Everyone has their weaknesses. Everyone hurts. Even seemingly perfect lives are shadowed.

She used to sit with her back flush against the wall, eyes shut tight and heart braced hard against the ache that nevertheless swept like a plague through her to land unceremoniously where it could do the most damage… like a bloodsucking insect that craved trembling lips and salty tears but, most of all, the dull pain in her entire being.

She learned to cry silently, too, because children should be (barely) seen and not heard.

When she scraped her knee on the church steps at her aunt’s third wedding, Sarah bore her mother’s exasperation (“Couldn’t you have been more careful? That dress is one-of-a-kind…”) as her maid cleaned the wound and poured fire on the raw skin. “Now it’s ruined,” her mother had added on a long-suffering sigh, leaving maid and daughter alone. Sarah had sucked in a breath until she was sure the threat of tears was gone.

“Is good to let out, miss Sarah.”

“Then let yourself out, Marie,” she’d snapped back, still sitting primly upon the paper towels Marie had been thoughtful enough to put there. Those public washrooms – even holy ones – really were questionable in terms of salubrity.

Marie, with concerned eyes and wan smile, let herself out – again, a thoughtful gesture. Sarah knew the loyal maid would be standing guard just outside until she walked out herself, fresh tears brimmed and nothing askew.

Alone, however, she gave them free reign, but not too much. Bad enough to know that her maid knew – she always did.

#

It happened one night while her mother was en France preparing for the latest show (“There’s so much to do. I can’t take care of a thirteen year-old daughter on top of that, Marie.”) and her father was en France, too, possibly hiding from his ex-wife but failing abysmally since he seemed to have a penchant for particularly handsome models. Nothing ever changed, did it?

She’d agreed to some silly fool idea of her friend Viola’s that was no idea at all but rather Viola’s way of sticking to her routine while dragging her out of her misery.

In Marie’s words: “This do you good, miss Sarah. You be with friends.” And so off she’d been hied, along with Peter and Dan, on some stupid night out so her best friend could drink and shoot and grind and possibly fuck – not necessarily in that order. Oh, Marie, precious Marie who believed in everyone’s redeeming values.

What if I killed myself, Marie? Would God choose to save me then? Would I still be a precious lamb?

“Come on, Sarah.” Viola beamed as she beheld Sarah’s new Choos and Valentino dress, and linked her arm through Sarah’s, leading the way to the predictable night, boys in tow. “Let’s break this city tonight, the four of us!”

She looked carefree and vibrant on the dance floor later on, short skirt swishing enticingly in the air like so many invitations to stare at and envy those long tanned legs. Blonde hair took in the many-hued lights and wrapped itself around her fine-boned shoulders carelessly, artfully, like a lover’s hands. Men looked at her. They always did. She hadn’t a care in the world and she was beautiful, delightful, and flaunted it.

Something suddenly clanged beside her, startling her out of her observations. “Scotch?” Dan asked, pushing the glass towards her and already plunging his nose in his own.

Sarah eyed the dark amber liquid uncertainly. “Where’s Peter?” she wondered aloud, glancing at the spot where she’d last seen him.

“Went for a smoke,” Dan answered easily, mimicking inhaling from a joint, with the index finger and thumb joined like an “okay” sign.

Sarah stared silently at the generous glass he’d set before her, seeing nothing. “Oh,” she said after a moment. Nothing new, Peter smoking up. Then she took a sip of the whisky – it went down like a shot of fire burning her innards – and wondered how people could drink this stuff and live to tell the tale.

Maybe that was the point. She took another sip. Still like liquid fire. Sarah nearly hacked her guts out.

“Don’t taste it,” Dan wisely advised. “Just shoot it down your throat.”

The third try was a little bit less catastrophic. Sarah deposited the glass carefully, playing with the rim.

“So why the long face, miss Robinson?” Dan asked after a moment, turning an if not affable, then at least a listening ear. If Dan wasn’t the nicest boy ever, then at least he didn’t try to change her mood by serving his own wild child purposes. Sarah loved Viola, but sometimes her friend forgot what tact meant and her wants clouded her judgement – moreso since they’d begun prep school.

Sarah looked up, met Dan’s eyes, and he nodded. “Ah,” was all he said, understanding immediately. They all had something in common, the four of them, when it came to family matters. They got each other, but sometimes it was uncanny how quickly Dan jumped to the same page as her.

Well, her boyfriend was often too stoned to add two and two together, let alone read her mind.

Sarah coughed. “Yeah.” She took Dan’s advice, shot a mouthful down her throat, and thought she might perhaps be learning to appreciate the burn as it curled in her belly.

Until she pitched forward and vomited all over his shoes.

She wasn’t sure, because, horror of horrors, she began to dry-retch and cry held-back tears on top of it, but she thought she didn’t imagine him holding back her hair before he accompanied her back home.

#

That’s when it all began, she thought as she stared at the plump Thanksgiving pie she’d baked herself for her father’s homecoming. She’d sworn off Scotch for the rest of her life, but she’d learned to appreciate the burn as bile crept up or roared up her throat and tears threatened to debilitate her – a lady always kept her cool, she constantly reminded herself.

Something wrong? Get it out and forget about it. No use crying over absentees, for God’s sake.

Her daddy wasn’t coming home.

“Don’t let them get to you,” Dan’s voice seemed to call to her from a long-ago echo, soft and almost a breath that she still wasn’t sure she’d heard back then in the first place.

Dan didn’t know her strength, then, she though, because she had none.

Defeated, she cut herself a large piece of pie and welcomed the knowledge of the oncoming burn, the brimming hot tears, the dull certainty that she was now powerless against her own actions.

I’m weak, she realised not for the first time.