloomy barren mausoleum of stone. It was a warm wooden structure, full of colour and light. We were surrounded by the mountains and often took walks through the woods and around the lakes. Spring and summer were busy with gardening, preparing and preserving food. We didn't make our own cheese but we cultivated an enormous garden of herbs and kept bees enough to supplement our income with a lively trade in beeswax candles, honey and soaps. Talking was discouraged (though not forbidden) but song was as constant as sleep. Arguments were practically unknown and quickly appeased with tea and sympathy. Guests came, from far and near, to spend a month or two in retreat from the world. On very rare occasions, someone would pass away and someone new, would come to stay. And, as I said, babies came and went. Each time I would be reminded of how I came to be there. The Sisters had few answers for me but I was not overly curious. As a child I was content.

It was a beautiful life and in my youth I really tried to make it my own. This life was all I knew, I took all the first steps to become a nun, but I could not lie to them. I could not hide my true nature. In this house of calm and quiet I became a shadow of dark frustration. As I got older my temper flared more and more often. When Sister Martine joined the convent, only a few years my elder, we became best friends but her softness, the conviction of her faith, only highlighted how out of place I was. I wanted more, I didn't know what it was, but I felt it, a heat, a longing, an itch... When I turned 23 Mother Agathe called me to her office and told me firmly that it was time I learned about the world.

"You have no vocation Joy. We love you. We will always be here for you, but if you find your way back to us it will not be through ignorance or lack of choice."

They had already filled out college applications for me. They didn't realize it was too late. I'd already met Dick, already knew too much about the world. More than I'd ever wanted to know. I'd learned to drink, to swear, to fuck, and worst of all, to lie about it, even to Martine. I would be leaving, but not to go to school. I'd tried to end it once, but then Jane was gone and it was perfect, but it wasn't perfect. Something was wrong, more wrong than I had ever thought anything could be.

My poor, poor sister-brother. I'm dead now, I know it. I can't even open my eyes but I feel his hands, my sister-brothers hands, so very gentle. She's undressing me. Thank goodness. I don't want to be found this way. I hope her plan will make Dick suffer. I hope she will finds a life far away from this cursed mountain. I'm so sorry sisters, so sorry to you all. It's done, the light goes away, like a rush of air in a vacuum. Pop, shut. And now I'm floating above myself, above her, and I notice the giant hairy creature hovering at the side of the pit. It sees me, really sees me, not just the reflection of myself I see in everyone's eyes. It's stare is cold and blank. It seems death is no different from life, except that I'm not cold any more. Before I'm done with my thoughts, a gust of wind rushes through me and I am broken apart, scattered, gone as if I'd never existed.