Mandy stared at the cold pane, at the lined brow, at the bushy eyebrows. She opened her lips as the person beyond the glass did the same. She asked a simple question. An obvious one. Mandy watched as the other person mimicked her words.
“Who am I?”
Wetness lined Mandy’s face from the tears. Her hands crinkled as she held the papers, wondering why this happened, wondering why the secrecy, wondering what she could have done that had made the other person hate her so much.
She had heard this person’s whispers at night. The mumbles to themselves as the person had relived the past in a different scenario inside their mind. The stranger changed the guilt and laid it at Mandy’s feet. “I hate you. Asshole. You deserve it. You brought it on yourself and deserved to lose everything.”
The papers cut into Mandy’s hands. The blood soaked into the envelopes. Bills. Debts. She had mounds of it. Store credit. She owed someone. She owed everyone. Yet she never signed any papers. Mandy never talked with any representatives. Never even shopped at any of the stores.
“Who am I?” Her breath fogged the glass, obscuring her sight of the other person. She could see dreams in the mist. Past family gatherings. The relatives had smiling faces. Yet none had smiled Mandy’s way. They had frowned. They had whispered. The stranger had told them a different story.
“She has no respect for other people.”
Mandy wanted to chuckle inside, but it tasted bitter on her tongue as dry humor toward a cruel joke. “Show respect? Does a homeowner show respect for the burglar who entered their house and stole all their valuables? Should an elderly woman show respect to the con man who had the woman sign all the life insurance over into his name? Was it required to show respect toward a person who stole your identity?”
Nine numbers. This was all it took. Nine numbers assigned to her at birth, assigned to everyone like cattle wearing tags in a field of society to show which needed milking, which needed vaccinations, and which ones needed loading into the truck for the slaughterhouse. Her identity reduced to nine numbers on a paper card that would hold sway over her entire life.
Nine numbers stolen from Mandy as someone else took the liberty to indulge themselves with the finer things in life.
“Who am I?”
Mandy was no longer herself. Someone else had answered the phone while using her name. Someone else had opened the mail with her name on it. Mandy’s signature had inked the pages in someone else’s handwriting. Someone else had stuffed the bills into their dresser and forgot about them. Why should they care? It was not their debt. The name did not belong to them.
Mandy’s hands pounded against the glass. It quivered in the frame but held firm, too solid and too real like this situation. Maybe she should ask a different question of the image on the other side. Maybe they would tell her this simple answer.
Again she opened her lips. Again the person in the glass did the same. They said the same thing at the same time. “Why?”
Again there was no response. Yet did Mandy really need one? She knew this answer.
She knew the stranger’s superiority over her, assured the moment Mandy released her first breath as a babe. Even an old sitcom show she had watched during her childhood joked about this superiority. The comedian played a doctor along with his doctor wife who had four daughters and one son. Mandy remembered the argument the father had with the son. She remembered the famous words that had the stranger in her life cheering.
“I can do anything I want to you. I brought you into this life, and I can take you out of it!”
The sitcom parents claimed ownership over the child in an argument they had wanted to win.
The stranger claimed ownership of Mandy’s social security number to do with as they pleased because they believed they had this right from the moment of Mandy’s birth.
A life ruined before Mandy even had the chance to live it.
She rubbed her forehead against the pane, trying to comfort herself from the memories. Tension had filled the house those days after the show aired. The stranger eagerly waited for the opportunity to use those same words on Mandy. Yet Mandy was the good child - the helpful child. The opportunity never came. In revenge, the stranger leaned the shotgun against Mandy’s bedroom doorframe. This person claimed something about wanting to clean out the hall pantry and had to move it. The gun sat there for more than three weeks. The stranger never cleaned the pantry, yet they had strutted through the house with a grin on their lips.
Their relationship had soured. A family kinship never established, or never wanted. Mandy had seen the photo albums. She had seen the many pictures of her siblings when they were young. A full album of them as they had laughed and played. One baby picture of her rested behind the clear protector page taken by the hospital staff. Less than five pictures in all rested inside the album capturing moments of her childhood.
So little remained now, a future unnecessarily burdened as Mandy grasped for brief moments of happiness whenever she could forget the past.
Fingernails tapped against the pane. Mandy gazed upward at the stranger beyond the glass. The person opened their lips.
“All you did was disrespect others and act as if you are smarter than everyone. Selfish brat! So I earned the respect in another way - by showing how selfish I could be. Ha! I took what I owned from you life. You can have what’s left of it now. Have fun.”
Mandy’s mother pulled the shade down over the window.